Hidden Messages in Your Recruitment
By Susan J. Ellis
Appeared as an "On Volunteers" column in The NonProfit Times
Have you been successful in recruiting volunteers in the past but now seem to have hit a wall of apathy? Are there populations you'd love to involve but who do not seem attracted to your organization?
Maybe the problem lies in the hidden messages of your recruitment techniques. Consider the following key elements of volunteer recruitment and what image you are conveying to prospects:
If you need candidates with strong verbal skills, go ahead and use whatever vocabulary you wish. But if you are more interested in qualities of prospective volunteers other than formal education, review your words more carefully. Do not “dumb” down recruitment material; just consider whether you are implying that applicants are expected to have college degrees. Shorter, more common words will be most welcoming.
Another turn-off is jargon. Almost every organization evolves its own set of abbreviations, acronyms, and terminology that everyone already on board understands but becomes unintelligible to outsiders.
Finally, assess your use of the word "volunteer." Use terms like community service, helping out, taking action, making a difference. Never head a poster “Volunteers Wanted." What does this mean? Unpaid workers wanted? Instead, emphasize the title of the assignment itself. Recruit for tutors, mentors, cyber deputies, origami experts, whatever.
Photographs and artworks
A picture is indeed worth a thousand words, but the wrong picture can do a lot of harm. Avoid stereotypes. Use as many photographs as possible, with a wide range of activities and types of people pictured. Think about whether your photographs convey the right recruitment message. Do they picture the type of people you hope to attract? What you want is for someone to look at the pictures and think, "I could fit in there."
Where you place materials
T'here is no mystery to recruiting a diverse corps of volunteers: ask a diverse audience of prospects. This holds true for where you leave printed material. When you leave flyers or post bulletin board messages in different places around town, you clearly imply your desire for volunteers from those locations.
The people who represent you
Just as with photographs and where you recruit, unspoken messages are conveyed by the people representing you. Successful recruiters do not have to look cxactly like the audience they are addressing. But they need to look comfortable in the environment and be genuinely welcoming. They need to understand the expectations of the setting.
The applicant's reception
It's amazing how many organizations totally undercut their recruitment efforts by ignoring what happens to prospects when they make the attempt to express interest in becoming a volunteer.
If you aren't sure how it feels to contact your agency for the first time, recruit a spy. Ask a friend or colleague to telephone or drop in with an inquiry about volunteer work. What happens?
- Does the voice mail system offer an option for contacting the volunteer office or does every caller have to know a person's name?;
- If the right person is not in, how is the message taken on the phone? Is the prospective volunteer thanked for calling? Assured that s/he will be called back (or is the applicant asked to call back)?;
- Is the receptionist or security guard friendly? Helpful?