Check your volunteers’ DNA

To the uninitiated, it might seem that a volunteer manager’s job is 90% done when there are enough volunteers in place to get things done.  That is, until we start to suspect that perhaps we spend way too much time and effort in keeping those positions filled.  We start to wonder if we really need to advertise in all those different places. We start to wonder if we could retain more volunteers longer and recruit less.  We start to wonder if there is a way to make our lives easier and run our programs more efficiently.

If you are wondering any of these things, the answer is to find out what makes your most loyal volunteers tick.

So perhaps the first important skill that a volunteer manager needs to master is basic data crunching. Uncover the profile of a successful volunteer in your program by running a ‘DNA analysis.’DNA

Not literally, of course. What you are really doing is gathering some essential demographic information.

I asked the staff members who  supervise volunteers to give me the names of their ten most successful volunteers.  Our program manages approximately 150 volunteers at any given time, and I was given a list of 40 names, or 26% percent of the volunteer base.

First, I checked for basic commonalities that could be found on their application forms.  I asked some very simple questions:

  • Are they male or female?
  • How old are they?
  • Do they work? Are they involved in a particular line of work?
  • Do they have children? [my organization is child-focused]
  • What is their highest level of education?

What I discovered, confirmed some anecdotal things that we knew, and revealed some other surprises.

  • For example, every single person on the successful list – 100% of them – were age 40 or older.
  • The majority of them worked either part time or were retired.
  • The vast majority were college graduates and many held advanced degrees.
  • Among the male volunteers, 100% were either retired or self-employed.

These data points set the course for my entire recruitment strategy. Since our most successful volunteers are either empty nesters or retired, I focused my marketing efforts on media that would reach the targeted audience.  I posted notices in newspapers and websites that were read by the 40+ demographic  I abandoned posting flyers and notices on college campuses or volunteer boards that cater to a younger demographic.

The result was that I marketed my program more effectively, spending less time trying to drum up volunteers from unlikely sources, and freeing up my time to study other ways to improve the recruitment and screening process (more on that later).

Your DNA study may uncover something completely different.  You may find that your best volunteers are groups of young singles. Or that a particular type of professional likes to volunteer with you. Or that your program draws from a particular geographic area.

Whatever your study uncovers, the information has the potential to make your job much easier.  Take the time to crunch those statistics and see what you might uncover.