The common lament of leaders who depend on volunteers: I'm not sure what's wrong with these people; they just won't help even though I ask!
If you've said—or even thought—these words about people (other than your own children), consider their lack of response from a different angle. Maybe the issue rests with your ask—specifically, the content of what you say. Opportunities for a high tech video, cleverly written bulletin blurb, or the oh-so-cherished Sunday morning verbal announcement can yield very little without carefully crafted content, also known as messaging.
The organization I work for relies on volunteers to accomplish our mission. Across the country, we work with hundreds of local churches that range in size from 'mega' to 'small and mighty.' Each of these churches must recruit volunteers. From experience with this network of nearly 30,000 volunteer mentors, prayer partners, and leadership/support teams, three best practices in messaging stand out as principles that will aid anyone looking to recruit help.
Yes, content matters a lot.
1. People respond best to an invitation to join a mission.
The most effective recruiters know this truth and lead with it in their messaging. For example, nearly every children's or youth ministry seeks to make a life-long difference in the hearts and lives of kids. That heartbeat must come through in recruiting efforts. Consider how the statement, "Help kids become Christ followers and then follow Him for the rest of their lives," sounds like an opportunity worth serious consideration, as opposed to uninspiring requests like, "We still need people to help two Sundays a month in the children's area."
People want to be part of something larger than themselves, so give them that chance and they'll respond. Communication that focuses on your needs will yield much different results. A compelling mission will attract volunteers, while desperation repels people.
2. People want to invest their time in something that is well-organized.
Here's why: People know their time is valuable, so they don't want it to go to waste. The messaging used to recruit will either give them such confidence, or it won't.
To start, ask people to fill specific roles, which will show you understand your needs. "We just need help" communicates that an area is in chaos. Most people don't want to jump into chaos. Then, give people a clear and simple next step. When a person steps forward with interest, be prepared with additional materials so he or she can learn more to make a decision, or provide an easy-to-use sign-up process consistent with the moment. That means if you are standing in front of them, hand them a simple sign-up sheet and a pen. If you ask them to go online when they go home, many will forget. If you're electronically recruiting, maybe on a web video or other e-tool, have the simple web form just one click away.
Going to have a call-out meeting for potential volunteers? Make sure you plan every detail so the event runs smoothly. The folks who attend will form an opinion based on the quality of the meeting. Whatever next steps are required for volunteering, make sure the process is clear and simple to understand. When you do, you will appear well organized. Panic about your need for people on your own time; show volunteers a calm and confident leader with everything under control, a leader who will make great use of their time.
Remember, you compete with every other potential use of time. Be the "sure thing" in the minds of potential volunteers.