Volunteer recruiting is tough. As cited by Points of Lights’ Toby Chalberg in our webinar, Volunteer Screening 2016: Research Results and Insights, it is getting harder and harder to find people that are willing and able to dedicate more than a few hours (if any time at all!) to your organization and your mission. 

As someone involved in the volunteer program management and volunteer recruitment process, you probably brainstorm different ways and messaging that will help you to convince would be volunteers to spend time working with you. You may ask yourself, “What incentives can I offer?” or “How can I frame my recruitment campaign so that citizens are motivated to volunteer with me?” These are great questions to help you form a compelling campaign. But you may be missing one very important question. What about asking yourself, “What might be preventing people from volunteering with me?”

You need to think about the roadblocks one might face or reasons one might hesitate when considering volunteering with you – and approach your recruiting campaigns from that angle.

What’s preventing volunteers from volunteering with you?

Consider this question from your organization’s perspective – for this exercise you don’t necessarily want to know why an individual might not be volunteering in general but, rather, why they are not volunteering with your organization.

Is there anything specific to your organization that makes it difficult or unappealing to serve with you? It could have to do with transportation options, parking availability, or the neighborhood you are located in.

Or, it could be that, due to the nature of your cause, you only offer volunteer slots during the day, when a good number of individuals are at work. 

Perhaps, even though no one would argue the fact that your cause is valuable, it is just not appealing to volunteer with you because of the types of work involved. Are the tasks you offer volunteers boring? Are you asking individuals to enter into a high-stress or potentially sad and emotional environment?

There could be some other reasons potential volunteers avoid your organization that are based on misperceptions. Perhaps a scandal has rocked your organization in the past. That can easily drive volunteers away (it’s also one of the reasons volunteer background screening is a necessity).  Maybe volunteers do not think they are cut out for the work involved – that they are physically or mentally incapable of handling certain tasks. Or it could be a social issue; volunteers may have a fear that they won’t get along with their peers or be able to make friends during their volunteer shifts.

Whether you consider the reasons mentioned here to be valid or not, they are real to the volunteer, so they must be taken seriously.

Eliminating roadblocks to volunteering

Brainstorming about why volunteering with your organization is not appealing to the masses – or at least not the group you are targeting – is the first step. Now you have a better idea why your recruitment efforts might not be working.

Now it is time to bucket out the reasons: those that are truly valid and those that are misperceptions. The reasons around transportation, parking and timing present actual issues for you. You need to logistically solve for them to make it easier for individuals to spend time with you. The good news is, once you have managed to solve for them, it is not unlikely that you will soon see a swell of volunteers walk through your door.

The misperceptions, on the other hand, should serve as inspiration for your recruiting campaign. Introduce the fears and/or concerns and allay them with appropriate and compelling messaging. This may not work for all types of fears and for all people, but developing your campaigns knowing what the fears or concerns are will give you a better chance of convincing volunteers that working with you will be a rewarding and worthwhile experience.

To sum it all up, recruiting volunteers will always be difficult work. The prevalence of double income households and people working multiple jobs makes the work of a volunteer recruiter that much harder. That said, if you are armed and ready for the excuses – valid or not – you will be a lot more successful.


Check out our other Recruiting Resources in our Volunteer Management Resources Center.

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