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Recruiting is like Dating
Don't Ask For Marriage on a First Date
By Thomas W. McKee

Imagine what typical recruiting methods would sound like if people dated like they recruit for volunteers. It probably would sound something like this.

"Hi, my name is Tom. Would you like to go out tonight?"
"Well, I don't really know you."
"Let's cut to the chase. I like you, you like me. Let's get married tomorrow!"
"Uh. I'm not sure that..."
"How many kids should we have? Can we name the first one after my Grandpa Festus?"

Whoa there, cowboy. Slow down a bit. No one in their right mind would use this technique to find a date. Volunteer managers shouldn't either. It's a lousy way to recruit.

Getting someone to volunteer is like the dating process--getting to know each other and finally asking the commitment question. In recruiting we are not asking for marriage. We are asking for a date--a date to demonstrate the value of our organization, our cause, our mission and the opportunity to make a difference. Each date is filled with opportunities for exchange, questions, and feedback. Buy the time we "pop the question," or ask the person to join our volunteer team, we are confident they will say "yes."

The First Date

The purpose of the first date is to get to know each other. Ask someone to help you for an event. Most o rganizations plan events such as charity drives, concerts, holiday parties or educational programs. Ask a member to serve ice cream, work at a registration table or help set up chairs. Volunteers are episodic-they like to do a short term project that they know has no commitment. Most members do feel like they should be doing something and they will not turn you down to do a small project. Let's face it--the door is open for a first date because members are part of a common interest community.

But how do you get a second date?

At that first event, you want to take the time to affirm them for their work and let them see the impact of what you are doing. Let them get a taste of being involved. Let them experience the fun of working together with your team. Make sure they leave wanting a second date. That is your goal-a second date.

I met Bob on my recent trip to Arkansas. As Bob and I began to chat and he found out that I was from California, he asked me, "What brings you to Arkansas?" When I told him that I was speaking at the Arkansas State Leadership Summit on Volunteerism, he responded with great enthusiasm, "Hey Tom, I'm a volunteer." I asked him what he was going to do; he sheepishly told me that he got a ticket for speeding and was required to put in so many hours in community service. As he began to describe how he was driving (hopefully not speeding) a truck for a non-profit and picking up donated furniture and household goods for a thrift store, Bob was energized. He began to talk about the mission of the non-profit, the wonderful people he was meeting, and how he felt like he was doing far more than a court ordered community service. That's when I asked him the closing question, "Do you think you will continue volunteering when your assignment is up?"

I told Bob that if I was in charge of the volunteers for that organization, we would be meeting for coffee in the next few weeks. Why? Because Bob is low-hanging fruit ready to be picked to join our volunteer team.

The Future Dates

The goal of the future dates is to tell volunteers that you'd like their help. Now that they've had a taste, it's okay to present your need. People want to be asked. Be specific. The 21st century doesn't want to just stuff envelopes. They are professionals and want to use their knowledge. The second date also provides a chance to share the expectations and roles that the volunteer can fill such as writing, selling, leadership, or management. After the second date, many volunteers make commitments because during that time, they've observed you in action, read information about your organization, and feel ready to get involved. However, some need more time and might say "no." But don't be discouraged. "No" often doesn't mean "no"; it means "not now." In six months to a year, you need to ask for another date.

Some impatient, impulsive volunteer managers always say, "I don't have time to meet with each volunteer multiple to recruit them." It can sound overwhelming; however, when you look at the time you waste training and retraining the high percentage of volunteers who are quitting, you are way ahead by using the "dating" method.

You want to ask for a commitment, but not on a first date.

Thomas W. McKee

Tom McKee Tom McKee is president and owner of www.volunteerpower.com a leadership development firm specializing in volunteerism. He has over 40 years of experience in volunteer leadership. Tom began his speaking career to one of the most difficult audiences-high school assemblies. Since those days he has addressed over 1 million people spanning three continents-Africa, Europe and the U.S. Over the past 40 years he has trained over 100,000 leaders how to manage the chaos of change in an organization.

The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer Tom and his son Jonathan are authors of the book, The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer (Group Publishing). The New Breed details the new cultural shift in volunteer management and also includes valuable, applicable resources for leaders, including job descriptions, icebreakers, team-builders and community-building activities, equipping leaders to move forward with confidence and empower valuable volunteers.

About The New Breed:
The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer by Jonathan McKee and Thomas W. McKee. Group Publishing. Paperback, 176 pages. ISBN: 978-0764435645. The book can be ordered at www.volunteerpower.com.