Idea 11: Use an appropriate technique to convey your message.

If you need a lot of volunteers with no special skills for a short term assignment, a message that is spread to a broad audience is effective. But, if particular skills are required, a targeted recruitment is desirable to focus efforts. Match the technique to the audience. And, deliver a recruitment message only when your organization is ready to act on responses.

Many agree that the least expensive, most effective method of recruiting is word of mouth, particularly if it is from involved and satisfied volunteers. But, there are many other ways of approaching volunteers. Community Literacy of Ontario outlines several of these in the “ABCs of volunteer recruitment” (Voo & Kaattari, 2010).

Recent research (Volunteer Canada, 2010) recommends providing greater online engagement to leverage the power of the Internet and social media as a means of promoting volunteer opportunities.

Voices from the field:

  • We attract potential volunteers through posters and business cards in the libraries and community.
  • I have radio ads. There are several ads that target different groups; tutors, literacy learners, ESL learners and general information about programs.
  • Brochures.
  • Words of mouth from existing or former tutors.
  • We are part of a community volunteer centre, so we get volunteers that come in to the office to register for non-specific volunteering.
  • We have the most success through local media. Running an ad (or article) in the local paper (or on the radio) generates new tutors every time. Word of mouth also seems to bring people in. We communicate with potential volunteers through being visible in the community (media / local events), as well as through our newsletter, staff, and volunteers.
  • We are in a fortunate position in that we no longer have to advertise. In the past we have run ads, sent emails to our current tutors, sent out flyers to our outreach locations and community contacts and run ads on Shaw cable.
  • We send an email to all of our applicants one month prior to the course and request an interview. We will usually follow this up with a phone call.
  • We continue to be very informal in our recruitment of volunteers. ‘Word of Mouth’ from other volunteers seems to be the absolute best advertising. We have also found that potential volunteers phone us after there is an article about us in the newspaper or when we get any kind of exposure in the media.

To learn more:

Ellis, S. J. (2002). The volunteer recruitment (and membership development) book. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Energize.
» This book covers the basics in recruiting volunteers and more. It reviews a variety of recruitment techniques. Given the vintage of this book, it does not cover using the Internet and social media.

Fader, S. (2010). 365 ideas for recruiting, retaining, motivating and rewarding your volunteers: a complete guide for nonprofit organizations. Ocala, Fla.: Atlantic Publishing Group.
» Includes a chapter on using technology for recruiting: your website as a recruiting tool, email as a recruiting tool, online social and professional networking as a recruiting tool, online recruiting help.

Graff, L. (2005). Best of all: the quick reference guide to effective volunteer involvement. Dundas, Ont.: Linda Graff & Associates.
» Includes numerous suggestions for different publicity mechanisms with the caution that some will be more effective in some communities than in others and some volunteer positions than others.

Jackson, R. (2012). Three things volunteer managers can learn from the social media revolution. Retrieved from
» Ideas on how social media can be used as a means of word-of-mouth recruitment.

Literacy Victoria. (2011). Volunteering at Literacy Victoria. Retrieved from
» An example of online recruiting that offers information and an online application form.

Voo, A. & Kaattari, J. (2010). Literacy volunteers: value added: recruitment strategies. Retrieved from
» The ABCs of Volunteer Recruitment, a sampling of techniques used in various literacy programs in Ontario to recruit volunteers. Also includes ideas for using the Internet to recruit volunteers.

Last updated: November 12, 2015