The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Hiring The Right Volunteer for Your Business
If your business or organization needs a bit of extra help for an event or peak seasons, you might be able to get a lot of mileage simply by inviting volunteers into the fold. Volunteers are terrific for businesses because they can cover key functions at a low cost. They are also often extremely passionate—passionate enough to work for your cause or brand without being paid.
The flip side of these benefits is the “beggars can’t be choosers” mentality. Many businesses feel like they can’t be selective with volunteer recruitment and selection because they are asking these employees to work for free. You should be selective about choosing your volunteers, as they will be brand representatives with the power to influence customer opinions. Here are 10 steps that you can use to recruit the right volunteers.
- Plan before you post: Don’t start posting “Volunteers Wanted” notices online or near your business until you’ve done some detail-oriented planning. You need to be able to tell prospective volunteers what they will be doing, what the time commitment will look like, and what the perks are. Advertising this information upfront will get you volunteers who have the ability, interest, and flexibility in their schedule to help.
- Create multiple different opportunities: If you need quite a bit of volunteer support, you can’t expect to get the best results by asking every person who volunteers to commit 20 hours of their time. Consider breaking volunteer work up into shifts or tiers, so that people can get involved whether they have 20 hours of free time or just one hour.
- Sketch out a management structure: Particularly if you have a lot of volunteers, managing them can be a logistical nightmare. Having 20 volunteers show up at the same time on the same day without any plan to follow might end up costing you more time and effort than hiring full-time people to handle the same tasks. Instead, assign employees to manage groups of volunteers, or give certain experienced volunteers “director” or “manager” status. Having a system in which volunteers know who they report to will guarantee efficiency.
- Find people who are passionate: Passion is the key to a great volunteer. You want someone who is going to approach the volunteer opportunity with enthusiasm and excitement. It doesn’t matter where the passion comes from: you could end up with volunteers who love interacting with customers, or adore your brand, or believe in your cause, or interested in the incentives you’re offering. All these reasons qualify as passion, and passion can motivate your volunteers to work hard, engage with customers, and create value.
- Offer perks: Speaking of incentives, you need them! You don’t pay volunteers, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to give them a reason to work hard for you. Free admission to events, store discounts, invitations to volunteer appreciation parties, complimentary gifts, and similar incentives won’t cost you much, but they will drive a lot of interest. If you are targeting younger volunteers, simply offering volunteer hours and real-world experience might be enough. Many high school students like to put volunteer experience on their college applications and resumes. If experience is all you are offering, make sure you’ve tailored the opportunity and expectations to the right age group.
- Target young people and seniors: Volunteers come in all ages and levels of experience, but young people and seniors tend to be terrific volunteers because of their flexible schedules. High school and college students are looking for resume builders, while seniors are looking for ways to get out, meet people, and feel like they are a part of a larger community. Volunteering for your brand is a win-win.
- Have an application process: You wouldn’t hire everyone who applied for a full-time job, so you shouldn’t accept everyone who shows interest in volunteering, either. Instead, design an application process. The process can be simpler than your full-time or part-time application procedure, but it should include inquiries about work experience, volunteer experience, qualifications, and skills. You should also meet or speak to potential volunteers before you offer them any position. These steps can give you a feel for who you are bringing into your organization and the possible impact they might have on your brand.
- Make it clear that there is an application process: Many people assume that businesses or organizations asking for volunteers will accept everyone. Most volunteer postings just say things like “volunteers wanted” or “to volunteer, send an email to this address” and businesses and organizations typically do little to diffuse this misconception. People who want to volunteer for you will be willing to fill out a short application or email a resume. The main issue here is one of expectations versus reality. Making it clear from the beginning that prospective volunteers need to apply will ensure that expectations are more in line with reality, thereby avoiding confusion or outrage.
- Run background checks: In addition to resumes and applications, be sure to vet your volunteers. Once again, these people are going to be an extension of your brand. Even if his or her position is only temporary, a volunteer can do a lot of damage by assaulting a customer or making off with a cashbox from your event. Running criminal background checks will help you spot red flags and hire only people you can trust.
- Invite your best volunteers back: The good news about volunteers—particularly for annual events or seasonal functions—is that they will be willing to come back if they have a good experience. Keep an eye out for volunteers who go above and beyond the call of duty and invite them back every time you need volunteers. Even better, establish an email newsletter list of all your volunteers and reach out whenever you have another volunteer opportunity coming up. You will never have all the same volunteers as you did last time, but inviting people back can save you a lot of effort and time in recruitment.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of many non-profit organizations, and they can benefit your business, too. Use these tips improve your volunteer recruitment, screening, and retention processes.
About the Author
Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.