How to Recruit and Engage Volunteers for Major Campaigns
Major fundraising campaigns are hard work—a typical capital campaign lasts several years from start to finish. And they’re complex, made up of distinct phases that require different approaches, resources, and communication strategies. During these phases, you must address a variety of audiences, including major donors, your broader donor segments, community partners, sponsors, and funders.
Clearly, your organization will need all the help it can get to drive the campaign to success. Your board and staff may not be able to handle it alone, so volunteers are essential.
If you’re in the midst of a major campaign or planning one, what steps should you take to improve your volunteer recruitment and engagement strategies?
Why your volunteer strategies matter
First, let’s explore why it’s important to have concrete strategies for recruiting and managing volunteers during a campaign. Consider these reasons:
- Recruiting and managing your volunteers thoughtfully will improve the volunteer experience and deepen your relationships with them.
- As volunteers stay engaged and eager to participate, you’ll reduce your need to continually find new recruits, saving your team more time.
- Volunteering creates additional ways to engage important donors—getting them even more involved with your mission by tailoring new opportunities to their interests and skills.
Volunteer recruitment and engagement should be built into your campaign plans from the start. Of course, you can adjust your approach over the course of the capital campaign as needed, but scrambling to recruit on the fly when a committee needs members or dealing with declining engagement becomes much bigger obstacles if you don’t have an established playbook.
Recruiting enthusiastic campaign volunteers
So how do you find and recruit the best people to help power your nonprofit’s major campaign? Here are the most important points to keep in mind:
Create a clearly defined recruitment process.
To succeed, your recruitment efforts need structure. Answer these questions:
- What are the qualities you are looking for in a volunteer?
- What are the roles for which you wish to recruit volunteers?
- Who will help decide to recruit an individual or not?
- Who will candidates speak with before being officially selected?
- Who will prepare a job description for the volunteers?
- How will you determine when it’s time to recruit more volunteers?
Answering these questions will give your recruiting strategy the internal structure to run smoothly.
Be selective as you recruit volunteers. Passionate, responsible volunteers will help drive campaign results, but those who aren’t great fits from the start are unlikely to become star volunteers. You can and should define what makes an ideal volunteer for your campaign. Create a list or persona that includes characteristics like passion for your mission, previous volunteer experience, an interest in making a difference, availability, and more.
Look within your network first.
As you begin the recruiting process, start by asking those closest to your organization for recommendations and referrals. Because of their personal connection to your organization, referred volunteers often prove to be valuable and engaged team members.
Staff, board members, current volunteers, and highly engaged donors can likely all provide helpful introductions. Take an organized approach by creating a quick internal survey or sharing clear instructions for staff and volunteers to submit referrals. Bring up your volunteer program in your next board meeting and in conversations with top donors.
Be clear about the roles and responsibilities.
No one wants to sign onto an unclear commitment. And when you don’t clearly explain to candidates what they’re signing up for, you risk attracting individuals who, while eager to help, might not be a great fit for a specific campaign position.
Create blurbs or short “job descriptions” that lay out what you’re looking for in ideal candidates for the various volunteer roles in your campaign. The specifics will vary, but each blurb should at least clarify these expectations:
- Purpose of the volunteer role
- Expected tasks and responsibilities
- Preferred level of experience
- Any special skills required
- Time commitment
You’ll recruit for different roles at different points in your campaign. For instance, as the quiet phase of the timeline draws to a close, you’ll need to build your kickoff and public phase team. Having job descriptions prepared will make it much easier to find new recruits if needed. Plus, it gives previous volunteers from the earlier stages a clear idea of the new ways they can help.
Explain the benefits of serving.
Make sure your recruitment process doesn’t only emphasize what’s expected of volunteers. Any effective appeal (whether you’re trying to attract donors, funders, or volunteers) paints a complete picture—the importance of your mission and campaign, what you’re asking of them, how their help will make a difference, and what they can expect from you.
In your recruiting materials and conversations with candidates, explain that joining your campaign will allow them to drive real impact while working on something significant. They’ll meet new people in the community who share their passion while expanding their personal and professional networks along the way. And if your regular volunteer program offers any perks or special benefits, mention them, too!
Engaging and retaining campaign volunteers
Once you’ve recruited volunteers and begun working on your campaign as a team, you’ll need to actively engage and retain them. Remember, volunteers are giving you their time because they believe in the importance of your work—you have to maintain their motivation to ensure they stay effective and will want to stick around through the end of the campaign.
It’s worth reiterating that a smooth-running volunteer program made up of engaged individuals starts with recruitment. Be selective and stick to the job descriptions explained above. Ask your volunteers to help attract other like-minded supporters. Retention becomes a much easier task when volunteers all enjoy their roles and feel like they’re part of a community.
Also, the length of capital campaigns makes it possible to be flexible and adaptive with the opportunities you can offer to keep volunteers engaged. You may need or want to redirect volunteers to new or adjusted roles if:
- A short-term role or committee is wrapping up its work and will soon disband.
- Volunteers are feeling drained during the longest, most challenging phases of the campaign.
- An individual volunteer is passionate about the campaign and has skills to offer but is disengaged by their current role.
When these situations arise, we recommend a simple exercise to identify ways to redirect volunteers’ energy:
- Gather materials like a flip chart and post-it notes.
- Work as a team to brainstorm all the activities that volunteers might help with. Start with what you know you need, then open it up to allow volunteers to list new ideas based on their thoughts, skills, and preferences.
- Flesh out your brainstormed list. As a group, review the full timeline of your campaign and the various tasks and responsibilities that fall under each part of the cycle.
- Write one item from the list on a page from the flip chart and post them around the room.
- Distribute post-it notes and have the volunteers write their names on them.
- Then, ask each person to post their name on the activities that best suit their interests and skill sets.
For engaged teams wrapping up their current assignments, this exercise will excite them about new projects that keep the campaign moving forward. For teams feeling drained, this exercise lets them self-select new tasks that energize them and allow you to recruit fresh volunteers who will re-energize the flagging committee or project.
In both cases, allowing volunteers to play a direct role in choosing their assignments will boost long-term engagement and retention. It also maintains your campaign’s momentum by keeping everyone focused on moving forward.
Your capital campaign depends on the fact that individuals in your community are willing to lend you their time—by participating in your feasibility study, serving on a planning committee, supporting your development team, soliciting gifts, planning public phase events, creating promotional materials, and more.
Invest some upfront time in creating effective recruitment and engagement strategies. You’ll set your campaign up for success and build an enthusiastic community of supporters whose help you can count on for the long run.
This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.