How to Write a Letter Requesting Volunteers
You've written short-form letters and long-form letters. You've penned tug-at-the-heartstrings letters and just-the-facts letters. Wouldn't it be nice, though, if the next letter you write to recruit volunteers for your organization is so engaging that the replies flood your email inbox? Or, that the phone followup causes your phone to ring off the hook?
If you're an experienced recruiter, you already know that timing is everything. But so is content. Since you appreciate the value of “mixing things up,” try executing ideas that have worked for others and which also rely on the generosity of volunteers:
Adopt a positive tone and convey a positive message.
Trying to write an upbeat letter when you're in a foul mood is like going to a holiday party when you feel like the Grinch. Your real mood is bound to surface, undermining your best efforts. Put your letter aside until you're in the right frame of mind. When you're ready, avoid scare tactics, because they may seem melodramatic. Scare tactics can also be depressing and alienating. For example, if you run a community food bank, don't divulge statistics about how many people died last year from malnutrition. Instead, state how many meals your organization provided and how many families your organization served.
Rationale: Volunteers want to feel inspired by and proud of the organization they serve.
Be specific about what you need and how often you need it.
Many recruitment letters fail because they contain the vague phrase “We need your help” or “We need your expertise.” Spell out exactly what you need -- and if you have a list of open roles -- list them in bullet form. People appreciate being given the opportunity to choose. More important, remember that people of all ages are pressed for time. Although people may like the idea of volunteering, in actuality, they may be reluctant to step forward, because they worry about the time commitment. To allay these fears, give the exact number of volunteer hours a week you need from a volunteer. And if you're managing a project or an event with a definitive end date, include it.
Rationale: Volunteers often prefer short-term commitments with clearly defined responsibilities.
Underscore the idea that volunteer contributions matter.
The notion that volunteer contributions matter is one of life's most reliable cliches for a reason: volunteers are motivated by the idea that they can make a difference. This is true, regardless of the task – even if the task is as simple as distributing mail, handing out fliers or directing foot traffic. In fact, sometimes the simpler the task, the better the response rate to a recruitment drive. You may spark a positive thought – as in, “Yes, I can do that!” – and you may get a positive response to your letter. Place the volunteer function in the context of the bigger picture of the organization and explain why volunteers matter.
Rationale: Volunteers want to feel as though they play an important role in an organization's success.
Target your recruitment letter.
Your introduction could contain a world-class anecdote about how a female millennial transformed the life of a wayward teenage girl by becoming a Big Sister. But if your letter winds up in the hands of a middle-aged male, your efforts will likely be for naught (unless he, in turn, passes it on to a responsible woman). Rather than take this risk, take a page from the playbook of marketing professionals, who know that messages must be crafted and delivered with audience first and foremost. Always.
Rationale: Volunteers respond best when a request “speaks to them” personally and directly.
Test your message first.
Yes, you're probably facing a deadline. And, putting your recruitment letter in the hands of even one “editor” may seem like a luxury. But it's a luxury that often pays big dividends, especially if you can count on at least several people who fit your demographic profile to give you an honest assessment of your letter. Does your letter inspire them? Does it move them to action? Is there anything unclear about what you're asking?
Rationale: Honest, constructive feedback – and the opportunity to act on the feedback before your letter goes out – could mean the difference between phones that ring off the hook and phones that don't.