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How To Make Volunteer Recruitment The Best Part of Your Job

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If you were to ask any nonprofit Executive Director what one of their biggest sources of stress is, they would openly admit that volunteer recruitment sits very close to the top of the list. Because the process of finding, training, engaging, organizing, retaining and recognizing volunteers can be very demanding (both from a time and emotional standpoint), this aspect of effective nonprofit management often gets pushed to the background behind fundraising and other seemingly “more-pressing” issues.

When developing an awesome volunteer recruitment strategy isn’t a top priority, the likely result is an organization that limps along working with any warm-body that shows up to help (hoping and praying that this person won’t burnout like the other 25 volunteers in that position before him).

Alzheimer's WalkersHaving worked as a recruiter for over 10 years in my previous business and having made probably hundreds of less-than-ideal hires, I am now an evangelist of the “take your time to find the right person for the role” message. I know that you probably think that this “corporate” philosophy can’t apply to volunteer recruitment because, as a leader of volunteers, you need help NOW and believe that you can’t afford to be picky; however, I beg to differ. Your organization needs specific talent to accomplish specific goals – the wrong person in the wrong role is literally COSTING your organization time and money. Wouldn’t it make sense to develop a simple system to strategically screen out those who aren’t the right fit for the current needs of your organization instead of trying to fit round pegs in square holes and then spending the majority of your time on damage control?

When faced with the same volunteer recruitment and retention challenges you’re currently facing as a nonprofit leader, Pastor Rick Warren – Founder of Saddleback church (one of the largest churches in America) developed a simple tool called the S.H.A.P.E program. Instead of continuing to haphazardly put anyone in any role in his organization, he created an application that would identify the unique qualities of each individual enabling the volunteer development team to make an informed decision about how to maximize on the time this person was willing to invest in serving their organization. Results? Less drama, more engagement, more impact.

How does this apply to us? Before putting anyone else straight to work, take the time to get to know your prospective volunteer through the below five areas as outlined by the SHAPE program.

For the specifics of how this system is run or sample application forms, leave a comment and I’d be happy to send you the link to Pastor Rick’s website of training tools.

S: Spiritual Gifts: As the volunteer screener, you have a responsibility to discuss the candidate’s God-given gifts that they are super-naturally great at and ensure that those gifts are in alignment with the role you’re interviewing them for. If the gifts don’t line up with the job description, either create a new job or pass on the candidate.

H: Heart: We each have a unique “heartbeat” that races when we think about the subjects, activities, or circumstances that interest us. When screening someone, find out what they love to do outside of work as understanding what people do when they’re not getting paid will show you where their true passion lies. Listen to how they talk about your cause and note the level of passion. Whenever possible, don’t take on a new volunteer who is there solely because they need course credit or because they feel obligated to help out in their community in some way.

A: Abilities: Abilities are the natural talents with which you were born. When screening a candidate, take the time to find out what they’re naturally good at and what their individual strengths are. Good recruiting demands that you have your team working to their highest strengths 90% of the time. If someone is passionate about something but not skilled in that area (see American Idol for more examples of passion without ability) they will not be successful. As a recruiter, your job to find out what your candidate is a “level 10” at and then put them to work in that area whenever possible.

P: Personality. Does the job you need to fill need a person who is introverted or extroverted? Self expressive or self-controlled? Prefer routine or prefer variety? Be cooperative or be competitive? Don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole, you’ll lose every time. Don’t try to make someone act in a way that is just not who they are. If you have an introverted person trying to do an extrovert’s job, you’ll unintentionally drive them away and most likely they’ll never come back.

E: Experiences. Take the time to discuss the ministry, work, educational, spiritual, and painful experiences your candidate has been through to get a clearer idea of where they will have the most impact in your organization. Example: if someone has been a foster child, chances are they will be able to contribute in a more meaningful way to improving the foster system than someone who has never been part of the foster system.

Great volunteer teams do not come together by chance, it takes strategy, planning and purposefulness. When you take the time to unwrap bit-by-bit the person you are interviewing you will discover their unique SHAPE and help you more easily discern whether this person is going to be a good fit for your organization or not. There are lots of amazing people out there but not all of them will be the right fit for your organization. Look for those who are right for what you need and gracefully release the rest so that they can find the best place to succeed in a place where their shape is desperately needed.

Have you ever hired the wrong person because you needed someone right away? What happened?

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  • PMaspire

    I just finished reading your article on volunteer recruitment, and I couldn't agree more with your insights! It's clear that you're not only passionate about this topic but also incredibly knowledgeable. Your tips and suggestions are not just valuable for nonprofit organizations; they're universally applicable to anyone looking to build a strong team of volunteers. The way you emphasized the importance of storytelling really struck a chord with me. It's so true that people connect with a cause when they hear the personal stories behind it. Your example of Mary and her journey as a volunteer was heartwarming and powerful. It's a reminder that every volunteer has a unique story to tell, and showcasing those stories can make all the difference in recruitment. Your article has given me a fresh perspective on how to approach volunteer recruitment for my local animal shelter. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, and please keep these fantastic articles coming!
  • A Simple Formula for Developing Engaged, Reliable Volunteer Teams | Next Level Nonprofits

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  • Natasha

    Hi Teresa, Thanks for your comment. Feel free to email me directly and I can send you a few links to check out. [email protected].
  • Teresa McHugh

    Please send me sample volunteer application form and more info on S.H.A.P.E.
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