College Student Volunteers Part 2: Find Great Volunteers

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Last week, I shared four keys to designing a great project for college student volunteers: define your goal, use “gateway drugs” to hook your volunteers, make your project team-based, and connect the work to your mission. Once you have a clear idea of your project (or how you will develop it) you need to find the volunteers to fill those open positions. This week, I have three tips for finding great volunteers: Put it in writing, connect with an existing group, and make it zazzy. 

Put it in Writing

Before you meet with prospective volunteers, put your expectations and needs in writing. Your document can be a brochure, flyer, or half-sheet, but it should answer a few key questions:

  1.      What are your needs and expectations? (Whether its co-create a project or execute pre determined tasks) What is the time commitment (including volunteer training)?
  2.      What are the benefits to the volunteer?
  3.      What is the impact of the product? i.e. Why are we doing all this work?

You want to be clear about what you’re looking for so you don’t end up with the volunteer version of buyer’s remorse (or the volunteer manager version).

Connect with an Existing Group

You can get great people from volunteer and club fairs, but if you want folks committed to your organization for the long haul, you need to build a stronger relationship.

When I needed to recruit volunteers to support the Girl Scouts cookie sale, I reached out to my network. One of my family friends worked at the University of Washington, and he connected me to a professor in the Foster School of Business. The professor connected me to the Foster Women in Business club, whose members were stoked to share their business expertise with budding entrepreneurs.

Think about the kinds of groups that might be interested in volunteer gigs with your org (Certain majors? Clubs? Athletes? Fraternities or Sororities?) Reach out to folks you know, send e-mails to club leaders, and talk to professors. Many colleges and universities have service learning centers, and their staff can be a godsend for making introductions and facilitating connections.

Once you land a meeting with student leaders, bring your notes, but be ready to be flexible. I’m not saying take anything (Volunteers That Don’t Help [VOTADOH] are no better than Stuff We Don’t Want [SWEDOW]), but ask what their club does and what they would like accomplish. Listen for alignment: where do their interests coincide with your goals and values? Are there win/wins? If yes, proceed with project planning and recruitment. If no, then thank them for their time and ask who might be good to connect with.

Make it Zazzy

Once you and the student leaders have fleshed out the volunteer role you wrote down in step one, it’s time for you to help them sell it. You can hand them a super dry, text heavy one-pager in Times New Roman, but it’s not going to convince anyone to join your team. Use pictures, bullet points, and quotes from clients to illustrate what you need, and why volunteering with you is awesome. If you don’t show volunteers how great working with you is going to be, how will they know? You don’t need to be a graphic designer (but if you have one USE HER!). Put on a big picture and the bullet point answers to those questions from the top. Leave white space. It’ll be awesome.

Is it always this easy? No. Is it totally worth it? Yes! I had so much fun working with college volunteer groups, and they executed amazing projects. It may be easier to do things by yourself, but you’ll have more new ideas, more creative initiatives, and ultimately more supporters if you tap this incredible market. Zazzle them at this stage, and you’ll be well on your way to building your college student volunteer corps. Check back next week for tips on how to keep your new volunteers coming back for more.


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