How to Recruit Volunteers Online with Powerful Calls to Action

//How to Recruit Volunteers Online with Powerful Calls to Action
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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 a 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.  

Digital 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 it is as optimized as possible.  The best way to do that is to work with human nature, not against it.

Note: We’ve also written about designing websites for better volunteer recruitment before.  You can get more tips on how to make the design of whole page work for you here.

How to recruit volunteers?

Remember: The Brain Drives What the Body Does

Humans don’t take action unless their brain instructs them to do so.  What’s more, we are not the highly rational decision makers we make ourselves out to be.  Science shows, our gut decides, and our intellect justifies only later. In many instances, decision-making doesn’t emerge from a highly-rational, deliberate and slower thought process. In reality, we often make quick, knee-jerk decisions from the depths of our limbic, emotional brain.

When volunteer recruiters purposefully design calls to action that work with human nature not against, they have a better chance at riding the momentum of our brain’s natural processes. They will have more chance of being clicked, read, and responded to in a positive way.

What is a CTA?

Simply put, an online 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.  They can be comprised of text only, with a web link, but more often they are a combination of text and images and include a button to click. For example, consider this button we used a few years ago to promote VolunteerPro memberships.

how to recruit volunteers at

Most often, calls to action also involve collecting information from the reader.  For example, a name and email to send 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 them on your agency’s homepage, on a volunteer services main topic pages (or volunteer services hub page), or a landing page that describe a specific volunteer opportunity.

The essential thing a CTA must do to be successful is to help deepen the relationship with the reader — in your case prospective volunteers — and encourage them to interact with your content. The more they interact with your web pages, the deeper the relationship.

Consider using a few different calls to action throughout your website to begin to build explicit interactions along the volunteer journey, but focus on only one 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 starts the application  or registration process rolling.

Volunteer Journey Map – How to Recruit Volunteers Successfully Using CTAs

how to recruit volunteers at

In the end, the success of your calls to action will rest on three elements — appealing graphic design, a simple user interface that works, 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.

Three Pillars of Online Volunteer Recruitment Success

how to recruit volunteers at

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 and not move on to the next thing.  What’s more, research shows that the better first impression and the more quickly readers can act, the more likely they will follow through.


Design is powerful stuff!  So, don’t neglect it. See below for design tips that are proven to work.

What to Include That Triggers the Brain to Act

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

Here’s a simple writing formula to help you focus. Answer these four questions before you start refining your final product.  They will help you hone in on clear benefits, why volunteers should take action. If your CTA lacks a benefit, it most likely won’t work.

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 a information session, “Save Your Seat” or “RSVP” is better than “Join Us” or “Attend.”  Similarly, if you want them download a fact sheet, “Download the Fact Sheer versus “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 actually is 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 the emotional transformations you see in your organization — in those you serve, in volunteers, in employees.  See if you can work them into your copywriting.

2. What’s in it for them?

Be clear 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 the most common in your volunteers? Choose one to highlight that 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

 how to recruit volunteers at


3. What might make them anxious about doing it?  

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 video 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 works for you (if ever).

Netflix Home Page Call to Action

how to recruit volunteers at


4. Why does it matter?

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 u=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 to recruit volunteers at


Finally, it also helps to create a sense of urgency in your calls to action.  If there is nothing to lose by procrastinating, many people will. So, establish and communicate deadlines where you can.  

For example, 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.

How You Can Design CTAs for Better Results

When designing your calls to action, pay attention to the following elements. 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.  

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 some more work to do.

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

1. Make your buttons a contrasting color to the remainder of the page.  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.

how to recruit volunteers at

2. Break the one call to action rule, if you want to help your audience navigate quickly. 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, the options might meaning offering two choices to visitor — to start their application or browse volunteer opportunities. By offering two levels of choice — one more direct and one that involves more research, you still give your audience something to do on the page that engages them where they are at.


3. Highlight the best (your preferred) choice. You can accomplish this with size, color, and text.  Note how we emphasize the best deal for future VolunteerPro members on our join page simply by making that choice look slightly different.

how to recruit volunteers at

4. Include plenty of white space around your call to action.  When we cram too much content onto a page, the reader will have a hard time determining what to read 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.

how to recruit volunteers at

5. Use symmetry with the other page elements to make it easier on the eye.  Looks 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 to recruit volunteers at

6. Include “trust elements” next to your calls to action to calm worried minds.  Linking to your privacy policy and ensuring volunteers you won’t share their information is a must in today’s anxiety-prone online environments. But, be sure you don’t include words like “spam” which will trigger unconscious doubts in your reader.

Also don’t miss the chance to include a testimonial from an enthusiastic volunteer. Note how FreeAgent includes a customer endorsement next to their text-based call to action.

how to recruit volunteers at

You Don’t Need a Big Budget to Get Started

Most of the examples I’ve shared and suggestions I’ve made for how to recruit volunteers online don’t require a huge budget to implement.  Sometimes, by merely changing up your text you 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!


By |2018-08-28T15:06:31+00:00July 24th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments