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Imagine Canada

Strong Charities. Strong Communities.

Leverage your network to recruit volunteers

Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Guest Writers
Human Resources
Carolyn Laba

Most nonprofits struggle, at one time or another, to recruit new volunteers. Whether your organization is unable to advertise externally, has a niche audience or is just looking to expand their volunteer capacity, recruitment can be challenging. But this doesn’t need to limit your options. By leveraging your closest network you can find more passionate volunteers.

They are Already Believers

Good news! Your existing network already support and believe in what you are trying to do; they just aren’t volunteering yet. 

At the Langley Hospice Society, “volunteers feel very strongly about (the) cause, most often because it is something that has directly impacted them,” says Denise Station, Volunteer Program Coordinator.  Statistics Canada  data shows that 59% of volunteers give their time because they have personally been affected by the organization.

“Often, we will have someone touch base years later, after they have come to terms with their loss. Other people will want to start volunteering right away, choosing to work through their loss while helping in another area, perhaps in the Thrift Store.”

After experiencing the care and commitment of the Hospice, people want to give back to the charity that helped them so much. 

Make Believers Work for You:

  • Make opportunities visible to those using your services, so they can come to you, using posters, flyers and email newsletters.
  • Think of stand-out customers/participants, and follow up. For example, was there a long-standing player on the sports team who you could approach now as a coach or event volunteer?

After a good volunteer experience, the affinity a person already feels towards your cause will only grow, whether they volunteer again or not. And that is always a good thing. 

Get Personal

While flyers and email newsletters are a good way to let people know you have a volunteer program, a bit more effort is usually needed to recruit them. Getting personal can be as easy as picking up the telephone, or as in-depth as researching databases for a common connection.

As past Volunteer Coordinator at the West Coast Football Club, Lisa B. likes this technique. “I find that a phone call always worked better than an email to recruit volunteers. If you are able to have the need communicated in person instead of through an impersonal email, people tend to be more willing to help.” 

At Meadowridge School, we use a database that includes information about family backgrounds. This helps us find mentors for the students or group speakers. 

Personalize it:

  • Ask in person or over the phone. It is easier to judge interest, and create a conversation about your cause. 
  • Use data you have mined to search for appropriate candidates to approach.

Create Your Own Leads

When you are a small organization, creating your own leads is the best, and often the only, way to find your next volunteer. It is up to you to try new avenues for recruitment, and they are often right in front of you. 

When I started at Meadowridge, our volunteers were (expectedly) almost all parents. This was fantastic, but parents have busy schedules and small children, and could only do so much. Now, we are engaging our experienced Alumni, and have more grandparents involved in activities. We have our recent graduates come back in the summer as interns, and have employed immigrants needing Canadian job experience.

Lisa B. agrees; “We had grandparents volunteering. I think this is because they often have a bit more time on their hands and like to be part of the community. We also had many student volunteers from local schools so they could get in their volunteer hours.”

Lead Generators

  • Local schools and colleges with co-op programs
  • Family members of your volunteers or patrons
  • New resident support centres/groups

Searching for volunteers takes much more than posting an ad on the internet or community board. It is a dynamic task that takes imagination, research and a personal touch, especially if you are pulling volunteers from a small pool. Visit resources like Sector Source for more on volunteer recruitment, and keep turning over those rocks to see what (and who!) you might find. 


About the Author

Carolyn Laba

Carolyn Laba is the Community Development Coordinator at Meadowridge School, where she has worked in different capacities since 2009. Her job covers everything “community”, from parents and alumni programs to special events. 

Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.


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