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Blog > Developing a volunteer recruitment strategy

Developing a volunteer recruitment strategy

posted on Mar 14, 2017

by Maria Lahiffe

Volunteers are the most important resource a community has. Working not for pay means that people bring more than their time and expertise to their work, they bring their heart and passion too. Even as organizations grow and hire paid staff, they rely on volunteers to perform important, necessary work. Pretty much every community organization relies to some extent on the work of volunteers, so how can we recruit the people we need when we need them?

Identify trends

According to Statistics Canada, the number of volunteers declined slightly between 2010 and 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. Even with that decline, 44% of Canadians aged 15 and over donated their time in 2013, averaging 154 hours per year per volunteer.

The people most likely to volunteer are people under 20 years old, while those who give the most hours are over 55. The lowest rates of volunteering are seen among people aged 35 to 44 years old. About 75% of volunteers in Canada have a postsecondary qualification, from a college or university.

Think about what your volunteer needs are. Do you need someone who can commit one day a week, every week of the year? Do you need someone who can give a week of intensive work, once a year? You’ll probably find that the opportunity will suggest the demographic most likely to fill it well.

Discover motivation

Most people belong most strongly to one of three levels of motivation:

  1. Self-serving
  2. Relational
  3. Belief


People often work for an organization because it meets their needs, for access to a service, networking, or meeting academic requirements, for example. These are great people to recruit because it is win/win.


People often volunteer because their friends do. Relational marketing, also known as word of mouth, is one of the most effective marketing tools out there. Do you ask your existing volunteers to help refer their friends? If not, this could be a great place to start.


This is the strongest level of commitment – people who volunteer because they are truly passionate about the cause of the organization. Make sure you communicate your organization’s mission, vision, and values in a clear way, to ensure that people have the best chance to be inspired by what you do.

Market your organization and its volunteer opportunities

This involves messaging and channels.

Messaging – appeal to their needs, not your own

Start with the volunteer opportunities you need to recruit for, then put yourself into the shoes of a potential volunteer. You know why you need the position filled, but a volunteer’s motivations will be different (see above). Why would someone want to give their time to do this work? What motivation are you seeking to tap into? You may want to create different messages to appeal to different potential motivations for the same type of position.


This is where you put your message. Where do your volunteers hang out? What media do they like to consume? How do they want to hear from you about potential volunteer opportunities? The Volunteer Ottawa website is a great channel for getting your message out to people who are on our site because they want to volunteer.

Manage your program effectively

When you manage your program effectively, you know what your skill gaps are, which helps you communicate your needs effectively to volunteers. It also helps volunteers know how they fit in to the wider organization, and how their contributions are important, which helps with volunteer retention. Retaining existing volunteers is a lot easier than recruiting new ones!

Time recruitment efforts

When do you need your volunteers? When are people looking to volunteer? For example, youth often look for volunteer opportunities during school holidays. People with children usually look for opportunities any time EXCEPT during school holidays. So think about who you want to recruit and when they’ll be looking to help out.

Want to learn more? Come to an upcoming workshop.

Click here for more information, and to register.

Volunteer Ottawa offers a comprehensive suite of courses related to volunteer management. Click here for more information, and to register. Subscribe to our Event RSS Feed to be among the first to know when a new workshop is added to the schedule.

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Related blog posts:

McKee, T. W. (n.d.). Why People Volunteer: The Top Three Reasons People Volunteer. Retrieved March 9, 2017, from Volunteer Power: Turcotte, M. (2016, April 15). Volunteering and Charitable Giving in Canada. doi:89-652-X
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