Recruit volunteers – Planning

Only commence a recruitment drive after the program has been planned and has the support of all staff. Ensure that dates for advertising and interviews, for example, are agreed by all involved. To recruit volunteers and then retain them all staff need to support this process.

Some organisations are well known for their volunteer involvement and people wishing to volunteer contact the organisation with the expectation that jobs will be found for them. The advantage of this situation is that there is a steady stream of prospective volunteers willing to take on the work. The disadvantages are that there may not be suitable work or supervision available and that prospective volunteers may be unsuitable for any position.

Regardless of how your organisation currently recruits volunteers, having an open invitation for anyone to become a volunteer may well attract volunteers inappropriate for the work. Once you are clear about the need for volunteers, the work they will undertake and the advantages you can offer volunteers, you are in a good position to start attracting only the volunteers suited to your organisation and the work.

Organisations vary in the way they recruit volunteers. Some have specific recruitment drives conducted at regular intervals, while others take on new volunteers in a continuous fashion. Each method has its advantages. Choose the one that best suits your organisation, your resources and the sort of people you want to attract.

Why have written job descriptions?

The job description is a major recruitment tool. Clearly defined job descriptions can be devised and written for most volunteers. Job descriptions serve several purposes. They:

  • Assist the volunteer and others to understand the job in the same way.
  • Describe the volunteer’s responsibilities.
  • Describe the purposes of the job to the volunteer.
  • Describe the volunteer’s position in the organisation.
  • Provide information regarding the benefits of the job to the volunteer.
  • Provide an opportunity to discuss any special needs or requirements of the organisation and the volunteer.
  • Provide criteria for matching the volunteer and the job.
  • Provide information for planning volunteer recruitment.
  • Provide a basis for appraisal meetings between the volunteer and manager.

In general, the job description helps clarify how the needs of organisation will be met by the volunteer, indicates to the volunteer that a ‘real’ position exists (not just work for any hands) and becomes a basis of agreed commitment between the organisation and the volunteer.

Writing the job description

Job descriptions provide the organisation with a good guide of who they need to recruit, and give prospective volunteers a clear indication of what they are taking on. A well-defined job description should contain:

  • Organisation or service aim: a very brief description, in plain English, of the aim of that service, to provide a context for volunteering.
  • The purpose of the job: knowing why the job exists helps keep the volunteer focused and motivated.
  • The tasks to be performed: listing the actual work in simple language.
  • The name of the volunteer’s immediate supervisor: knowing who is responsible for guidance and support prevents the volunteer consulting inappropriate people.
  • Days and times of duty and amount of time the job requires per day / week / month: we recommend that volunteers do not work more than sixteen hours per week on a regular basis in the same organisation.
  • Qualifications, attributes and / or skills required to carry out the work effectively: provides a basis for discussion between the volunteer and the manager.
  • Any special conditions such as a code of confidentiality, special training or attendance at meetings, security checks: knowing the full requirements beforehand helps the volunteer to decide whether to take on the position.
  • Advantages of the job to the volunteer: useful in advertising the job and indicates to the volunteer some of the tangible and intangible benefits of the work.
  • A job title recognises the dignity of the job: the job title is often developed after all aspects of the job have been considered.

Job descriptions should be based on the requirements of the job. Difficulties may arise if a job description is written around a particular volunteer, as you run the risk of meeting the needs of the volunteer and not the needs of the organisation. If the job is not suitable, then an alternative job could be discussed.

A well-devised job description used as a recruitment tool should attract the appropriate people, thereby saving time and energy. It can be stressful being confronted with a stream of willing but unsuitable applicants. If you decide to place them (because you are desperate) you are likely to spend extra time closely supervising their efforts. Furthermore, their own motivations are not being met, so most will leave. If you don’t place them, you have to tell them why the job is unsuitable (never an easy task).

When to recruit

Only when specific jobs have been defined should the active recruitment of volunteers be initiated. Some points to consider about timing are:

  • Recruit when paid staff and regular volunteers are free to assist the new volunteers.
  • Don’t attempt to recruit when things are going badly – more new people only add to existing stress.
  • Recruit at the right time for your target group, for example, will the time of year, prevailing weather conditions or school holidays impact on their willingness to become volunteers?

Where to recruit

The job description should provide an indication of the needs, interests and motivations of the people you prefer to attract your target group. This can help you locate where your target group may be found. For example, young people can found through schools, youth clubs, TAFE colleges and universities; unemployed people can be reached through skills programs; and a special interest group can be contacted through an appropriate newsletter.

The mass media is often best used to promote the services you offer and this can be effective to recruit volunteers in a general way. Take care when dealing with the media as often the information you submit may be severely edited and the context of the story altered by the time it goes to press. In terms of recruitment information, if the article ends with a non-specific ‘volunteers wanted’ statement, you run the risk of attracting and disappointing some inappropriate volunteers.

Local newspapers are usually helpful with publicity if they can use a human interest story involving a local resident. Popular magazines can also be persuaded to write human interest articles for publicity purposes.

Radio and television stations often provide short community service announcements and are encouraged to provide community access.

Local publicity can be gained from local shop windows, libraries, school noticeboards, supermarket boards, etc. A small poster with an eye-catching message in simple appealing language will attract prospective volunteers to take a closer look and follow up.

Word of mouth is still one of the best methods of attracting people, therefore the best recruiters are enthusiastic staff and happy volunteers, as well as satisfied service users.

Volunteer Referral Agencies in your locality or your State Volunteer Centre can assist your recruitment drive. You can also refer applicants you cannot employ to volunteer referral agencies for placement in another organisation.

The Advertised Message

Your message to attract volunteers has to compete with the array of information that we are all subjected to every day. Getting the message across has become an art form. Commercial enterprises and government services spend a great deal of money developing messages that will gain our attention. We tend to notice messages that have specific interest to us at the time. Only when we have young children do we notice the quality of children’s television, advertisements for toys or baby clothes. Likewise, prospective volunteers will tend to notice messages that have a particular interest to them.

For example, if they are interested in oral history, the may be attracted to visiting elderly people; or if an individual is interested in being involved with the medical profession, they may be attracted to providing patient support and information.

Your advertising message needs to:

  • Have a short catchy headline to attract attention.
  • Speak directly to the target group.
  • Be very specific, stating exactly what is required.
  • Describe benefits to the volunteer.
  • Avoid ‘Help!’ and ‘Desperate’ tones in the message. Don’t ride on guilt; use a light touch.
  • Provide a contact name, address and telephone number.

Preparing for the response

All the very best planning and advertising can go awry if the first person the prospective volunteer speaks to in your organisation knows nothing of your recruitment drive, or is unable to provide the information required.

Ensure that you have information ready for those who are likely to answer the telephone or receive callers. A recruitment kit complete with information relating to the organisation, an application form and job description can be posted out to applicants.

Any special requirements, such as agreement to undergo a security check, can be accessed by volunteers at this point so they are not confronted with the request later. Based on the information provided in the kit, individuals may decide against pursuing the job, thereby preventing both parties from wasting time in a personal interview. In this way you have already begun the selection process.

The selection process

The ideal is that every volunteer applicant should be given a personal interview with a qualified person in an appropriate setting with sufficient time. Each volunteer should complete an application form that provides basic information such as name, address, interests and skills, etc. When requesting personal data, take care to fall within legislative requirements relating to Equal Employment Opportunity, Anti-Discrimination Act and Ethnic Affairs Policy Statement where appropriate.

The interview

The purpose of the interview is to determine the suitability of the applicant, and to ensure that the needs of both the program and the volunteer will be satisfied.

An interview is an opportunity to find out about the applicant’s motives, goals, qualifications, interests, experiences, and willingness to work with others. It is also an opportunity to give the volunteer detailed information about the job and the service.

The job description is useful in assisting the interview process. It can help you frame your questions during the interview and assess the interest of the volunteer.

Some jobs may require very specific skills or sensitivity to special needs, in which case you may prefer to prepare ‘searching’ questions before the interview commences rather than totally trust intuition during the interview.

The interview process should reveal to both parties whether the job suits the person. However, if prospective volunteers are not convinced of their unsuitability, you will have to be honest with them.

While no one enjoys being rejected, few people appreciate lack of honesty. If the job is not suitable and you are unable to find other opportunities within your organisation, refer the volunteer to your state volunteer centre or local volunteer referral agency, or to your local community centre. Also, from the volunteer’s point of view, the prospective volunteer needs to be given every opportunity to refuse or accept the job.

Interviewing is an art and a skill. When interviewing:

  • Keep cultural differences in mind.
  • Have available the application form and job description.
  • Ensure privacy and a congenial atmosphere.
  • Ensure you will not be interrupted.
  • Provide a welcome that will put the applicant at ease.
  • Clarify the purpose of the interview.
  • Clarify your expectations and those of the applicant.
  • Listen carefully and avoid making assumptions.
  • Ask questions that cannot be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
  • Give the applicant time to consider and answer questions at their own pace.
  • Summarise any decisions reached to ensure you are both in agreement.
  • Always express appreciation for the applicant’s interest in applying.


Success in matching volunteers to jobs (or in some cases to people) does not depend solely on techniques and practices. Understanding the needs of both the volunteer and the job go hand in hand with intuition and good human relations skills.

If the preceding steps in analysing the job and selecting the volunteer have been planned well and implemented successfully, the decision for suitable placement should be easily reached.

We can help Members recruit volunteers to their community organisations. From developing job descriptions for the Volunteer Referral Service we are her to assist you with your volunteer needs. For more information on the services we offer visit our website or contact the VRS or membership team on 02 9261 3600.