The Recruitment Grind: Recapping Our Latest Think Tank Conversation

by Sharon Mvundura

Think Tank Conversations are a bi-monthly meetup of those who manage, coordinate and engage volunteers in Edmonton. The space we have created is one of discussion, networking and working through the trends, challenges and success volunteer coordinators face in their roles. We kicked off 2018 with a January discussion on Volunteer Recruitment and, as always, Think Tankers had a lot to say about this topic.

Here’s what we heard:

Edmonton organizations face a variety of challenges that affect their ability to successfully recruit volunteers. One organization found it difficult to recruit volunteers for the needed time slots  in their program. Others find it difficult to recruit during the “off season,” during the holidays there’s an excess amount of volunteer inquiries but the well dries up once January hits. For others, they are just simply finding it hard to recruit volunteers that will stay. In our fast paced society it seems the revolving door has arrived to volunteerism. So what can organizations do when faced with all those barriers?

While the morning was filled with sharing what isn’t working, there were some valuable learnings that led us to realize that maybesome solutions aren’t so out of reach.

One volunteer manager shared how, after facing challenges with scheduling or turnover, they decided to “rejig” some of their opportunities. They made some roles more flexible, shortened the commitment time, and worked with the feedback they were getting from prospective volunteers to adapt. This brings us to the first big unsurprising revelation:

CHANGE IS HARD.

Volunteer managers have little time between the daily grind of the volunteer cycle (recruit, train, orient, retain, recognize) to even think about changing up process. But what if it happened? What if looking at small or large tweaks to your program could fix some of the barriers of recruitment and retention you’re facing? It just might make the daily grind a little less… grindy.

Think Tankers shared a few other ways they achieved their recruitment goals. Don’t have recruitment goals? Then you should definitely start there. Figure out what outcome you want from recruitment. Do you want volunteers of a particular age group, or with particular skills? Decide, then figure out where those volunteers are and how to reach them.

One volunteer coordinator found success at some university career fairs; a great way to connect with young motivated volunteers.  Another one decided to let volunteers and clients recruit volunteers. They created videos and messaging with volunteers and clients to speaking about the impact of the program. Their campaign was a success and also used other tactics like local media.

We also spent a great deal of time talking about A/B testing. I first read about using this method for volunteer recruitment from an article by Erin R. Spink in the e-volunteerism Journal, which is unfortunately only available to subscribers. Basically, the method calls for taking aspects  of your recruitment ad such as a headline, colours, image or messaging and testing two different versions to see which one gets the most engagement. Here’s an example:

Which one are you more likely to click on?

These are two ads with the same image and a call to action, but using different messaging. This fake organization might use both these ads on their social media and track the number of clicks and engagements each of them get.  Social platforms like Twitter and Facebook have built in tools for you to track the engagement on your posts. You can also do this with physical advertising if you keep track of where you put certain ads and ask those who contact you how they heard about the opportunity. This means that you’ll be able to identify what’s working and what isn’t. Many organizations use the same ads, messaging and avenues for recruiting volunteers without ever analyzing whether it’s working. Using a simple A/B test might help refine your recruitment.

As our time came to end, Think Tankers mused on different questions for all of us to consider. How do we work collectively to educate the public on the various volunteer requirements? How can we be adaptive to meet the changing needs of volunteers? Questions that couldn’t be tackled then but… maybe at a future Think Tank!

To read past Think Tank recaps and catch up with what Edmonton volunteer managers are thinking, click here.

Want to join fellow volunteer managers at our next Think Tank on March 16th? RSVP Here!

Resources & Quick Tips:

  • If you’re getting a lot of volunteers that don’t quite fit your agency, why not recommend them to other local organizations?
  • Make it easier for people to find you and apply:
    • Develop an online application
    • Unique advertising: printing coasters and partnering with local eateries
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