26 Nov 2020 | 4 min read

How to: Identify Your Dream Volunteer Team

The first step we talk about at Volunteer U is to IDENTIFY your team. What does it mean to identify your team? We’re asking you to take time to think about who your dream volunteer would be and how they would behave. In the IDENTIFY stage, you get to figure out who would be an excellent fit to serve your organization (and just as importantly, who would not be a good fit). 


For many nonprofits and churches, the need for volunteers is so desperate they take anyone who signs up. Although that can be tempting when you’re first starting, it can cause some serious issues down the line. We’ve heard enough horror stories of getting stuck with the wrong volunteer and having to do some major damage control, to prove our point. Save yourself the headache. Do the hard work, in the beginning, to put together an awesome volunteer team that saves you time in the long run. 


Who should you be looking for in your organization?


Churches or community groups with what we call “captive audiences” or members who are exposed to weekly messages, can pull directly from their congregations. But does that mean you want just anyone from your organization serving in a specific role? 

If you’re like our friends at Clean the World, who use thousands of volunteers each year to sort and organize donated soap, you’re probably looking for premade groups (like schools, corporate teams, or clubs). Teams who can come in and knock out a big project in one sitting. 


Or maybe your organization is more like our buddies at Christian Help, who use professionals with skills like building resumes and conducting mock interviews to help those looking for a job to get into the marketplace. 


Whatever the case for your particular organization, every team is looking for someone who will fit with the culture of the team and who shares similar values (or at least is passionate about your organization’s primary mission). 


Here are three practical ways to IDENTIFY who would be a good fit for your team. 


1. Know your organization’s needs. 

You can’t recruit the perfect volunteer for your team if you’re not sure what your organization needs. So it’s essential to know the needs of the different roles you are filling with volunteers.  


Think through the positions carefully. Are your volunteers going to be in high-visual spots where they will interact with guests? If you have a volunteer answering questions in an info booth, they need to be good at dealing with people. Remember, volunteers are representing your brand. One guest’s bad experience with a volunteer equals a negative view of your entire organization. Make sure you are looking for people with all the right skills and the right personality to match the position. You don’t want a relationship-oriented person doing task-related items, or a task-oriented person getting aggravated trying to build relationships. It’s not the best use of people and their gifts and passions. You want to help people find the right spot in your organization that allows them to thrive. 

Take the time to write out exactly what you are looking for in your dream volunteer. Don’t worry, people outside your organization don’t need to see this, it’s just for you, so be brutally honest. Even include those hard to describe internal qualities you’re looking for, things like joy, friendliness, and positivity. Now, keep this in mind as you look to fill the position. As you meet new potential volunteers, just having written out exactly what you want, you will find it much easier to connect people to the right roles. 


2. Check engagement levels. 

Are people actively interacting with your brand? If you tend to see the same individuals popping up on your social media page, or downloading freebies off your website, chances are high they are into what you’re doing. We call this engagement, and it is a pretty reliable predictor of people who share your values and might be a good fit to volunteer. 


Does your organization have a social media account? It’s easy to find the people who are always “liking” your posts. Do you send out a monthly newsletter or email blast? Opens and click rates are good indicators of who is interested in the work you are doing. And don’t forget about donors. If they are already giving money to your cause, those are prime leads for your volunteer team. 

Target these “top” engagement groups and send a personal message to see if they would be interested in serving (if they aren’t already). You might be surprised at how many people think someone else will do the work and don’t realize your organization needs them to help. 


3. Make it challenging to join the team.

This step always makes people do a double-take, maybe because it goes against every instinct in a volunteer manager’s body. “But shouldn’t we make it as easy to volunteer as possible? More volunteers means more work done, right?” 

Not always. 


In the business world, the term “Barrier to Entry” is used when describing difficulties or obstacles that prevent new competitors from quickly entering an industry. We use this same terminology when encouraging organizations to make it challenging to join a volunteer team. This weeds out any undesirable candidates and allows you to shape your volunteer crew into a dream team that will work for your organization. 


One of the best ways to gauge who would be a good fit for your team is to put them through some application or interview process. 

Basically, you want to give yourself a way to filter through potentially ill-fitting volunteers. And it’s not just to protect your organization; this is also the perfect time for a possible volunteer to figure out if they really want to pursue the role on your team or not. 

Remember, you should never try to filter people based on discriminatory factors like age, gender, or race. But this is a good opportunity to learn more about someone’s personality, interests, passions, and values. Find out if your volunteer opportunity is something they are actually interested in or if maybe they would be a better fit somewhere else. The application or interview process is the perfect time for both the organization and the potential volunteer to see if this is going to work. 


It’s critical to identify who would be a good fit for the team and then plan a strategy to RECRUIT those potential volunteers (but more on the recruiting process in next week’s article). 


Get started by putting these three suggested steps into action. 


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