This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of taking my four-legged family member, Rocky, to the Edmonton Humane Society’s annual Pets in the Park event at Hawrelak Park. Rocky got to enjoy some doggy carnival games as well as copious amounts of attention from both humans and other dogs. Meanwhile, I had the opportunity to brush up on my pet-care best practices, pick up some pet insurance information and scout out some cute toys to spoil him with later, all while taking in performances by The Alberta Redneck Furry Fliers Disc Dogs. I also found some time to chat with some of the hard-working volunteers who chose to donate their weekend to Edmonton Humane Society, and they all have one thing in common: they love those dogs.
Recruiting engaged volunteers is one of the most challenging tasks organizations face, with over 26% of Volunteer Alberta Members naming a lack of volunteers as one of the biggest challenges they encounter. On Sunday I picked up some pointers that can assist you in recruiting and retaining the volunteers who will make the biggest impact on your organization.
Encourage your already engaged volunteers to share why they think you’re great.
Word of mouth is the most effective form of promotion, and who is better equipped to tell your story than the people who are dedicated to your cause and devoting their free time to your organization? Your volunteers are the best ambassadors your organization has. You can encourage them to share their experiences through social media, through sites such as volunteerville.ca, or even by quoting them on your own website. Volunteers are a simple, free, and effective avenue to get the word out on the work you’re doing, while encouraging likeminded people to get involved with your cause.
Reach out. Connect with your community.
If you don’t have adorable puppy faces for volunteers to rally around, don’t fret – you can still reach out to your community in a variety of ways. One organization that connects with their audience in imaginative ways is The Foothills Country Hospice Society in Okotoks. Instead of trying to pull volunteers in, they are pushing their own name out into their community. From restaurant fundraisers to law office hot dog sales, Foothills County Hospice is engaging the people and organizations of Okotoks in every way they can. This includes their major annual fundraiser each fall (this year’s theme is The Great Gatsby!), where instead of trying to find volunteers one person at a time, they approach the town’s organizations for assistance.
Businesses are often looking to give back to their communities and many have volunteer programs in place to help them do just that. The number of businesses partnering with or sponsoring Edmonton Humane Society’s Pets in the Park is staggering, and the event couldn’t be held without them. Not only does connecting with a business this way give you access to talented bodies to assist with your program or event, but the company also gains recognition within the community for its contribution, and your organization fosters awareness amongst businesses and consumers who may not be familiar with you.
Take Time to Find the Right Roles for the Right People
When engaging volunteers, it is important that no relevant skills are wasted. Taking the time to uncover the talents of the people involved with your organization may not be your highest priority, but by nurturing the talents of your volunteers, they feel more fulfilled by the work they do for you and it increases your organization’s efficiency. It can also be beneficial to have a variety of volunteer opportunities available, so people with a variety of skill-sets have an opportunity to get involved with your organization. When acting as a manager of volunteers, it is important to make sure that both the needs of the organization and the needs of the volunteers are being met.
From 200 pound Saint Bernards to 5 pound Chihuahuas (and even a couple of ferrets and a pot-bellied pig), all pets were encouraged to come down and enjoy the sun on Sunday. It was obvious by the volunteer’s faces that they loved every minute of the animal-filled day, maybe even more than their furry guests. The Edmonton Humane Society did a wonderful job finding the right people to donate their time to this event to make it as spectacular as possible, and those volunteers made sure I came away from the day with more than just pet insurance brochures.
Check out the Learning Resource Guides in Volunteer Alberta’s Resource Centre (VARC) for more ideas and information on volunteer recruitment, retention, and recognition; and please leave your own volunteer engagement tips in the comment section!