Getting the right volunteer (and enough of them!) is one of the basic challenges of working with volunteers. Although it is tempting to jump straight into a recruitment campaign, you should first ensure that you are well prepared.

The Recruitment Message

The voluntary organisation needs to be clear-sighted, think strategically and be prepared. You will have to devote some resources to recruitment, both in terms of time and money and you will have to do some background research. You need to know:

  • why you want volunteers?
  • what they will be doing (develop a simple 'role' description for each different volunteering role).
  • what type of people you are looking for (develop a short person specification for each role).
  • if and how you will select/screen potential volunteers.
  • how will the organisation provide orientation and training before they start volunteering? Who should do it?
  • how will the organisation support them once they start volunteering? Who should do it?

It is helpful to involve as many people as possible in the recruitment process and it may be appropriate to set up a recruitment team or subcommittee. It is essential that you involve current volunteers (if you have any) in the recruitment process. There is no reason why the person with overall responsibility for recruiting volunteers cannot be a volunteer, provided s/he is well-trained.

What technique should you use?

  • There is no one correct technique.
  • The volunteer role will inform you of the type of volunteer you are looking for and in turn the appropriate recruitment medium. For example, if you need to find a volunteer with specialist skills, such as a professionally qualified counsellor, you will have to target your methods much more than if you are simply looking for lots of 'bodies' to assist you in your fundraising event.
  • Always think of where the type of volunteer you are looking for are likely to be found.
  • Remember the less the personal contact, the lower the response rate is likely to be.
  • The more you focus, the greater your chance of success.
  • You will need to balance the resources you have available to you with the likely response you are going to get. Therefore do not miss any opportunities, especially free ones, of advertising the fact that you are recruiting volunteers.
  • A final word of comfort: sincerity and belief in your cause will always win over technique!

Personal contact

The vast majority of volunteers are recruited by word of mouth, through existing volunteers, staff, clients, supporters and so on. Make sure everyone who is involved with your organisation is aware that you are trying to recruit volunteers. Consider running a brainstorming session identifying all the people your organisation knows and/or ask people to introduce a friend or family member to the organisation. Potential volunteers can be approached face-to-face, over the telephone or in writing. Some organisations even try door-to-door recruitment, especially in their local area.


Printed materials can be in the form of leaflets, flyers, posters, newsletters, postcards, and so on. Always keep them simple and clear, but at the same time make them attractive and eye-catching. Put them where people will see them, such as notice boards and leaflet dispensers in schools, libraries, council offices, hospitals, doctors' and dentists' waiting rooms, sport centres. You could also hand them out in the street and at events, insert them into magazines/newsletters, and you could even try mailing materials directly to people. Well-resourced organisations can consider billboards, advertising on public transport, advertising on the back of supermarket till receipts, etc.


Church groups, women's groups, active retirement associations and the like, are often looking for speakers, so accept invitations to contribute. In addition, you could approach employers (particularly large ones that run pre-retirement courses) and schools (particularly transition year students) and whomever else you can think of. Offer to do a talk about your work and to request volunteers. It is particularly compelling if one of your current volunteers speaks. It is important to be well briefed, interesting and to consider what is likely to appeal to the group about volunteering with you. If you have a video or slides of your work, show them. Bring printed information to support your talk and details that people can take away with them.

Promotional events and exhibitions

If you have an exhibition, which shows the work that you do, you could display it in-house or in a public space. If you have the resources, you could even do a touring 'road show'. You could also have a recruitment stand in a shopping centre or library, at festivals or careers fairs, or at any other appropriate event. You could also consider having an open day at your organisation to which you invite members of your local community.

The media

Organisations should try for a steady stream of coverage in the media, especially the local media. This will involve building up a good relationship with people who may cover stories, including sending regular press releases, holding news conferences, providing photos and photo opportunities, sending letters to the editor, and so on. Organisations can also directly place recruitment advertisements in newspapers and magazines and/or do volunteer appeals on radio and television.


If you have Internet access, you can use your web page and e-mail as effective and cheap marketing and volunteer recruitment tools. In addition, there are various web sites, which you can exploit even if you do not have your own page,

What to do when people show an interest?

Once you have implemented your chosen recruitment methods, you will start getting some enquiries. It is important that you follow these up quickly and professionally. Consider having an information pack ready, perhaps containing background information on your project, details of the voluntary work and an application form. Try to meet with potential volunteers as soon as possible after they first make contact.

What questions should we ask?

A logical first step when dealing with potential volunteers is to get them to fill out an application form. This is a good way of recording basic information like name, address etc. but in most cases it is not the best way of assessing a volunteer's suitability for a role. Most volunteer application forms are based on forms used for paid staff and many ask for more information than is needed or is appropriate.

Most organisations find that it is possible to get the information they need when they meet the volunteer in person rather than getting them to fill out a form themselves. By asking someone to fill out a complex form you may be unintentionally putting barriers in the way for people who have problems with their sight, for whom English is not their first language, or whose level of literacy is not high (all of whom may have lots of other skills and experience that you would not want to lose). Remember that the overall aim of any fair selection process is to allow all potential volunteers to give the best of themselves, application forms do not allow everybody to do this. If you are going to use a form to take details be clear about what information you need and why. For example many organisations ask for a volunteer's date of birth when all they actually need to know is if someone is above or below a minimum or maximum age.

Information you need for equal opportunities monitoring purposes should be asked on a separate form kept separately from other personal details and the reasons for asking should be clearly stated.

And finally. Evaluate the success of your recruitment campaign so that you can learn for the future, what was successful and what was not successful. And remember - recruitment is only the beginning!