How to Recruit Volunteers Online With Powerful Calls to Action

Most volunteer managers know how to recruit volunteers online, but many are leaving talent on the table by not encouraging interested visitors to take the next step toward joining.

The good news is that there are specific, proven things you can do to quickly level up how you are communicating with future volunteers online.  

Calls to action — or CTAs — are the single most important piece of content you can place on your website or landing page to encourage action. As such, you want to be sure your CTA is as optimized as possible. The best way to do that is to work with human nature, not against it. 

So, today I’m going to teach you how to recruit volunteers by focusing on two aspects of your CTAs: copywriting and design. But first, let’s delve into some definitions and research to give you a better understanding of how the brain interacts with CTAs.

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(If you need to design whole sites or pages, check out this post.)

How to Recruit Volunteers
Remember: The Brain Drives What the Body Does

Humans don’t take action unless their brain instructs them to. What’s more, we are not the highly rational decision makers we make ourselves out to be.  Science shows, our gut decides in the moment, and our intellect justifies later. So, decision-making doesn’t usually emerge from a rational, deliberate, and slow thought process. Instead, we make quick, knee-jerk decisions from the depths of our limbic, emotional brain.

The trick to recruiting volunteers is purposefully designing calls to action that work with human nature not against. This gives you a better chance at riding the momentum of the brain’s natural processes. Then, your volunteer recruitment ads will have more chance of being clicked, read, and responded to in a positive way.

What is a Call to Action?

Simply put, a call to action is any combination of text and/or images that makes an ask of your reader. They should be designed to encourage an immediate response and can be comprised of text, web links, images, buttons, or any combination of those. 

Most often, calls to action also involve collecting information from the reader. For example, a name and email in exchange for a fact sheet. But, they can also generate an immediate reward for your reader (for example, downloading a fact sheet without any reader info).

You can include calls to action on your agency’s homepage, on a volunteer services main topic page (or volunteer services hub page), or a landing page that describe a specific volunteer opportunity.

To be successful a CTA must deepen your relationship with the reader, and encourage prospective volunteers to interact with your content. The more they interact with your web pages, the deeper the relationship.

In the beginning just use a few calls to action throughout your website to build explicit interactions along the volunteer journey. You’ll want to focus only on one goal per page (this means that a “Donate Now” button needs to go somewhere else).

For example, if you have a general volunteer information page, invite your reader to join your mailing list or download an info sheet. On web pages dedicated to recruiting volunteers for a single opportunity, stick to using one call to action that helps you get in touch or start the application process.

Volunteer Journey Map – How to Recruit Volunteers Successfully Using CTAs

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Three Pillars of Online Volunteer Recruitment Success

In the end, the success of your calls to action will rest on three elements — appealing graphic design, a simple user-friendly interface, and messages that appeal directly to your prospective volunteers.

When all three of these elements are working together in tandem, they create powerful psychological reactions, or triggers, in the brains of readers that generate momentum.

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The goal is to have a pleasant and easy reading experience. The easier it is to decipher what’s happening, what’s important, and what to do, the more likely volunteers will interact rather than moving on to the next thing. What’s more, research shows that the better the first impression and the more quickly readers can act, the more likely they will follow through.

So, how do you use triggers in your CTAs? Better copywriting and better design. Read on!

Using Copywriting to Trigger The Brain to Act

When creating your volunteer recruitment call to action, focus on your writing first. Your CTA needs to be clear and concise. You will only have a small space to get directly to the point.  

Answer the following five questions before you start refining your final product. They will help you hone in on clear benefits and why volunteers should take action. If your CTA lacks a benefit, it most likely won’t work.

Question 1: What do you want them to do?

Start your call to action with a verb, and tell them exactly want to do. With so much information on the internet, you need to be as clear as possible. For example “Support us!” or “Volunteer today! Isn’t as direct as “Click to Apply.”

If you are asking them to attend an information session, “Save Your Seat” or “RSVP” is better than “Join Us” or “Attend.”  Similarly, if you want them download a fact sheet use “Download the Fact Sheet” instead of “Learn More.” Try to imagine your audience taking the action, then describe it as succinctly as possible.

Don’t be afraid to be emotional. Here’s where it is actually OK to use an exclamation point in your business writing. Consider the difference between “Click to Apply” and “Click to Start Changing Lives Now!” Think about emotional transformations you see in your organization — in those you serve, in volunteers, in employees. See if you can work those transformations into your copywriting for volunteer recruitment.

Question 2: What’s in it for them?

Be clear about how volunteers will benefit from joining you. Research shows that volunteers are motivated when one of six key functional motives are satisfied. Do you know which of the following are most common in your volunteers? Choose which one will be most attractive to your desired audience. For example, if you’re seeking younger volunteers, “Learn Real World Skills” might resonate.

Six Volunteer Functional Motives

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Question 3: Why are they resistant?  

Counter the most common reasons people resist your appeals right in your call to action. Most offers are met with 3-5 common objections. Which are yours?

Consider how elegantly Netflix communicates what’s in it for their audience — “Watch anywhere.” It’s all about convenience. Since Netflix moved to streaming, you can literally watch from your smartphone. They also counter objections with two simple words — “Cancel anytime.” People don’t really like to commit to long-term contracts. No worries. With Netflix, you can exit when it stops working for you (if ever).

Netflix Home Page Call to Action

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Question 4: What difference will they make?

Lead with the “why” not the “what.” Volunteer-involving organizations often lead off with a laundry list of requirements for volunteers. But inspiration always precedes perspiration. No one is going to join you unless they fully understand the critical difference they will make.

Look at how Charity:Water explains in simple terms what volunteers can achieve in their call to action.

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5. Why do they need to act now?

Finally, it also helps to create a sense of urgency when writing for recruitment of volunteers. If there is nothing to lose by procrastinating, people will. So, establish and communicate deadlines where you can.  

When is the final date to register for a new volunteer training? Are you only accepting new applicants until a certain date for a certain position? What will volunteers miss out on if they don’t act now?

While you may accept new volunteers all year, find ways to create urgency and momentum or your reader will put off joining you for another day and perhaps never come back.

Using Design to Trigger the Brain to Act

Design is powerful stuff! So, don’t neglect it.  

Here are a few tips to get better volunteer recruitment response rates by drawing attention to your calls to action. Make sure they pass the squint test.” If you squint your eyes, is the CTA the most obvious thing?
If not, you have more work to do. Make sure to also get feedback from current volunteers and test your CTAs to see what works best with your particular audience. Keep tweaking them until you get good response rates.

This is why online marketers often prefer graphic buttons to plain text. It’s simply easier to call attention to them. To further catch your reader’s eye, do the following to optimize your calls to action:

Make Buttons a Contrasting Color  

For an example, see this case study on design contrast. Wondering which color to choose? Check out the results of this test. You may have to quibble a bit with your web designer to implement, but making your button a different color will increase your results.

Constant Contact does a good job of choosing a contrasting color for their CTA button. But, wait! Two buttons? Not a problem because they both send the reader to the same place. In fact, if you have a page that requires scrolling, intersperse more than one button throughout the page. Just make sure they are working toward the exact same end goal.

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Break the One Call to Action Rule

The general rule is one CTA per web page, but including two, side by side can also be effective if you want your audience to find relevant content more quickly.  how to recruit volunteers at

Note how HelloSign offers the opportunity to get started right away with their service or explore their product in more depth (they even off a bonus course registration CTA at the bottom!).  

For volunteer programs, this might mean offering two choices to visitor — to start their application or browse volunteer opportunities. By offering two levels of choice, one direct and one that involves more research, you still give your audience something to do on the page that engages them at their level.

Highlight the Best (Your Preferred) Choice

You can accomplish this with size, color, and text. See how we emphasize the best deal for future VolunteerPro members on our join page simply by popping out that choice.

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Remember to Use White Space

When we cram too much content onto a page, the reader has a hard time determining what to look at first and which content is the most important. Be sure to include white space around your CTA, so the eye is naturally drawn to it.

Crisis Text Line employs pro-level design principles by simplifying their content and leaving white space around their CTA.

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Make it Symmetrical

Use symmetry with the other page elements to make it easier on the eye. Look how AARP’s Create the Good website offers balance by aligning the call to action with a banner photo.

Also, note how AARP uses a directional element. Placing arrows inside or pointing at a button can encourage a click more than a button without it. Or, include a photo of a person pointing to or looking at your CTA.

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Include “Trust Elements”

Linking to your privacy policy and ensuring volunteers you won’t share their information is a must in today’s anxiety-prone online environment. But, be sure you don’t include words like “spam” which will trigger unconscious doubts in your reader.

Use Testimonials

See how FreeAgent includes an enthusiastic customer endorsement next to their text-based call to action. Reviews are one of the most powerful ways to get reader buy-in. How many times have you read the reviews on Amazon before buying something? 

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You Don’t Need a Big Budget to Get Started

Most of these examples and suggestions for how to recruit volunteers online don’t require a huge budget to implement. Sometimes, merely changing up your text can boost your clicks and conversions.

So, there’s no time like the present to get started converting more browsers to joiners.

Share this post with your web designer and marketing team. Talk through what you think might work for your organization. Make changes and see if they get traction. Show potential volunteers that your organization values them enough to make their decision making easy.

You’ll never know if you can improve your online volunteer recruitment results until you try. So, get to it!

Free [eCourse] Better Volunteer Recruitment
in 6 Easy Steps

Learn how to cut through the clutter and connect with enthusiastic supporters.