How to recruit paid volunteers

Corporate Social Responsibility / Friday, September 19th, 2014

Did that title grab you?? I sure hope it did. Because today, I have a quick guide about something I think could be one of the most revolutionary things to hit volunteering since its invention – get this – more and more businesses are now paying their employees to volunteer with causes that those employees care about. In some cases as much as three weeks per year! And this is in addition to any other paid time (e.g. vacation/sick time) that is already offered. In fact, a recent HR study found that 20% of organizations in the study offered paid volunteerism as a perk – and it’s continually growing! (source)

On the one hand, I see how this might seem a bit disconcerting – after all, I know we want volunteers who are dedicated to the cause for the cause’s sake, but if we can have a volunteer who is both genuinely dedicated AND being encouraged (via a paycheck) by his/her employer to volunteer, why not? Also, consider this, the Independent Sector has recently reported that the average economic value added by a volunteer can be as high as $38/hr!! (source). If volunteers are able to make themselves this valuable to an organization, I am fully supportive of their receiving financial rewards whenever possible.

But – how can we as volunteer coordinators take advantage of this? I couldn’t track down a stat on this, but I’d be willing to bet that a pretty significant number of these paid volunteer hours go unused annually. And I’d also be willing to bet that the hours go unused, by and large, because potential volunteers just aren’t presented with the kinds of opportunities that suit them…but what if they could be offered such opportunities??

That’s where we (volunteer coordinators) come in!! 🙂 I’m going to put forth a theory here – I think that if we structured opportunities to take advantage of paid volunteer time we could really link up with this growing trend. Here are a few important steps you should take to recruit paid volunteers:

1.) Structure opportunities that fit the employer’s constraints. This one will seem daunting because businesses range from offering 6 hours per year to 8 hrs per month! So how can you find a dedicated volunteer within that? By shifting the employee’s definition of what volunteering means. See, most companies seem to prioritize one time volunteer events with paid time off – after all, 6-8 hours per year, on the surface, really only equals a 1 day volunteer event, hardly the definition of a regular volunteer. But what if that time were split up? For example, what if you presented an opportunity to coach one family for 2 hours per month? The employee could complete the time in the evening, and then get a couple of extra hours off from work every other Friday (to make up for the volunteer time earlier in the week). Even if they ended up volunteering more than their ‘paid time’ in the year – you’ll find that most everyone will be more than happy to do that once you make them a regular part of the organization.

2.) Offer an opportunity than can be manned (or womanned 🙂 by a different group each week. This is an excellent article talking about how a DC homeless shelter did just that. They had a need for a volunteer crew at a recurring time each week. US Bank offered it’s employees a limited amount of paid volunteer time (aka ‘VTO’, or Volunteer Time Off – which is exactly how I’m going to refer to it from now on because I’m typing it a lot – ha), so the shelter approached the bank and took advantage of that by encouraging US Bank to have employees sign on for different shifts of the same opportunity. The result? US Bank had a specific cause that it could dedicate itself to, and its employees (many of whom wouldn’t otherwise use their volunteer time) had a ready made opportunity that made a lasting difference.

3.) Write up a ‘job description’ that is designed to take advantage of VTO. Treat this volunteer position listing like a job description, and be really specific about the kind of skills you’re looking for. When you get to the ‘pay & benefits’ part- I’d really have fun with this – play up the benefits like ‘job satisfaction’ or ‘working with a really awesome team’, and then when you get to the pay part, you could write something like ‘your employer will actually pay for your time here! But, if you choose to volunteer more than the VTO time they gave you, we’d love it (and we’ll reward you with appreciation, praise, and probably even a volunteer party or two :)!

4.) Use that ‘job description’ to target your recruiting. Okay, now you know what you’re wanting, and you know employers in your area are offering paid VTO – it’s time to get real focused about where you’ll recruit. 20% of employers are offering this, so you should have a few in your area to choose from. If you can, find a company whose mission you think would align well with your own – then, show them how you would benefit from the unique skills of their employees. If you can do that, it’s highly likely that the business will publicize the opportunity companywide.

5.) You’ve GOT TO be organized. Businesses will want to know what their employees are doing, how many hours they’ve contributed, and the value they are adding to your organization. They’ll want this in a consistent way, that matches their HR structure (sorry folks, but excel sheets will probably not be allowed…). As businesses add this benefit, they are also adding systems to track it. In fact, many for-profits are actually using Volunteermark for this exact purpose – it makes it so much easier for them to express their community impact to their customers, and frankly, we cannot deny that businesses are doing this, at least in part, to contribute to their own image in the community. The easier you make that for them, the easier it will be for you to recruit paid volunteers.

Question of the day, for commenting below: Is this something you’ve tried at your non-profit? Why or why not?