A few weeks ago I hosted a quite large 4-H event and had a volunteer ask me, "How do you get so many people to volunteer?"
My response was this, "Well, when people realize how incredible 4-H is, they can't help but get involved."
This week I've spent a great deal of time tabulating the numbers of my activities for my tenure documentation and this volunteer's question has been on my mind. I didn't realize until this week that I actually do have a volunteer recruitment strategy. I've never written this strategy down or explained it to anyone. It's just something I've got ingrained in me and I feel like I should share it with you.
First, you need to realize that everyone is busy. But people make time for the things they think matter (and bring them some level of happiness).
Question: So, how do I get people to realize that 4-H matters?
It's not personal, but no one will commit to organize and lead an ongoing 4-H club, especially if they have never been involved in 4-H. It would still be incredibly difficult to find people to perform the work even if they were reasonably compensated. No amount of research will convince them that 4-H matters.
Answer: Experiences convince people.
While long-term commitment can be overwhelming and horrifying, many people are quite willing to serve episodically. You don't even need to have a relationship with someone to get them to volunteer, it really really helps, but you should have enough insight about their interests. For example, an engineer would likely volunteer to judge a robotics competition before volunteering to serve as a ring steward at a livestock show. I will help you move, just don't ask me to pack your stuff.
If all people had your vision of 4-H (if you don't have one - get one!), they would all volunteer in anyway you needed, right?
Question: So how then do I get people to catch my vision of 4-H?
Unfortunately, no one can instantly download your vision. You can't catch a vision like the way Neo learned Kung Fu. Just not happening folks.
Answer: Give them small doses of your vision through episodic experiences. Invite them, train them, listen to their feedback, value their expertise, feed them, give them a t-shirt, send them a hand written thank you card, recognize them in front of others, give them awards. Do all or most of these things and they will know that you care about them (because you do). As a result, they will keep volunteering.
I'm going to make you a promise: If you care first1, eventually, they will ask you how they can get more involved - whether it be managing an entire event, recruiting, fundraising, and/or leading a club. It takes time, but it will happen.
When you care first2, the result is (drumroll please)...'committed, caring volunteer leaders.' When you invite them to serve episodically in an area 1) they find interesting and they 2) have a great experience and 3) taste the green kool-aid you're serving up, they will want more.
This is exactly what I think when I meet a good person (and I meet a lot):
What episodic volunteer opportunity can I give them that they 1) will enjoy and 2) will improve their life?
I spend time pondering over the people I know and the experiences I can provide them.
When I figure out what people and experiences to connect, I make a personal invitation.
Always remember that our business is people. Now let's go make the best better.
Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
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