With no open volunteer positions, it’s tempting to just close the application process down. No signups mean no tedious follow-ups and no extra people to train and squeeze into a crowded schedule. With no incoming applications, overstretched volunteer managers finally have a bit of breathing room. But don’t give in to the temptation! Shutting off recruitment stunts the growth, health, and impact of your volunteer program. Luckily, there’s something you can do to keep recruitment open without sacrificing your time — and it’s easy.
It’s a hassle to recruit when you don’t have open positions. Recruitment takes time, and people who manage volunteers tend to have very little of it. An overabundance of applications also creates uncertainty for volunteers, who want to help but are left waiting to be given meaningful work. The standard practices of volunteer management ask that all volunteers are given thorough descriptions of their positions, akin to job postings. It’s no wonder, then, that many nonprofits treat their volunteer opportunities like career opportunities — if it’s not posted, then you can’t apply.
So why not close recruitment?
What’s at Stake: The Lost Volunteer
Alex is a young professional, and she’s got a few minutes before the last meeting of the day. She starts thinking about how little time she’s given this year to causes that matter, and how maybe volunteering for a great organization will give her some valuable skills and experience.
Alex loves history, so she looks for volunteer opportunities on the website of a local museum. But the volunteer page is a dead end — applications are closed. She’s told to “check back in the fall.” Instead, Alex heads off to her meeting and a month or so later remembers that she wanted to volunteer. This time, she looks up a different museum nearby and is able to signup right away, informing the museum that she’s interested in marketing.
The second museum gets back to Alex the next day, and lets her know that while they don’t need any marketing assistance at the moment, she’s welcome to help organize an upcoming event. Alex gets involved, and by the time the fall rolls around, there’s space on their marketing team. Within weeks, she’s creating engaging social media campaigns, raising money for the museum, meeting new people, and gaining valuable experience.
A year later, Alex is planning and marketing her own fundraising events to support the museum, and through her network she raises a total of $12,000. One of Alex’s family friends was so inspired by the way Alex framed the museum’s work at her events, that she joined the board.
Okay, so maybe this story is a ‘best case scenario’ of volunteer outcomes. But there are some real lessons here!
The first museum treated prospective volunteers the same way many organizations treat job hunters (“there are no positions posted, please check back later”). But volunteering is not the same as looking for a job — people who want to volunteer are so supportive of your mission and work that they are willing to give their time, for free. Volunteers are supporters, and they could be advocates and donors, too, if you give them the chance.
The second museum knew that volunteer management is an integral part of community engagement, fundraising, and organizational flourishing. Alex was able to tell the second museum she was interested in volunteering the moment she was interested, because the museum knew how important it was to capture this information right away. They also followed up with Alex within 24 hours and let her know what opportunities were available. The result was an engaged and satisfied volunteer who proved to be a great asset to the organization.
It is possible to keep recruitment open without creating too much extra work. All that’s needed is a general signup form and an action plan.
The Signup Form
The first step is to create a simple volunteer signup form and embed it on your organization’s website. With Timecounts, you can do this in less than five minutes.
The general signup form can coexist with position or event-specific application forms, or it can replace those forms when applications for positions have closed. What’s important is that you have a general signup form open for volunteer intake at all times.
Communicate and Set Expectations
It is crucial to set appropriate expectations right away if you begin to receive more signups than you have space for.
Thank all volunteers for signing up as soon as you can, and let them know when they can expect to hear from you. If there is no space for a volunteer at that moment, tell them about other ways they can get involved or stay connected in the meantime. Invite them to upcoming events, ask them to fundraise for their birthday, add them to your mailing list — do anything you can to stay in touch and keep your surplus volunteers engaged. You can save time by composing a message template that can be customized for each new volunteer.
It’s less work to keep prospective volunteers engaged if your volunteer data is integrated with your other lists and data sources. Timecounts keeps all volunteer contact information, preferences, interests, skills, and activity history in one database. This makes it easy for volunteer managers to send an email or text to a particular segment, such as those who filled out the general interest form but have yet to volunteer.
Create a Volunteer Pool
If you find yourself with a large group of surplus volunteers, give your volunteers-in-waiting a sense of legitimacy and inclusion by creating a separate program just for them — the volunteer pool. As tasks, assignments, and projects arise, the members of your volunteer pool should be the first to know.
The secret to the volunteer pool is that it doesn’t require any extra work — everyone who has signed up to volunteer through your general interest form can be considered as part of the volunteer pool, even if they have a position or have already volunteered. The only trick is keeping all of that information in one place. f you don’t have Timecounts, try creating a master spreadsheet of volunteer contact information and activity history.
Communicate to your volunteer pool as you would your monthly donors — give the group a special name, and keep them engaged with impact stories, program news, event invitations, and fundraising requests. Over time, you’ll have cultivated a group of engaged volunteers without having to create additional volunteer positions. Most importantly, you will have people ready to jump in and help when needed.
Volunteers are people who want to get involved and make an impact with their time. It can be tempting to shut down recruitment when you don’t need additional volunteer assistance, but it’s not necessary. Simply replace your applications with a general interest form, and keep your volunteers informed. Connected and engaged supporters amplify your organization’s work — make sure you’re giving everyone the chance to get involved.