apple Volunteer Recruitment

“I have always enjoyed helping other people, and this was an excellent opportunity to do just that. Volunteering as a literacy tutor also gave me the opportunity to get out in the community and meet a wide variety of lovely people.” (A literacy volunteer)

Where are they?

Overall, fewer Canadians are volunteering. According to the National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, Canada is experiencing a sharp decline in the number of people willing to volunteer. Between 1997 and 2000, there were one million fewer Canadian volunteers. Lack of time was the reason most often given for not volunteering (identified by 76% of non volunteers).

This same national trend is reflected in the literacy community as well and in recent years the number of volunteers has declined. In fact, in CLO’s volunteer survey (2005), 77% of literacy practitioners indicated that they would like to increase volunteer participation in their agencies. Given this reality, how can you effectively recruit those precious but time-poor volunteers? This can be especially challenging since almost every other not-for-profit organization in your community is probably trying to recruit them too!

Finding the right volunteers also involves knowing where to look. Make sure you keep abreast of changes or trends in volunteer patterns. For example, in recent years “family volunteering”—where the members of a family volunteer for the same organization— has become a popular trend. Volunteer Canada ( and Imagine Canada ( are great sources for information about volunteer trends.

In its promotional tool kit, Celebrating Literacy Volunteers in Your Community, Community Literacy of Ontario provided the following scenarios for places or opportunities where you might find volunteers:

  • Just around the corner: Two-thirds of Canadians volunteer because they or someone they know has been personally affected by the cause an organization is addressing.
  • Waiting to be asked: Over 50% of volunteers said they became involved because they were personally asked by someone from the organization, a family member, friend or employer.
  • Education: Volunteering tends to increase with the level of formal education.
  • Being youthful: The fastest growing segment of the volunteer population are young adults between the ages of 15 and 24-nearly one third of this segment volunteers. Unfortunately, the actual number of hours they volunteer is decreasing.
  • Working: 67% of volunteers are employed. Employed Canadians volunteered more often than did those who were unemployed or not in the labour force. Part-time employed people had the highest rates of volunteering. However, those volunteers who are either not in the labour force or are unemployed contribute more hours than those who are employed.
  • Worshipping: Canadians who attend a place of worship on a weekly basis are more likely to volunteer and spend more time volunteering than the national average. They also tend to give more and larger financial donations to charity as well.
  • Learning: Canadians in general and literacy volunteers in particular have indicated that learning new skills is important to them. This means that the opportunities you provide should allow volunteers to gain new skills or increase their level of expertise.

Effective Recruitment Methods

Probably one of the most important things to remember about volunteer recruitment is do not use an “anybody will do” approach. People want to make a difference; they don’t want to merely be a warm body. Showcase your organization and its important mission and let potential volunteers know why your organization is a good choice for them.Make your message and approach personal: we need YOU.

Treat volunteering with your organization as an opportunity, not an obligation. Sell it as:

  • An opportunity to make a meaningful contribution in another person ‘s life
  • The chance to make new friends
  • An opportunity to contribute to literacy
  • The chance to get out and have a bit of fun
  • An opportunity to learn new skills / share your skills with others
  • An opportunity to “give back” to the community

Promote whatever you think both suits the position and will appeal to volunteers in your community.

You should also try to recruit people whose skills and interests match your needs. This will assist in both recruitment and retention and will result in happier volunteers and staff. Be honest about the time and skill requirements. Don’t under-sell the time required or the skills needed just to fill the position. It is much better, not to mention fair to all concerned, to keep looking until you find the right match.

Because we are all so busy, often organizations recruit only when needed, as opposed to conducting recruitment on an ongoing basis. It can often happen that new board members are recruited in a mad flurry just before the annual general meeting, or new tutors are recruited just before instruction starts up in September, or new fundraising committee members are recruited just before the annual spaghetti supper. It is much more effective to try to recruit year-round.

Recruit as widely as possible and use as many different techniques as possible. Be creative. Don’t just go to the same tried and true sources. Also consider who is not represented or who is under-represented. The volunteer base in your agency should reflect the diversity of your community.

Here are some final things to consider. Try to make a good first impression on volunteers (whether they call, email or drop-by the office, or meet you at a community event or whether they hear about you through a brochure, poster or via your website). Creating a positive and welcoming environment for volunteers will greatly assist with recruitment!

When CLO asked literacy agencies how they recruit volunteers in the 2005 volunteer survey, here were the top recruitment methods:

  • 89% – Word of mouth
  • 83% – Posters and brochures in public places
  • 83% – Local newspaper advertisements and articles
  • 81% – Community activities
  • 70% – Ask them directly
  • 64% – Fundraising events
  • 34% – Television public service announcements
  • 32% – Local mall promotions
  • 28% – Radio public service announcements

When volunteers were asked how they found out about the opportunity to volunteer with a literacy agency, some of the most common ways were via the local newspaper, by word of mouth and by a poster or brochure in a public place. Another important method identified by volunteers was via the Internet! Literacy practitioners rarely mentioned the Internet at all. Perhaps we are missing an important volunteer recruitment opportunity? Does your website have a section that gives clear and easy to find information for potential volunteers?

Here are a couple of websites from the Ontario literacy community that have clearly laid-out volunteer recruitment information on their websites.

Here are a few innovative suggestions for volunteer recruitment:

  • Make a list of everyone you could approach and ask everyone in your program (students, volunteers, staff and other stakeholders) to add to the list
  • Get existing (but not burnt-out) volunteers to recruit new ones
  • Hold a “bring a friend” volunteer tea
  • Use testimonials from learners in your recruitment material
  • Host an open house for potential volunteers
  • Offer to write a letter of recommendation after a set period of service

Your recruitment message

The final step in volunteer recruitment is to develop or update your promotional material, such as posters, brochures, information on your website, public service announcements, etc. Be sure to update it regularly so that it reflects any new program changes, any new volunteer opportunities, or changes to contact information. Using out-of-date material will not leave a good impression. Does your recruitment material link back to what motivates volunteers?

Does it tell people that if they volunteered with your organization that they will be:

  • Making a difference in someone’s life
  • Furthering an important cause
  • Working in a warm and encouraging environment
  • Meeting new people
  • Developing their skills
  • Volunteering with an organization that understands the tight time constraints facing most Canadians

Consider these two recruitment messages:

“ABC Literacy Organization urgently needs volunteer tutors.”


“The learners are ready, the pencils are sharp, the computers are humming…but where are the volunteer tutors? Come join the ABC Literacy Organization’s team of volunteers and gain the rewarding experience of helping someone learn to read. You could make an important difference in someone’s life.”

Would you eat in a restaurant whose ad read, “Please eat here because we have all this food we have to sell”? Of course you wouldn’t! You would probably choose a restaurant whose ad described how delicious and reasonably priced the food was, not to mention the great service and atmosphere. You would also probably be encouraged to go if people you knew highly recommended the restaurant!

Most organizations recruit volunteers much the same way as the restaurant ad mentioned above. They simply say, “We need volunteers”. Sometimes they say a bit about their organization, but they don’t talk about why they need volunteers, what they need the volunteers to do or what the organization can offer the volunteer.

At best, these blanket requests for help blend in with all the other recruiting that is occurring in your community. They don’t make your organization stand out from all the others. Sell your organization! If you don’t, you run the risk of getting lost in the crowd!

Consider these organizational slogans and think about their motivational appeal to potential volunteers:

  • Little Moments; Big Magic ” (Big Brothers, Big Sisters)
  • A Single Dream. A World of Hope ” (Terry Fox Foundation)
  • Change a Life. Change Your Own” (World Vision Canada)
  • Bring on the Adventure!” (Scouts Canada)

Or, closer to home, consider these wonderful literacy slogans:

  • A Place to Grow!” (Organization for Literacy Sarnia-Lambton)
  • Our Volunteers Change Lives” (Hamilton Literacy Council)
  • Hard work, low pay, and the experience of a lifetime!” (Frontier College’s Labourer-Teacher Program)

Remember that volunteers come to you because of something they want – not something you want. A successful volunteer recruitment message will always answer the question: “Why should I volunteer for your literacy agency—what is in it for me?” Does your organization think about this when you are looking for volunteers?

The depth of information will depend to some extent on the media being used. A recruitment poster, for example, has limited space. A three-fold brochure, while still limited, does provide the opportunity for supplying even more information about the organization. A website can provide a great deal of information, but make sure the information is clear, up-to-date and easy to find from your main site. Also, have an accessible email link for potential volunteers to contact you as easily as possible.

The information that you provide in any of these materials should act as a screening tool by helping potential volunteers decide whether or not they want to contact your organization for more information.

Additional Resources

Volunteer recruitment is an issue that almost all not-for-profit organizations struggle with. Accordingly, you can easily access more information on this important topic via the Internet. Here are some recommended resources:

Questions and Activities for Reflection

  1. What are the benefits of volunteering with your literacy agency? What are some effective ways you could (or do) tell people about this?
  2. What are the most effective volunteer recruitment strategies used by your agency?
  3. What new strategies could you try to increase your effectiveness?
  4. Ask five volunteers how they found out about your literacy agency and why they chose to volunteer with you. What did you learn from their answers?
  5. In CLO’s volunteer survey, many volunteers said they found out about volunteering through the Internet. Does your agency’s website contain easily accessible and clear information on how to volunteer with your agency?
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