August 6, 2010

Managing Better

Posted in Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter at 4:08 am by Sue Hine

In the Victoria University study Managers Matter: Who Manages Volunteers? ( I was surprised by a result which showed the greatest challenge faced by managers is recruiting volunteers.

• Why would this be, when Volunteer Centres around the country are reporting increased rates of interest from prospective volunteers?

• When there is a heap of advice and information on recruiting volunteers in cyberspace waiting for you to hook into?

• When there are whole books on Volunteer Recruitment available for purchase from or

• And when you can download for free everything you wanted to know about Turning Your Organisation into a Volunteer Magnet ?  (Andy Fryar resource drawn from the 2nd edition 2007,  published by Andy Fryar, Rob Jackson & Fraser Dyer, Adelaide and London, October 2007.)  Find it at ).

So Why is recruiting volunteers, getting enough people on the ground to do what’s needed, such a headache?

Martin J Cowling has one answer, published in his People First E-News for June 2010 :

How to fail at attracting volunteers & donors

Q: What’s the number one reason that agencies fail to attract volunteers and donors?

A: They don’t know they are needed and specifically why they are required.

Q: What’s the number two reason why agencies fail to attract volunteers?

A: The agency fails to respond when approached.

And Martin has the research to back his claims. When he was first a Coordinator of Volunteers, he says, he rang 20 agencies at random, posing as a volunteer to see how they handled his queries. He was astounded (and I am too!) at a response rate of six (or 30 per cent). People First still calls 20 agencies each year to see if that has changed. Since 1996, the return call rate has averaged 30 per cent. The same rate of response has also been found in US research.

Well, that just shows how important it is for a manager of volunteers to be responsive, as I pointed out in a recent post. If 70% of your agency’s donors and volunteers never get an answer to their inquiry, what are you – and they – missing out on?

Let’s turn failure around to see what it takes to attract volunteers. What are some of the things that will draw them in – like a magnet?

• Marketing strategies – you can try the word of mouth spread, the community newspapers, organisation newsletters and so on. But what about knocking on a corporate door to ask for some advice and assistance to develop a marketing plan?

• Tap into corporate volunteering, for events, special projects and perhaps some pro bono time for specialist organisational development.

• Get a detailed job description, knowing what you want volunteers to do, what time and where, and what for – just like any job-seeker would want to know – and then push that information out to all the traps you can think of.

• Get a handle on Volunteer Motivation – understand how many different reasons there are for people who want to give their time. And then tailor your promotion to entice the unemployed work-experience candidate, the skill-seeker, the between-job person, the student doing a school assignment, as well as the retiree who likes to be involved and engaged with other people. Not to mention the people who genuinely want to give back to their community in the true spirit of altruism.

• Last, but not least: take a good look at your organisation and figure out some answers to questions like

  • Why do we exist? 
  • What’s in it for volunteers? 
  • What sort of skills and commitment do we need to do our work?
  • Will our existing Volunteer Programme be sufficient?
  • What sort of up-grade do we need?

Is this enough to turn your recruitment problems around?


  1. Rob Jackson said,

    I think one of the main reasons organisations say they have a challenge to recruit volunteers is because they are trying to get volunteers to fit what they want them to do.

    What do I mean?

    Organisations have roles that volunteers have traditionally filled. These roles have come to be relied upon by those organisations. Staff are comfortable with volunteers in those roles. The problem is, most of those roles fit what people wanted from volunteering twenty years ago, not what people want now – i.e. choice, flexibility, responsibility etc..

    Many of these same organisations are well known and so don’t have to work hard to attract people. But attracting someone is not the same as recruiting them. Many people lose the attraction when they see what is available for them to do as volunteers.

    I am personally convinced that if most organisations woke up to how the world around them had changed and embraced a programme of appropriate re-engineering volunteering opportunities in light of this then they would have far more success at recruitment than they currently experience.


    • Sue Hine said,

      Too true, Rob – and thanks for your comments. I shall have more to say about organisational responsibility in a future post.


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