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Wanted: Volunteers to Mix Concrete in January Or How to Successfully Recruit Volunteers

Rhonda DeBough, CVA

As a MAVA Leadership Trainer, I asked a group of new Volunteer Administrators to come up with the worst volunteer opportunity for the most compelling cause to brainstorm how we might recruit for that position. They chose pouring a cement floor for the zoo babies…in January.

Recruitment shouldn’t be like playing whack-a-mole. Not just randomly doing “recruitment activities” and hoping for the best. There is a recipe you can follow, that will increase your chances of not only getting volunteers, but getting the right volunteers.

To start, let’s look at why people wouldn’t volunteer for this opportunity. We want this information because it will help us address the challenges we will face in getting people in our door. In our example, that’s easy. It’s mixing concrete and it’s cold. As an organization how can we respond?
1. Can we use something besides concrete? Not really. Besides, we might be able to use that as an advantage. (Teaser :))
2. Can we wait until June, when it’s warmer? No. The zoo has a big public open house scheduled in the springtime for their new baby animal exhibit.

We can’t change the basics. But what we know is that volunteers like opportunities that are meaningful, fun and project-based. (All of this works for long term opportunities as well.) I call volunteer incentives cookies. We need to figure out what kind of cookies our volunteers like and offer it to them. We also know that this is a two way street. We need to meet volunteer needs and we need to meet our organization’s needs. If either of those isn’t met, it isn’t going to work.

Before we go any further, and to ensure that our organization’s needs are met, we need to review or develop position descriptions (PDs). This is KEY. If you skip this step, you risk not getting your needs met or having to have difficult conversations with volunteers who didn’t understand what they were volunteering for. Your PD is your contract. This is what I need done and this is what you will get. Spell it out clearly. No fudging! You do not want warm bodies! Warm bodies take up time, energy and you don’t get your needs met. Plus they suck the energy out of the room. You may need several PDs.

Now we need to figure out the cookies. What can we give them? How can we make this fun? We can create a community event. Come in for 3 hours. Divide the tasks into bite sized pieces: People who measure the sand/water/cement, People who are the mixers, and People who are the pourers. Inside the building we can have hot cocoa and snacks. When the task is done, everyone who participated can put their hand prints in the concrete to recognize the volunteers and the community effort. Also, the volunteers can be invited as special guests to the open house in the spring.

Finally, who will we send this out to? We want people who know and support the organization. In our case, we will put this in the neighborhood newspaper or newsletter. It will be good to offer this opportunity up to the neighbors as a perk of living near. Plus, we may get other zoo volunteers who live near from this ask.
Once inquiries start to come in, you need to respond to them in a timely manner 2-3 business days MAX. Nothing says we don’t care if you come in or not, better than not responding or waiting a week or longer to respond. Even if you get all the volunteers you need, respond and see if you can recruit them for another opportunity.

Our zoo babies need a new home by spring and we need to roll up our sleeves to make that happen!

Join your neighbors on January 15 from 1-4pm. We will be mixing, stirring and pouring the new floor. We will keep you toasty with hot cocoa and warm snacks. When it is complete, we will be commemorating the event with everybody’s handprints in the cement and a special VIP invitation to the open house this spring!

For more information contact Rhonda at

Any takers?