Tips for recruiting and retaining volunteers
Your section needs volunteers to help with tasks such as planning meetings, creating newsletters and Web pages, and managing finances. But finding, recruiting, and retaining volunteers can be difficult. You know what the section needs, but what are the needs of a volunteer?
Every IEEE member is a potential volunteer. Match an individual's skills and interests with the right job. Recruiting volunteers starts with engaging members in section activities and getting to know them on a personal level in order to cultivate their interests and ensure a mutually satisfying volunteer experience.
Try to find ways to help new members get to know one another. If they enjoy the experience of being a section member, they are more likely to contribute time as a volunteer once they are comfortable the group. Reference "Planning Successful Meetings" for more tips.
Does your Section have a volunteer recruiting/retaining practice that you would like to share? E-mail it to SCOOP for future publication or share it on the Section/Chapter Volunteer Forum Virtual Community.
Identify the job
When you have a position to fill, be sure to have a job description available so you can let your potential volunteers know exactly what they are being asked to do and approximately how much of their time it will take.
Written instructions can be helpful for both recruiting volunteers and retaining new volunteers. Without written instructions, an individual may decline to volunteer or may volunteer to do the job but misunderstand exactly what it is he or she agreed to do and may decide not to honor the commitment.
A task is more likely to be completed and on time when your volunteers know that their contribution is important and that others are counting on them. Let them know the importance of what they are doing and how the job fits into the section’s goals and organization, and also let them know that they were selected because they were the best person for the job.
What can you do?
- Have a job description of the position that needs to be filled.
- Follow up verbal commitments with a thank-you note that includes a summary of the agreed-upon task.
IEEE best practice: In Region 10, if a member complains about the way a section is being run, that person is invited to take on a volunteer position. They are informed that the best way to improve the operation of a section is to be involved in running it.
Making contact: one-on-one
Ask people to volunteer their services. Avoid doing this as a general announcement at a meeting, in your newsletter, or by passing a sign-up sheet around the room, as this communicates that anyone can do the job. You will get better results with a one-on-one contact.
Try to reach out to as many sources of potential volunteers as possible and don’t limit yourself to friends and current volunteers. Refer to resources such as meeting-attendance sheets and results of interest surveys.
IEEE best practice: Personal touch tactics work successfully for the Eastern Idaho Section, for example. Volunteers personally approach people they know. If more volunteers are needed, phone calls are made. Experience has shown them that for every ten volunteers recruited, 100 phone calls must be made. The task is divided between officers. If you want to try this, it will help to work from a member list downloaded from SAMIEEE and filtered by location and member grade.
Try to match interests and motive for volunteering
Individual motives for volunteering are varied. Motives can include fulfilling social needs, looking for a challenge, or self-improvement.How can you find out what would motivate your section’s members to volunteer?
- Ask them about their preferences.
- Take time to speak with the members that attend meetings.
- Engage them in discussion about volunteering.
- Find out if the individual prefers to work alone or in a group and then look for appropriate tasks to assign.
- Take a survey of all section members.
Some suggested ways to motivate members:
- Invite them to attend an awards program where volunteers are recognized for their efforts.
- Publicize the accomplishments of the IEEE unit, such as achieved goals (e.g., member elevation and promotions) and successful planned activities.
IEEE best practice: To encourage a higher response rate to a survey, try the method that worked for the Cincinnati Section when they did a survey to determine members’ meeting preferences. They entered respondents in a random drawing to win a US$25 gift certificate at a local technology store and received a much better rate of response than they had with past surveys.
Provide clear deadlines
It is important to set a specific due date, or end date, when assigning a job to a volunteer. This allows the individual to prioritize volunteer work with family and job commitments. It also lets them know that the job will eventually end.
The deadline should be confirmed in writing at the time you confirm the volunteer’s commitment. Follow up with the volunteer on their progress and have them contact you as soon as possible if they cannot complete the task.
IEEE best practice: The Broward (Florida) Section officers noticed that many people do not want to volunteer for anything that involves a lengthy time commitment (6 months to 1 year). So the officers decided to try a different approach and have had success in asking people to volunteer to take on short-term duties (e.g., planning just one meeting). This allows the section officers to take care of only administrative tasks and helps avoid burnout for long-time volunteers.
Know what is needed to complete each job for the various section positions and make sure your volunteers have the material and information they need when they take on the job. Having the necessary tools increases the probability of success.
Training should be matched to the experience, needs, and duties of the volunteer. Some volunteers may have experience in the job area and do not need much training. Others may have volunteered in order to gain new skills and will need more help. Depending on the type and complexity of the job, the training can be one-on-one or in a group setting or may simply consist of a list of step-by-step instructions. Planning ahead will help you anticipate the need for training.
Most regions hold annual meetings, of which officer training is an integral part. The officer who attends can share the information obtained at those meetings.
Much information is also available within the IEEE Center for Leadership Excellence Web pages and the Volunteer Resources pages on IEEE.org.
Another good source of information for current section/chapter/affinity group volunteers is the Section Chapter Volunteer Forum virtual community. Members of this community can discuss issues, ask questions, and take part in polls that help in their volunteer leadership roles.
IEEE best practice: An effective tool used by the China Lake Section is a personalized section operations manual. This notebook was put together by experienced section officers and contains practical information for running the section. Some of the items included are a list of local meeting venues with associated costs and contacts, bank account numbers, and related information. Providing this type of material saves incoming officers time by providing a past history of actions, and is a handy resource that allows the officers to quickly proceed to do their jobs.
Meeting logistics: What is convenient for volunteers and potential volunteers?
IEEE section meeting statistics show that 22.7% of section meetings in 2002 were administrative. While administrative meetings are important for the optimum running of a Section, it should be kept in mind that if they are always held in the same place and same time, it might exclude some potential volunteers. Those that travel for their jobs, have family commitments, or have long commutes may need more flexibility in time and location of their volunteer responsibilities.
A safe and comfortable environment is especially necessary for meetings held in urban areas. Volunteers may not return if there is insufficient parking, expensive parking fees, and/or poorly lit parking areas. Meeting notices should contain the address of the meeting place and a telephone number of someone who will be attending and knows the area.
Some other items to consider are:
- availability of heating or air conditioning on evenings and weekends;
- smoke-free environment;
- adequate, comfortable seating;
- name tags, if new people will be attending;
- trying to avoid time-consuming and wasteful meetings;
- making use of conference calls and communication technologies;
- limiting conference calls to one hour.
If you will be meeting in person, poll your volunteers to see what time and location is best for that particular group.
Careful planning will ensure that volunteers feel that they are welcome and valuable members of the team. In addition, it will give them a positive image of the organization.
IEEE best practice: In 2002, the Binghamton Section officers found that what worked best for their group at that time was to hold evening meetings for the Section Committee, sometimes at a local restaurant. Topics were discussed and decisions were made at a high level, with details worked out at breakfast meetings with the people who were working on the particular projects. Alternatively, the Huntsville Section has found that lunchtime meetings work best for them.
Check the progress of the volunteer task and provide feedback, but do not hover. Keep in mind that volunteers are colleagues and partners, not subordinates or employees. Be positive, acting as coach and cheerleader, but don’t allow yourself to get over-involved by doing the work yourself. If, despite your best efforts, a volunteer does not perform, you can release him or her from the commitment.
When the task is completed, or if the volunteer is released from the commitment before completion, it is a good idea to solicit feedback. Volunteers appreciate the opportunity to share their opinions. In addition, the section will learn about any problems encountered and may be able to prevent potential difficulties in the future and possible loss of volunteers.
Show appreciation and recognize the efforts of volunteers
IEEE volunteers give up their personal time to participate in activities, so it is important to thank them for that sacrifice and recognize them for their efforts. Each volunteer should be thanked personally, preferably with a hand-written note or an e-mail acknowledging specific contributions. Other ways to recognize an individual volunteer's contribution:
- publicly recognize volunteers, as appropriate, at a section event or annual banquet, in front of their peers;present volunteers with an IEEE plaque or customized certificate (may be ordered through IEEE or purchased locally. Be sure to use the correct IEEE Master Brand if ordering locally.);
- acknowledge volunteers at annual awards event with special seating;
- acknowledge volunteers in section newsletter or Web page;
- provide the volunteer with a position of more authority and responsibility;
- send a letter to employer on individual’s contributions (ask volunteer permission first);
- nominate an individual for an award.