Volunteers are integral to the nonprofit sector. Many nonprofits/charities, events, festivals and more, would not be possible without Albertans selflessly devoting their time to our communities and causes. But many nonprofits struggle with getting volunteers in the door and finding volunteers who are the right fit that will also come back to volunteer.
Fringe Theatre has a unique challenge to recruit, onboard, and engage more than 1,200 volunteers for their annual Fringe Festival in Edmonton. But, their volunteer program is extremely successful, so how do they do it?
How the Fringe Theatre finds and reaches volunteers
One of the ways the Fringe Theatre reaches volunteers is by posting their opportunities online on the VolunteerConnector platform; a new platform that allows volunteers to search for opportunities by cause, skills, time commitment, and more.
“I love the new VolunteerConnector! As a volunteer and volunteer manager, I was previously so frustrated by the lack of an easy-to-use, visually appealing volunteer opportunities board,” says Drew Delbaere, Interim Volunteer Manager at Fringe Theatre. “It’s great that so many volunteer centres across the province are now using the platform, so we don’t have to put our postings in multiple places.”
In addition to online postings, Drew says they also put up posters around the city, attend other events and farmers markets, advertise on social media, and reach out to former volunteers. They also do targeted outreach for their more skilled volunteer roles.
“For some of our roles, we do targeted outreach to people or organizations that would meet the specific qualifications, like for our First Aid Team,” says Drew.
Using the 10 steps to volunteer screening to get ‘the right fit’
But reaching volunteers and getting people interested in your cause is only one piece of volunteer recruitment. It’s also about finding the right fit and good onboarding. And the Fringe Theatre finds the right fit not only for their organization but also for their volunteers using the 10 Steps to Volunteer Screening.
“The 10 Steps are the foundation of our volunteer screening process,” says Drew. “When we first developed our screening strategy, or subsequently look to adjust it from year to year, the 10 Steps are behind every decision that we make.”
For example, some key steps that help find the right fit include writing clear volunteer position/role descriptions and conducting interviews to get to know the volunteer. But, the 10 Steps or good screening practices start at developing policies and is carried through to the support and supervision a volunteer receives.
“I believe that screening is one of the most important parts of any volunteer program. As volunteer managers, we need to move beyond thinking about screening as just a background check because it is so much more than that,” says Drew. “To me, screening means finding people who are a good fit for your organization, and a background check alone can’t tell me that.”
While screening can take a lot of resources, both financially and in staff time, according to Drew, it is a worthwhile investment. “Without a good screening program in place, you will spend more time dealing with performance, disciplinary, and/or retention issues in the future.”
Recommendations for your volunteer program
With Fringe Theatre’s tall order of recruiting 1,200+ volunteers every year, they’ve learned a thing or two about running a successful volunteer program. Here are some tips/recommendations from Fringe Theatre’s Interim Volunteer Manager, Drew, that could help your organization’s volunteer program:
- Set clear expectations from the start.
- Make sure that position descriptions are easy to understand and that they encompass all parts of the role. There should be no surprises!
- Make sure to communicate if there is a mandatory training session upfront. Even better if you can give the exact date and time.
- If you are an organization that runs an annual event or festival, make sure to invite your previous volunteers back! A simple email inviting former volunteers to join you again can make a huge impact.
- If you are an organization that recruits volunteers year-round, consider why someone should join you now, rather than a month or year from now.
- Make sure you give a deadline because if you have ongoing recruitment it can be easy for potential volunteers to keep putting off applying.
- For all volunteer managers, use your current group of volunteers to help your recruit. Beyond just asking, help facilitate this process. For example:
- You could create a toolkit with graphics, photos, or messaging that your volunteers can share with their networks in emails or on social media.
- Deliver a quality volunteer experience. For better or worse, volunteer programs will start to develop a reputation which can have an impact on the success or struggles of future recruitment.
The Edmonton International Fringe™ Theatre Festival has been delighting, shocking, and surprising audiences since 1982. Of the 23 in North America, they are the oldest and largest! They transform theatre. Foster artists. Nurture audiences. Take chances. And help you find the artist inside.