Recruiting and retaining volunteers like a pro

The following blog is by David Zeller

main.jpgCampaign season is ramping up once again, and with that, floods of emails asking for donations from the Presidential campaigns all the way down to local city and county elections, not to mention all of the amendment groups.

Little, though, is asked of the individual. In fact, many people are unable to give out of their pocket book, but would absolutely love to give their time, if only they were asked.

As the Field Director of Health Care for All—Minnesota, I spend most of my day recruiting, wrangling, and thanking volunteers. In other words, asking the people who can give their time to help in my organization.

Here are some tips for getting the best volunteers in your organization:

Where the heck are they?

The first step is to identify what you need your volunteers to do. It doesn’t make sense to have someone who doesn’t like doing data entry sit at a computer for three hours plugging and chugging. You need to tailor your volunteer task to the specific volunteer. Once you know what you need your volunteers to do, you can start identifying those who fit the role. Every organization stores names and volunteer interests differently, but do not hesitate to mine your network for friends or colleagues who are not heavily invested in your organization but may want to help you out.

Make like Don Draper and pitch it.

Prioritize what you are asking for. Pick the one or two most important tasks. Avoid overwhelming potential volunteers. Sell it! Give your volunteers a reason to volunteer. The fact that they are on an organization’s mailing list is enough to get them to volunteer most of the time, but not always. Create a sense of urgency and get a commitment on the spot.

Chin up, partner.

Don’t be afraid of a little rejection. People are busy. Just because they say no to the task at hand it doesn’t mean they stopped caring about your organization. Perhaps they don’t feel adequately suited to the task you asked of them. Ask them if there is a different way they would prefer to help. Also, don’t forget that you have tons of other people who are raring to help your organization out. You need to be in a good mood for the next potential volunteer you are going to talk to.


Follow up, follow up, follow up. That is the name of the game. Get on the phone a couple days ahead of time to confirm they know where to go, what they will be doing, and to answer any questions they might have. There is no worse feeling than having a table at an event with no volunteers there to help staff it. Also, if you have cancellations, this will give you an opportunity to find replacements.

There you have it. If all goes well, your office will be buzzing with volunteer activity. All of those names you collected at May Day will be in your database, and all of the volunteer shifts at the State Fair will be full.

And while I'm at it, here’s another helpful resource to help you recruit volunteers.

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