The Purpose and Audience of Volunteer Recruitment
Many moons ago, when I was a high school junior, my English Composition teacher required us to include four points at the top of every paper we submitted. They were: name, date, purpose, audience.
By that age, I was well-accustomed to the name/date pattern, but purpose and audience were curious to me. Studious (read: nerdy) person that I was, I followed the directive and over time, it became a part of my writing psyche. Little did I know, while I was toiling away with hand-written (cursive, pencil, double-spaced) five-paragraph essays, I was learning the perspectives that would be foundational to getting people to see and pay attention to the words I put out.
These two points are still mentally at the top of every blog I write, every social post I make and every ad I design. They force me to pause and take stock of what I’m doing and help guide me away from common pitfalls in marketing.
If you’re trying to figure out how to start attracting more volunteers via advertising, purpose and audience are also a great place for you to start in order to write and place copy that will get you the attention you seek.
No shouting into the vast undefined space of the internet. No more calls of desperation that undermine your credibility. Just volunteer recruitment appeals that inspire action from the right people.
Purpose – it’s not just about getting more volunteers in your volunteer recruitment pipeline
Ideally, all your outreach will have a starting point in your strategic plan and an endpoint with the ad you are writing.
Strategic Plan –> Strategic Volunteer Plan –> Volunteer Marketing Plan –> Your Ad
Strategic Plan Goal – Increase base of corporate support (foundation, marketing, volunteers).
Strategic Volunteer Plan Goal – Engage % more corporate volunteers with companies that offer employer-sponsored volunteerism.
Volunteer Marketing Plan – Run mid-summer corporate volunteer campaign targeting employers with sponsored volunteerism.
Your Ad – One day away from your desk can preserve a decade of our local history.
If you’re fortunate enough to have this level of thinking already applied to your work, the purpose of your ad will be derived straight from it. If you do not have all or any of these plans, you may need to back up and think about the goals you’re trying to achieve first.
With or without previous planning, you must always start with your mission. The purpose of everything you put out should have some connection to the mission. Ultimately, that is the purpose of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Next, go to the goals of your program or campaign. Do you need to let people know that you take volunteers? Does your outreach need to shed light on the outcomes of your organization’s work? Maybe it needs to inspire potential volunteers.
Whatever the goals of your program, please remember this: the purpose of your outreach is rarely just about getting a number of people showing up to help. The purpose, in the nonprofit world, is always mission-driven and your messaging will be served by putting it first. Always.
Candidly, your goal may very well be to get 35 volunteers by next week. The reason you need to think beyond that internal/organizational goal is that your potential volunteers are unlikely to be motivated by that goal.
Afterall, you aren’t asking 35 people to show up just to stand around. You need them to do something.
What is it they will be doing? What impact will it make? What stories will you/they be able to tell? THOSE are the answers to your question on purpose.
It’s not “HEY WE NEED 5 PEOPLE TO HELP!” It’s “Friend, your time will make an impact on this cause we both care about.”
Audience – who are you talking to and why do they care?
Considering your volunteer recruitment audience is not about completing high-level segment definitions. It’s about considering them as humans and as real people who have limited time and attention, just like you. It’s about respecting and attempting to understand the needs, motivations, and barriers that your audience might experience.
You need to pause and consider these things because you obviously already think your message is great. You’re sold! You love your organization and everyone (EVERYONE) should be as involved and passionate as you! This passion vortex is hard to escape and makes it difficult to remember that not everyone will share your passion.
And that’s ok! Your goal isn’t to bring in everyone. It’s to bring in others who share a similar type of passion, or, at the very least, a curiosity about your mission.
That means there are two things that your audience is NOT: It’s not you. And it’s not everyone.
Who does that leave? That’s where you need to do some digging.
For the example above, you might start with “people who work at XYZ company that sponsors three corporate volunteer days a year.” That may be good enough, but I challenge you to go a little further.
Just because a person has those days doesn’t mean a) they are going to use them and b) if they are going to use them, they want to do so with your organization.
That draws your audience numbers down a little further, but don’t let the smaller potential number freak you out. The closer you get to your audience, the better you can market specifically to them and the more likely they are to pay attention and do what you need.
In the example above, you could settle on something like “my audience for this campaign is people who work at XYZ and want to use their company volunteer days and who either are interested in our local history mission or are looking for a new place to engage.”
At that point, it’s OK that not everyone cares as much as you do about preserving our local history because you’re only trying to talk to the people who might share that interest. Defining your audience manifests into a freedom to speak specifically about what it is that you do and do well.
Once you commit to your audience, you can work really hard to connect with them. Write to them like they are real people, not a class of people on paper. Think about where they are likely to be hanging out and see your ad and what’s likely to get their attention. Reflect on what they care about how those things connect with your mission.
Why Purpose and Audience Matter in Volunteer Recruitment
When we forget that our writing needs to have a purpose, we confuse potential volunteers with mixed messages and unclear calls to action. When we forget that we are speaking to an audience, we often forget to talk to them like people and that they have unique perspectives from outside the organization.
When we remember to put the purpose and audience at the top of the page, it sets the tone for a strategic message that leaves an intentional call to action with your potential volunteer. It also results in messaging that resonates with your audience because it recognizes what they value.
At VolunteerPro, we know that volunteer recruitment is one of your top challenges. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be looking at practical ways you can improve your recruitment strategies so that you gain solid volunteers who stay committed to your work.
If this is a topic that challenges you and your organization, we’ve got a few other resources that can help you design a recruitment system that keeps your organization full of high-quality volunteers.
If you’d really like to advance your recruitment strategy (and training, and volunteer experience, and impact…) then you need to check out a VolunteerPro Membership.
VolunteerPro is the only online learning community and master-level library for managers of volunteers. Membership includes full access to VolunteerPro’s ready-made templates, volumes of professional articles and webinars, and time-saving tools for today’s volunteer managers.
We know that professional training for your work can be hard to find.
Our members transform their volunteer programs after gaining the tools and education to build a powerhouse volunteer program.