Recruiting and Retaining Volunteer Mentors: Part I

Mar 09, 2016

When you are recruiting long-term volunteers, it’s not unlike having part-time staff.  You’re looking for someone to show up regularly at pre-scheduled times, for a certain duration, and to serve in a particular role on the team.  Even in a group mentoring program where you have multiple mentors, consistency is key!  Kids and mentors need to be able to build relationships over time.  Success is not recruiting 10 new volunteers—it’s getting those volunteers to stick around. 

Be clear about what you will be asking of volunteers/mentors.  This includes anything from the time commitment (one hour/week, for at least 12 months, etc.) and your screening requirements* (an annual background check, an application, an interview, etc.) to what you will expect from their participation in the program.  While it doesn’t need to be as formal as a job description you might put together for an employee, you should still give potential volunteers an idea of what participation means.  Does this mean participating in athletic activities, going on field trips, leading discussions, coming up with activity ideas?  How much support will they have from staff?  For example, maybe the program coordinator is planning the activities but will ask the mentors to take turns leading them or implementing different components. 

*We offer access to discounted background checks through FirstAdvantage in our National Child Protection Toolkit.  Take 5 minutes to learn how to go beyond a background check by watching a short training video on background screening, or watch the entire Child Protection Training Series.

Based on what you’re asking, consider who would likely be a good fit and where they might be.  Are you looking for people with certain interests, like sports or music?  Are you looking for people who have certain types of experiences or backgrounds?  What organizations or clubs might they already be a part of?  Civic clubs, music schools, science departments, sports leagues, etc.  If you are running a Badges for Baseball program and looking to recruit law enforcement mentors, check out “How to Build a Successful Law Enforcement Partnership” in the Materials section under Badges for Baseball.

Explain the why.  Like any good principles, the tenets of “The Ripken Way” can be applied to pretty much anything involving people.  Why should someone volunteer?  Beyond the reward of making a difference for kids in your program, what else might they get out of it?  If your program involves sports, maybe it’s a chance to share the love of the game.  If your program involves art, maybe it’s the chance to be creative.  Maybe they are looking for leadership opportunities—being a mentor certainly requires practicing leadership skills!  Remember to include the more tangible support and benefits as well, whether it’s training and support from staff members, t-shirt, a membership to your organization, etc.

Plan for the counterarguments.  Then address them.  “That sounds like a great program, but…”  What might prevent people from volunteering?  Is it the time of day?  Maybe you can schedule your program at a different time.  Or if you can’t, factor that into your recruiting.  If you have a program that runs 3-4 p.m. on weekdays, consider college students or retirees.  Or reach out to a company’s HR or corporate social responsibility department: some companies have a corporate volunteering program where they let employees volunteer during the workday for a certain number of hours each month.  Perhaps the time is fine, but these potential volunteers lack experience and are nervous about being good mentors.  Detail how you’ll provide training and support in the form of staff or program materials.  What other potential obstacles can you clear out of the way, or at least mitigate?

Leverage your existing volunteers.  Who is better to help you recruit new volunteers than people who are already walking the talk?  Plus, volunteers will expose you to new networks of people.  They might offer valuable feedback on some of the obstacles to volunteering and how you can address them or improve the support you offer.  Even volunteers who may not be super outgoing or do not have the time for a lot of outreach can still help introduce you to potential volunteers.  If you have volunteers who had to stop due to scheduling conflicts or other commitments, this can be a good way to keep them engaged with your organization.

Any tips you would like to share?  Stay tuned for the next post on what to do after recruiting!