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Four Steps that Should Precede Your Recruitment Plan

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People who know me well know this: I love planning. I can get downright giddy when diving into a strategic plan, program plan, or work plan. And yet, when it comes to addressing one of the most pervasive challenges facing volunteer-driven organizations today, even I follow this golden rule: Don’t plan until you’ve prepared.

While it may be tempting to jump right into developing a recruitment plan, if you want an effective plan, first assess these four factors that may be impeding recruitment success: Policy, Positions, Practices, and Personas.

📝 Policy

Whether guiding screening processes, training requirements, disciplinary procedures, or safety protocols, policies are vital to ensure safe, consistent, and effective engagement. Yet, sometimes, policies outlive their purpose or create unintended barriers to engaging as volunteers. For example, while appropriate screening mitigates risk, when that screening takes place, it can reduce the pipeline of prospective volunteers. When organizations require extensive background checks and associated paperwork and fingerprinting to be completed before being interviewed or attending an orientation, they create a lag time of days or even weeks. That lag time may impede recruitment, no matter how great the recruitment tactics are.

Can you maintain your commitment to risk management but place the background check after you have begun interviews and onboarding, by clearly communicating that placement is contingent upon satisfactory results from a background check? This way, the prospective volunteers’ first interactions can focus on relationship-building rather than paperwork.

What other policies might be undermining your recruitment efforts?

👔 Positions

You can’t revitalize recruitment if what you are recruiting volunteers to do is not appealing to prospective volunteers nor meaningful to your mission. The sweet spot for strategic volunteer positions is the overlap between what volunteers want and what the organization needs. Yet, with the numerous disruptions of recent years, many people have redefined what they want out of volunteer and work experiences. Consequently, that target of overlap for strategic positions has moved!

Are the roles you are seeking to fill still attractive and meaningful? Use these questions to assess the opportunities you are offering. Is the position…

  • Strategic? What is the difference this volunteer will make and how does that relate to your mission?
  • Attractive? Would a volunteer find this work meaningful and enjoyable?
  • Viable onsite or virtual (or both)? Can the work be completed offsite providing more flexibility?
  • Supportable? Does the organization have the capacity to support the role through needed training and staff or volunteer leader support? Does the organization have the policies and resources in place for the volunteer to be successful?

📚 Practice

Volunteer engagement practices include screening, training, recognition, and more. Like policies, they are important to ensuring consistent and supported engagement, but also like policies, sometimes they are sustained only because “it’s the way we’ve always done things” (even when they no longer serve a useful purpose). For example, many museums traditionally required months or even years of volunteer training in order to serve as a museum guide. But those trainings were designed to prepare guides for lecture-style tours which have since been replaced by more inquiry-based experiences. As such, trainings are being shortened from lengthy courses on Dutch painters or Jurassic dinosaurs to more flexible and interactive learning sessions focused on object-based learning methods.

When reviewing training practices, assess what information a volunteer really needs in order to start their service and what content can be addressed through continuing education or on-the-job training.

👥 Personas

Finally, before developing a recruitment plan, take the time to understand your current pool of volunteers and to prioritize specific pools of prospective volunteers. For this endeavor, it’s helpful to understand the concept of personas. Personas are groups of like-minded individuals, those who share similar interests and motivations related to volunteering. According to McKinsey & Company’s July 2022 article, despite record level resignations by employees, companies were largely still relying on traditional recruitment methods. McKinsey’s research identified five types of workers that employers could target through more customized recruitment—and now, many organizations are leveraging this approach for volunteer recruitment.

To get started, identify the personas that already exist among current volunteers, then decide on 1-3 aspirational personas to expand the volunteer corps. For example, you might identify “Maria,” a recent retiree who seeks to give back, but requires flexibility because she occasionally cares for her grandchildren. Meanwhile, you may also want to attract people like “Nick,” a medical student seeking experience in community health. While Nick may only serve for a semester or two, Nick—and others like him—still bring valuable skills during the time he can contribute.

With your aspirational personas in hand, you are ready to begin planning.

Finally, a plan.

A plan is important—but it will be far more effective if you have already adjusted policies and practices to maximize access to volunteering, refined the positions you seek to fill, and identified current and aspirational personas to prioritize in your recruitment efforts. With these in hand, you are ready to dive into planning—and let the fun begin!

To learn more about these pre-planning steps, tune into Better Impact’s webinar on September 20, Recruit and Rebuild Your Volunteer Base.

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