In working with downtowns and Main Streets across the country, I have found that one area that is frequently talked about is volunteer recruitment. Some programs have a wonderful recruitment process, most however are lacking a formal recruitment strategy. Volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization, but recruiting them often becomes a “who’s left” rather than “who’s right”.
Most organizations have a similar process, they ask someone to be on a committee and eventually if that person sticks around they will be the chair of that committee and usually find their way to the board of directors. Very rarely is that volunteer asked to give up a position when they take on a new one, and eventually you’ve got one person wearing 5 or 6 “hats”, which leads to burnout and eventually you have a lot of holes to fill.
Each organization should have a volunteer recruitment program. I am a BIG believer that at every major event for your organization you should have two volunteers doing things that are often not thought of:
From there you can fill your volunteer funnel if you will, getting more and more people active in your events and committees, which can eventually trickle up to the board of directors. Now, the trick is – and it is a difficult one – when someone assumes a new role, they need to “give up” their old role. This doesn’t mean they can’t help with the event they are passionate about, but it does mean that you are recruiting someone to fill that position, even if that means your committee grows. This will ensure you aren’t overwhelming volunteers and aren’t asking them to do too much.
Another key element in the volunteer recruitment process is the nominating committee. In our experience, about half of the organizations use a nominating committee in one form or another, but how many of those are truly effective? Well, that’s another story. So, how do you get the most out of your nominating committee?
That actually starts with who is on your nominating committee. Most organizations will use their officers, which usually leads to the same volunteers being asked to serve, and can lead to those situations where the volunteer is wearing multiple hats. So who should be on your nominating committee? We recommend having no more than one current board member on your committee, which will usually be the president. Ideally, the other 5-7 members of your committee are well-respected in the community and come from various backgrounds and social circles. You want to get people that are owed a lot of favors. Someone that others can’t say no to. That’s the perfect nominating committee member. We’ll get to why in a minute. It can also be easier to recruit a nominating committee member because it is usually a short-term position, convened to fill the key volunteer roles for the organization.
Once you have the committee set, you’ll begin to use the worksheet which can be downloaded by filling out our form to the right. There are some key steps that you will want them to do. The first is to review the qualifications and job descriptions for the positions they will be asked to fill. This is an important step to ensure they know the types of people and skills they should be thinking of.
The next is to evaluate current volunteers. This is an extremely important, and frequently overlooked step in the process. Usually, if a role is filled the nominating committee just “rubber stamps” their appointment for another year. However, if that person isn’t effective in that role, the organization is hurt by having them in that position. Having the nominating committee conduct this impartial evaluation can help ensure people are in positions they are passionate about and effective for the organization. This is another reason you don’t want a number of board members on the nominating committee. It is very important these evaluations be kept confidential and any notes taken be destroyed to prevent issues after the committee’s work is done.
After the evaluations, the nominating committee should know what positions needs to be filled, and that’s when the brainstorming begins. You want to make as many suggestions as you can think of for each position. Then, through debate and discussion decide who would be the ideal candidate for each. It is extremely important in this process not to say no for them. It’s very easy to get caught up in “he’s too busy” or “she won’t say yes” and move on. Don’t be so quick to discard the right candidate, give them the opportunity rather than taking it from them.
Before you adjourn, your nominating committee should also determine who the right person is to make the ask. This will usually be a member of the nominating committee (this is why we like people who are owed favors)! The executive director, a staff member, or another volunteer will usually go with the nominating committee member to make the ask. You’ll provide the prospect with the job description, outline what the job entails, and then ask them to accept. This is where it gets tough for us Main Streeters, because the next step is to STOP TALKING! Once you’ve made the ask, be quiet. It will likely feel awkward, but it’s an extremely effective tactic. Remember, the one who talks first, loses (or in this case WINS, because they’ll be a volunteer for you)!
Once the asks have been made, your nominating committee will reconvene to see what positions were accepted and which still need to be filled. They may need to revisit names and repeat the ask process.
After all positions are filled, the nominating committee will make their official report to the president and their work is complete. The list of nominees will, usually, then be voted on by the members of the organization.
Following these steps will ensure that your volunteer recruitment program is a successful one. We encourage you to fill out the form to the right and download the nominating committee worksheet today!