Building a solid volunteer base is one of the greatest challenges volunteer-based efforts confront. Get off that roller coaster ride of prospecting, recruiting and retaining volunteers! Consider influencing participation through creating prime-connecting conversations with perspective volunteers on an individual basis by using the SMILE method: Stimulate, Manage, Involve, Lavish and Encourage!
Stimulate: Be enthusiastic about your organization! Share information and compelling stories about how the organization benefits others or how the association has benefited you personally. Ask the candidate why they considered joining your agency. As a leader, communicate how you can help the perspective volunteer meet their goals.
Manage: Most volunteer projects involve project management. Be honest about how much time and what skills might be required from the perspective volunteer. Create and furnish each candidate a job description of the required task or title of the position. Whereas volunteers often are very willing to share the time and talents with an organization, these same people appreciate organization and a fair assessment of what the organization requires.
Involve: It is wise to conduct a critical conversation to establish ‘good fit’ at the onset of the relationship. Does the volunteer’s skills match the task? Will the candidate work solo or with others?, Will training be required? Who will mentor or oversee the newbie’s progress? How does the volunteer manage their own time? Where does the person see themselves in your organization?
Lavish: Lavish means giving bountifully and freely of any good thing. Spending time with volunteers and giving praise are two things that all people crave. Be sure to see the volunteer in action often. Ask how they are doing and if any questions exist. Note their progress and give thanks for their support and involvement on a personal level and with group recognition events.
Encourage: Be open to listening when difficulties arise without going into ‘fix-it’ mode. Allow the volunteer to talk about the issue, allow them to offer creative solutions and empower them to move forward. Confidence-building, as well as skill-building, will help retain volunteers who believe their work is adding value to the organization. Happy volunteers often recruit others.
Take an honest look at the prospecting, recruiting and retaining efforts of your volunteer organization and make adjustments accordingly. Are you smiling?
Prospecting, recruiting and retaining volunteers-Oh, my!
Think about the last time you went to your favorite amusement park. What ride held most spectators spellbound? Which ride garnered the most screams? Which ride was the most fear inducing? Which ride do you see people riding over and over again? When you think of Six Flags or Cedar Point, what ride comes to mind? Yup, you guessed it, the roller coaster! Some liken working with volunteers similar to riding a roller coaster. Indeed!
Recently, as a leader in a women’s organization, I was tasked to recruit a team of multi-talented volunteers to help with an annual fundraising event. Amazingly, no one volunteered because the call for volunteers went out through the newsletter! Prospecting, recruiting and retaining volunteers has never been a daunting experience for me because time is taken upfront to create prime connections with every potential volunteer candidate. Before one person is approached, the organization’s needs are outlined and a job description is created. What do these potential candidates need to know? What skills do these women need to be able to contribute for this event? Matching talent and time commitment towards ‘best fit’ is paramount.
How do I find these fearless women who will face all their fears and jump on the coaster with me? Let’s go back to the amusement park. Look around. Do you see some potential volunteers or coaster riders watching from afar? These people are assessing how much time will be required or if they can get on and off the ride safely. When approaching these candidates, communicate both the task and the time commitment honestly. Assure them that riding with you is safe because you will respect their time and talents. Do you see some want-to-be coaster riders who are at the gate, but never get into the seat? These need a friendly invitation to take the first ride. Going alone is all too frightening! Consider providing the support and encouragement needed by riding along or asking someone to pair up with them. Some coaster riders as well as some volunteers may require a bit of hand holding until a comfort level is reached. Some just get on the coaster alone and ride all day! These folks have conquered their fears and have learned to throw caution to the wind! These ride-repeaters are often wonderful recruiters! The loops, the hills, and the hairpin curves of the ride have been memorized long ago, yet these funsters embrace the challenge and find new thrills every time they get on board. Oftentimes, this third-party recommendation is the lynchpin of solid recruitment and ongoing involvement. Back to the roller coaster, reluctant riders are often cajoled to ‘ride it just one time…!’
There is an ebb and flow to working with volunteers. Volunteers come and go for many reasons. Yet by creating prime connections upfront, trust is established. Volunteers can be inspired to jump in to the roller coaster car for at least one ride! Some will take the front seat-some will not. Some will scream at the top of their lungs and some will close their eyes. Others will waive their hands in the air but others will clench the safety bar for dear life! Some will ride again, and some, well, will need additional time to reflect on the activity before getting in line! The volunteer leader must take the time upfront to get to know each rider before boarding to create that trust. The organization’s pledge to take care of all of the riders along the way to both insure and ensure safety needs to be heartfelt. Volunteers, like roller coaster riders, must make it back to the station in varying degrees of happiness. Thrilled that they participated or at the very least, happy to live for another day!