Volunteers are invaluable to charities, from being an integral part of their day to day running to providing occasional support for events. But with limited time and resources, how do you recruit them – and how do you keep hold of them?

This short intro offers advice on how to use communications to find volunteers and keep them on board.

Decide who you want to recruit

Just as with any communications campaign you need to decide who your audience is. Create a profile of your volunteer – how old are they, where do they live, what skills do you need them to have? That will help you focus in on the media you use to reach them, and the language and images that are likely to motivate them.

Demonstrate the need

There are four key messages you need to get across to potential volunteers:

  • The need for their support
  • The professionalism they offer, particularly if you are looking for people with specific skills
  • The value to them of becoming involved and giving up their time
  • The value to those in need

Storytelling is key here. Use case studies of existing volunteers showing what they get out of their time with you, their favourite moments. Choose quotes from the people they support and use images that convey the impact of the relationship on both sides.

Keep in touch

Once people have made a commitment, don’t assume that your job as a communications professional is done. Regular contact is vital if you are to sustain volunteers’ interest – and maintain your organisation’s reputation.

Depending on how many you have, you might want to create a dedicated area of the website for volunteers. You could keep in touch via email bulletins, letters, phone calls, texts, Facebook groups, events or a combination of these. Whatever you choose, the medium needs to be appropriate, so check which channels will work for your volunteers.

Think also about how often you get in touch. Volunteers need to feel informed and valued but not overwhelmed with unnecessary contact they suspect is spending money they’ve worked hard to raise.

Think about your message

Stories, similar to those you told to motivate people to volunteer initially, are a good way of maintaining their interest and demonstrating that their contribution is valued. You can now include case studies that show how a volunteer has developed in their role and relationships of support that have progressed over time. You may also be able to show how volunteering with your organisation has impacted on an individual in other areas of their life.

Ask for feedback

Communication with volunteers is a two-way thing. Their feedback will help you understand how and why they came to you and can inform future recruitment. Monitoring where they heard about the opportunity will help you gauge whether your choice of media and messaging was effective.

Feedback also gives you the chance to understand any concerns they have. While the day to day management of volunteers is likely to be done by a colleague or a different department, dissatisfaction amongst volunteers can become a reputational issue so you need to be aware of any potential problems.

Be prepared for the end of the relationship

Volunteers may be with you for a very short period of time or may be with you for many years. Either way, it pays to have a strategy in place for when the relationship comes to an end. Decide how you are going to say thank you – will it be a simple email? An online gallery of their best moments or greatest achievements? A reception for a group of volunteers? Your strategy should include contact with your volunteer going forward. They may be able or willing to come back or may want to help in a different way. Equally, they may never want to hear from you again so consider their preferences for communication and respect them.

Volunteers can be powerful advocates for your cause, if they are well-informed and kept up-to-date.

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