Now that you know your project inside and out, let's focus on the actual recruitment process. How are you going to do it, and where will you start?
Remember that you'll need volunteers for more than just the build itself: fundraisers, planning and design meetings, and other events require volunteers. Recruit for those, too! Also, our experience shows that 30 percent of confirmed volunteers stay home on Build Day. Have some "wiggle room" built into your numbers, but be prepared for everyone!
Every community has within it the resources, skills and materials to create positive change. So many individuals sit in their homes, wishing things were different and thinking to themselves: "I could never do that." But together, WE can do anything. As a project organizer, it's your job to pull together those individual resources and unleash that community power.
Start by "mapping" your community's assets. Who do you know? Who do you interact with on a regular basis? Who in your community has skills or interests that complement your project? Brainstorm every resource you can think of - individuals, businesses, organizations, and institutions. Remember that personal connections between friends, family, schoolmates, co-workers and neighbors are your key to the city! For a comprehensive guide to mapping your community's assets, check out the Community Involvement section of the Toolkit.
Below is a small sampling of where to find volunteers.
- Neighbors, family and friends
- Parents, aunts/uncles/grandparents
- Teachers/principals, school facilities staff
- High-school/college students, home schoolers
- School alumni
- Barbers/hair stylists
- Car mechanics
- Mail/newspaper carriers
- Instructors (piano, ballet, martial arts) and coaches
- New residents, job seekers and retirees
- Elected officials: Mayor, City Council
- Parks Director
For lots more ideas of individuals to seek out, check out the Community Involvement section of the Toolkit.
When people are linked together as a group, they represent another level of community skills and resources. Organizations also have large membership networks and established channels for communication.
- Service clubs (Rotary, Junior League, high school clubs, etc.) and fraternal organizations (Elks, Knights, etc)
- Police/Fire departments
- Churches/temples/mosques, youth ministries
- Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts
- Neighborhood organizations and business associations
- PTO/PTA groups
- Issue advocacy groups and child-serving agencies
- Labor unions
- Public-health departments
- Cultural/tribal organizations
- Military bases
For lots more ideas of associations and organizations to seek out, check out the Community Involvement section of the Toolkit.
Businesses to consider
Talk to employers about donating their employees' time outright, giving incentives to employees who volunteer, or advertising the project around the workplace and in newsletters. One word of warning: be sure to coordinate these recruitment efforts with the other team captains. Businesses don't want to be approached by five separate people for the same project.
- Regional/national corporations
- Utility companies (water, gas, etc.) and construction contractors
- Banks and law offices
- Engineering firms and technology companies
- Real-estate companies
- TV/radio stations
- Bars/restaurants and shopping malls
- Car dealerships
- Major/minor league sports teams
- Post offices
For lots more ideas of businesses to seek out, check out the Community Involvement section of the Toolkit.
"There are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who ask, 'What happened?'"
- Casey Stengel
Build enthusiasm: Get the word out!
Here are some easy, low-cost ways to let people know about volunteer opportunities:
Flyers and mail
- At work, post recruitment flyers on bulletin boards, coffee machines, microwaves and water coolers.
- Visit busy shopping areas and place flyers under car windshield wipers.
- Start your very own playspace newsletter with a catchy, playful name! Include personal stories of children who need a place to play, photos of the old equipment or empty play lot, and advertisements for upcoming volunteer opportunities. Distribute it to community groups, friends and businesses.
- Distribute recruitment flyers after religious services. Ask religious leaders to make announcements during their meetings, or place ads in their bulletins.
- Place project flyers on the front counter of all local restaurants.
- Ask the local pizza parlor to place a playspace flyer on top of every pizza box they sell.
- Hang signs and flyers in the windows of participating local stores.
- Send regular email messages to all of your contacts, announcing upcoming volunteer opportunities. This is a great opportunity to work with local corporations and service organizations; ask for permission to send emails to their employees and members.
Meetings and networking
- Sit in on every civic meeting in town. Ask if it's possible to say a few words about the project.
- Check to see if your local community centers, libraries, university student centers or civic websites maintain lists of current volunteer opportunities. Get on their lists!
- Place an ad inside company newsletters - many corporations will gladly advertise volunteer opportunities for their employees.
- Build a sign for your playspace site that reads "Future Site of Our Playspace. Build Dates: September 18-20. To volunteer, call Felicia Frolic at 555-1234."
- Ask for permission to set up a recruitment booth at a local mall or retail store. See if stores will donate small items for a raffle - every volunteer who signs up gets a chance to win!
- Stuff envelopes! Department stores, phone and cable utilities, and other high-volume mailers sometimes allow non-profit groups to provide inserts that accompany monthly statements to customers.
- Establish a relationship with a local grocery, convenience or discount store. Ask the manager to consider printing volunteer information on their paper bags, or a brief playspace message on tape receipts.
- Recruit volunteers with an information booth at your local fair or carnival. Even better, set up a game of your own to show off your playful spirit!
Bridging community interests
What's your community's idea of fun? The best way to get people interested in your project is to align it with things that they're already interested in - from sports and native culture to celebrity gossip. No matter what your community likes to do, you can find ways to tie in your volunteer recruitment drives. For example:
- Is everyone glued to the TV watching NASCAR, the Super Bowl, or the NBA finals? Talk to restaurant and bar owners about hosting a "watching party" with food and drink specials. Advertise the event and hand out volunteer information during halftime or commercial breaks. Point out that once the playspace is in, spectators can watch "plays" in their very own neighborhood!
- Is your high-school football team or drumline competing for a title? Set up a table at games and events to distribute volunteer flyers: remind people that a playspace will help the next generation excel at sports!
- Does your community have an issue that politicians, clergy or union leaders are always arguing about? Talk to local leaders about how a safe neighborhood playspace relates to these issues, and encourage them to get behind the recruitment drive through speeches and initiatives.
Make the most of your efforts with these communication tips:
- When people call to inquire about volunteering, who will they speak to? (Don't pass the phone to five different people, and don't make them call back!)
- How will you make sure that each volunteer receives follow-up from your team?
- How will you determine each volunteer's interests/needs/schedule?
- How will you keep in contact with volunteers throughout the planning process?
- How will you make sure they stay engaged and motivated?
Set up at fairs, festivals, local sporting events, block parties and community meetings.
- Don't just sit there! Actively engage any passers-by who seem interested.
- Practice a quick introductory statement that will catch people's attention.
- Emphasize play! Make yourself and your table eye-catching, colorful and playful. Decorate using children's crafts and drawings, and dress up in silly costumes.
- Have plenty of flyers or brochures (with project contact information!) on hand. People should have something to take away.
- Have everyone sign up - this captures volunteers' contact information while making them feel committed.
- Try to have a volunteer activity within two weeks to immediately engage and retain interested people.
- Is someone really fired up? Ask them to step behind the booth and help you recruit!
"An invitation to volunteer is a strand in the thread that connects. A program that says 'Welcome' in every way, over the phone, in person, or in the mail, invites a volunteer to be a part. Volunteers who feel they belong, return."
- Sarah Elliston
The best way to turn people out for the build is to get them invested in the project early and often. Invite them to fundraisers, Design Day, youth activities, volunteer drives and planning meetings. That first commitment is always the hardest, so give people several opportunities to get involved. Once they catch the bug, they'll reach out to their own networks and do much of your job for you.
Stay high profile.
To attract a large number of unskilled volunteers, maintain a consistently high public profile through ongoing media coverage, wide distribution of flyers, and networking with other service groups. The more people hear about your project, the more likely they are to show up.
Did you know? In a recent survey, Americans said that simply being asked to volunteer was a big factor in their decision to donate time. 63 percent said that they would volunteer if asked, compared to only 25 percent who would seek out volunteer opportunities on their own. And with only 50 percent of people being asked to volunteer at all, every community has a huge untapped resource of willing citizens! So practice your pitch, get out the door, and ask! Demonstrating your personal commitment to the cause will inspire others to get involved.
Are you busy? Does your household get bombarded with requests for help, invitations to local events, and junk mail? Well, the people you're trying to recruit are in the same boat! Remember that people typically don't respond to volunteer requests until the second, third or fourth time they're approached. So keep putting your information out there, and don't give up...those seeds will sprout!
Recruit for the long haul.
Many projects addressing school improvements or children's activities find that inevitably, the children who are directly involved grow up, and the core group of parents moves on. Support for the issue then dwindles until there's another crisis. Don't let this happen to your community build! A playspace requires consistent, long-term maintenance and programming to keep it safe and fun for an entire generation of kids. To promote that kind of involvement, think outside of the sandbox! Focus your recruitment efforts on a diverse group of citizens who have varying stakes in your playspace's success: neighbors, local businesses, elected officials, and the landowner. Get teachers on board, and target parents of toddlers and kindergartners who will use the playspace down the road. Start envisioning volunteer activities that could take place six months or a year after the playspace is built, and identify strong leaders who can carry the torch. And remember, these children who see their parents and neighbors come together to build them a playspace will turn into the next generation of community leaders!
Sign volunteers up and follow-up.
Remember, don't just settle for a verbal confirmation! Have volunteers actually sign up and provide their contact info to help ensure they will show up!
From Independent Sector, 2002