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The Planet

April 1998, Volume 5, Number 3


  Vying for Volunteers  

by Pat Veitch

    Whether it be an Earth Day rally or a hearing on proposed clean-air regulations, one of the biggest challenges of organizing an event is lining up volunteers. Common recruitment methods include phone calls, e-mail alerts, advertisements in chapter and group newsletters, print and radio public-service announcements, direct mail, letters to the editor, flyers and public-access TV. Of these methods, phone solicitations get the best results.

    But how do you guarantee success? As Bill Arthur, Northwest staff director, puts it, “There ain’t no magic. You just have to do the fundamentals well.” Have a well laid-out plan for the event and figure out how many volunteers you’ll need. Develop a list of people likely to get involved. “We have a computer database of volunteers,” says Marge Hanselman, conservation chair of the Houston Group. “I’ve developed it one person at a time, building on past events to bring in future activists.”

    Ask, Involve, Inform, Thank

    Effective recruiting depends on four simple steps that, when followed consistently, create positive feedback and strengthen volunteers’ connection to the organization.

    Ask:  Know what you need — then ask. Establish early contact with prospective volunteers and maintain consistent contact. To recruit by phone, first send a postcard three to five weeks before the event giving background information about the campaign and details about time and place. Follow up with a phone call three weeks before the event and ask the person to volunteer. Once they’ve agreed to participate, mail a postcard thanking them for their commitment. Putting the agreement in writing makes it real. Two days before the event, phone participants to confirm their attendance.

    “If you contact people four times prior to an event, you can count on having 60 to 75 percent show up,” says Arthur. “A 10 to 15 percent lower turnout occurs if only three contacts are made prior to an event, and two contacts results in an additional 10 to 15 percent drop in turnout.”

    Involve: Be positive and enthusiastic. Help volunteers feel welcome and at ease. Make it fun. Make note of particularly strong activists. Offer them more of a lead role in the tasks and keep their names on a list of potential leaders.

    Inform: People are more likely to commit their time and energy to a campaign they care about. Tell volunteers about the issue and how it affects them personally. Be specific about the time and place of the event, what you need them to do and the amount of time you’re asking them to commit. Help them see how their role is connected to the larger campaign goals.

    Thank: Let volunteers know they made a difference and that their efforts are appreciated. Send a hand-written postcard after the event. Let them know the results of their work. Include press clippings or summarize the campaign on a factsheet and mention the next steps needed. Or hold a party for the volunteers after the event. Bring information about your next campaign and start the process again.


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