How to get a solid commitment from your volunteers

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When you are engaging with a potential volunteer, it is helpful to understand the basics of buying decisions, which includes the decision to accept and commit to a volunteer opportunity.

Remember that decision-making is a process and this can take time because it involves a series of steps. When a volunteer applicant is speaking with you, they are actively in the decision-making process and their decision to accept and commit to your offer of a position hasn’t been finalized yet. An applicant can appear to be excited and interested in your volunteer position but, as we have all experienced, excitement alone does not guarantee commitment.

Think of the applicant as your customer, to whom you are attempting to “sell” a volunteer position and, indeed, your organization’s mission. The time you invest in making the sale is necessary, especially if you have a complex screening process, and you certainly don’t want to waste this investment if you are unable to secure the applicant’s commitment. The applicant also wants to make the right decision and minimize any risks involved in making the commitment. No matter how simple and straightforward the role may seem – for example, an event set-up volunteer - they need to work through any fears, uncertainties, or doubts associated with accepting the position. The decision to “commit” comes when the applicant is invested in the outcome and is no longer worried that the risks outweigh the benefits.

A commitment checklist

It won’t come as a surprise to hear that no technique or interview question magically guarantees a commitment. But if you focus on specific actions, you can help elevate the likelihood of achieving a volunteer’s commitment to show up when they said they would, and do what they’ve said they would do.

Identify the decision-making criteria. Do you know what’s important to your applicant? Can you answer their most important question: “What’s in it for me?” As a recruiter, you must ask questions that allow you to identify the applicant’s decision-making criteria. The degree to which your organization’s mission and the specific role meets this criteria influences their level of commitment.

1. Be specific about the IMPACT of that both your organization and the role you’re trying to fill have on the community. Use the words “commit” and “commitment” often, to convey how important this component is to YOUR decision-making process when selecting volunteers, and your ability to achieve your desired outcomes.

Try: “When you commit to being our Event Set-Up Volunteer, you’ll ensure the smooth operation of the event for our participants.”

Instead of: “if you don’t show up we’re in deep trouble”, try: “We can’t proceed with the event if we don’t have the commitment of volunteers to ensure that everything is in place by the specified time.”

2. Show them how the role and the organization match their needs and desires. Listen, clarify and try to get as much information as you can before you respond.

Ask open-ended questions about prior volunteer commitments. “Can you tell me about a volunteer experience you’ve had that made it easy for you to commit fully to the required shifts/timelines/duties?”

3. Confirm what you think you are hearing! When answering questions or addressing concerns, always solicit feedback. Just answering and moving on might lead you to think you’ve got a commitment. Don’t be afraid to ask: “Have I left out anything important you need to know before you can commit to this event/position/time frame?” Again “commit to this position” rather than “decide to take the position”.

4. Find out who your competitors are. Don’t assume your applicant isn’t actively looking for other volunteer work. As long as they’re talking with you, they haven’t yet made a decision. They could be weighing their options and your position might be only one of them. If the position you’re discussing requires a high level of commitment, then the onus is on you to sell your opportunity harder than the competition. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that help you explore and clarify what you’re competing against.

Of course, don’t bash other agencies! But if you have an idea of what you’re up against, you might be aware of key advantages you can offer, and you should definitely express them.

5. Address and resolve objections. Address any objections that come up during the interview, and manage them carefully. A common objection, for example, could be the need for a police check. Acknowledge the objection and explain clearly the reasons this may be necessary.

6. Establish the appropriate next step. Not all applicants will be ready to make a decision right away. By listening throughout the interview and addressing the applicant’s concerns, you’ll be in a position to determine the right next step. Some people may need time to consult with others or to sort out logistics. Or you may need time to follow up on something that came up during the discussion.

7. Don’t make assumptions about interest. Ask the candidate if they would like to commit to the position. This acknowledges that most people would like to feel as though they are part of the decision and can create an important psychological shift for the applicant.

Recruiting volunteers and getting a commitment can be one of the most challenging parts of the Volunteer Management Cycle. The way we communicate our needs, and explain the impact that a volunteer can have personally on the successful execution of our organization’s missions and goals, is the key to getting the commitment we need.

Louise Sparrow is a Volunteer Services Professional. Connect with her today on LinkedIn.

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