Making your charity a magnet for volunteers is a good goal, but it is important to realize that small things can make an important difference in whether you are perceived as attractive - or as repulsive.
Here's an example from one of my favorite research projects on volunteer involvement; a 'favorite' because, while simple, it produced very practical information about why some volunteer programs are successful at attracting volunteers and others fail without ever understanding why they were unsuccessful.
In 1999 Charles Hobson and Kathryn Malec* undertook a quick study of 500 charitable agencies in the metropolitan Chicago area of the United States. These charities were not novices in volunteer involvement; each received funding from the United Way charitable
system and part of what they were evaluated on in that funding process was their involvement of volunteers. You would think, then, that these charities would demonstrate some proficiency in appealing to potential volunteers.
The study worked as follows: students were recruited to call the central phone number of each charity, posing as a potential volunteer, and asking for assistance in becoming a volunteer to the first person who answered their call. The students were straightforward and articulate in voicing their interest - no tricks involved.
Now you'd think this would result in a relatively simple process of connecting the caller to the charity's volunteer manager, who would then quickly initiate the process of engaging them further. Unless, of course, you've ever worked in a charity and seen the chaos that swirls
around the front desk and the rather harried fashion in which overworked staff tend to respond to callers.
Hobson and Malec recorded the responses given to the students and the degree of help provided by whoever answered to their phone in connecting the students to proper channels for becoming a volunteer. Here are some of their results:
• only 49.3% of the callers received an offer of assistance ("May I help you?")
• 69.3% did not receive the name of staff person answering the phone
• 26.4% were not referred to the appropriate contact person
• when the contact person was not available, only 48.7% were asked for name and phone number
• only 30% actually received callbacks
• in 16.1% of calls, prospective volunteers were not thanked for contacting the agency
Pretty repulsive, wouldn't you say?
By Steve McCurley.
Reprinted from Turn Your Organisation Into A Volunteer Magnet, 2nd edition (ed. Fryar, Jackson & Dyer) 2007
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