It’s harder than ever to recruit long term volunteers. Does that mean we need to lower our standards? Guest blogger Laura Rundell wants more conversation around the question. Please weigh in!
At many of the meetings I go to, in the blogs I read, and when I talk with my colleagues, I find that many of us struggle with recruiting enough volunteers to meet our agencies’ needs. The trend seems to be that fewer people are making a long term commitment to volunteering. It is harder for agencies that rely on volunteers to find the folks who are able to make an ongoing commitment. Many agencies report that volunteers are looking for short term, casual ways of volunteering.
Tobi Johnson’s excellent survey of volunteer managers shows that most of us anticipate that the need for volunteers will increase, yet there doesn’t seem to be a corresponding increase in the number of people looking to make an extensive commitment.
If we don’t adapt to these changing trends, are we shooting ourselves in the foot? If we aren’t able to offer the sort of volunteer roles that people seem to be seeking, are we missing the opportunity to engage them in our agency?
If we do try to change programmatic requirements to make it easier for people to volunteer in a casual way, are we selling ourselves (and our programs) short?
At LifeBridge Community Services we serve at-risk youth, the elderly and clients in our behavioral health programs. The requirements to work with these groups often include a health form, criminal background clearance, and Department of Children and Families clearance. We aren’t able to change these standards and completing the vetting can take up to four weeks.
We also have some opportunities that work for casual and group volunteers. We operate a Community Closet that accepts gently used clothing and household items. Our clients may shop for items they need free of charge. This is one of our only programs that can work with casual volunteers who help sort our many donations.
We have tried to address our recruiting challenge in a few ways:
First, we created an online orientation to make the requirements of our volunteer program as clear as possible. We ask applicants to view the orientation prior to running clearances. After they have viewed the orientation, we ask them to sign a commitment letter that says they agree to follow our policies, sign up regularly for shifts, and let us know if they can’t come for some reason. While this is a new effort for us, it has helped reduce the number of applicants who go through the entire process and don’t end up volunteering.
We have also tried to partner with other agencies like Goodwill to bring groups to sort donations in the Community Closet. They come with a job coach to help volunteers who may need a little extra assistance to succeed in their role. These groups have provided a great source of ongoing help. An agency Memorandum of Understanding helps manage the risk to both agencies in the partnership.
We have also partnered with local universities to be a host site for work study students and interns. Because the students are fulfilling key roles for a class or graduation requirement or a work study requirement, they have more incentive to complete the vetting requirements and usually provide high quality service for six months to a year or more. This is also a new effort for us, but our first year of offering internships and work study has provided much needed program support that we would not otherwise receive for key roles.
My questions for readers are:
- Have you noticed a change in the number of volunteers who are able and willing to make an ongoing commitment?
- Have you noticed a change in the number of volunteers looking for one-time or short term ways of contributing?
- How has your agency adapted to these changes?
- How can we adapt to changing trends without selling our programs, staff and clients short?
I would like to hear from you about your recruiting challenges how you have met them. Let’s keep the conversation going. The larger discussion may help us all with some difficult decisions.
Laura Rundell, CVA received her BA in Political Science from Earlham College. She spent five years working in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives before leaving to pursue her Masters degree from Northeastern University. She completed her certification in volunteer administration in 2013. Lauraran the volunteer program at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, PA which received a citation from the Mayor in honor of the volunteers’ contributions to the community.
In 2013, Laura relocated to Connecticut where she works as Volunteer Coordinator for LifeBridge Community Services in Bridgeport, CT.