Revised with new information July 28, 2015

Recruiting Mentors
(or any high-responsibility volunteers that will work with clients)
Recruitment is a mentality.

That's a phrase I heard while preparing for an online presentation for the National Collaborative Mentoring Webinar Series, coordinated by The Mentoring Partnership of Southwest Pennsylvania. It was said after we had talked about the challenges to recruiting mentors for youth, and that so many people want a mathematical formula for successful recruitment, or a magic bullet activity that makes recruitment happen - but there isn't one. We all agreed that successful recruitment comes from a mentality that permeates the organization, one that prompts employees and volunteers to always be looking for opportunities for outreach and partnership, and where all employees and volunteers are advocates for the program, regardless of the tasks they undertake.

This web page was created using resources compiled for that mentoring webinar series. It has specific recommendations to recruit mentors for youth, but these recommendations could be used for most any high-responsibility, high-commitment volunteer role working with clients, such as counselors, tutors, firefighters, CASA volunteers, etc.

Screening and a quick response is essential

Imagine that a high-profile PR company creates a wonderful TV advertisement to recruit mentors for your organization, and all the local TV stations show the ad a few times every day for many weeks. Sounds great, right? Now imagine a family watching that ad and one of them saying, "I called that organization. They never called me back. What a really poorly-run organization!" And then all of those family members tell their friends, who tell their family, who share on Facebook and blog about it... and a few other people have the same experience and tell their friends whenever your ad comes on TV. Now, instead of your ad generating interest, it's creating a lot of frustration and stories that don't reflect very well on your program.

In other words, none of these recommendations will help your organization if you do not have a process in place that quickly screens in appropriate candidates, quickly screens out inappropriate candidates, and provides a quick, complete response to people that inquire about mentoring. Without a great process to quickly screen in promising candidates and screen out candidates who wouldn’t be appropriate, you are going to generate bad public relations. People who don’t get a quick reply to their inquiry, don’t get complete answers to their questions, don’t understand why their application was rejected, etc., will share their bad experiences with their networks - their associates on Facebook, their family, their co-workers, etc. 

Also, notify applicants promptly and respectfully if they do not meet program requirements to be a mentor. If appropriate, invite them in your program in another, on-mentoring role (see later in this page), or encourage them to look at something like VolunteerMatch for opportunities with other organizations.

You have something people want. 

Great candidates for mentoring ARE out there, HUNGRY for these type of deep experiences. Those managing mentoring programs shouldn’t panic over the talk that everyone wants micro volunteering/short-term volunteering, etc. Certainly microvolunteering is very popular and that is a preference of many, but there are also lots of people that want a long-term, meaningful commitment out of volunteering. Look at Quora or YahooAnswers or other online Q & A and see all the people looking for deep, long-term volunteering - people really are out there! Just as not everyone wants to date lots of people - they want to get married and be in a long-term, committed relationship - a lot of people really would love to be a mentor for your organization. 

Everything you say & do is a recruitment message

Promotion is about building your organization’s image and inspiring people to act. Every message your organization sends out is, at least indirectly, a mentor recruitment message. Every Facebook status update, every tweet, every newsletter story - it affects how people think about your organization and about volunteering with you. If most of your letters to supporters and speeches to civic groups are about how your organization needs money, people are going to get the impression that your organization needs money much more than people. If most of your messages are about the difference your volunteers make in the lives of young people, people are going to feel an emotional connection to what you do. If you post photos online of people having fun, of people being happy, etc., you are creating an image of an organization that would be pleasant to be a part of. If you post messages that thank your mentors, you are saying to potential candidates, "We value our mentors!" If you don't answer questions or criticisms posted online about your organization, that may make someone wonder how responsive you would be for mentors.

One of my favorite users of Facebook is Peace Corps, because every message they send out is, at least indirectly, a recruitment message. For instance, when they ask on a Facebook status update, "What did you love most about being a Peace Corps volunteer?", and people respond, the responses from alumni, and even the organization's response to criticism or questions from non-Peace Corps alumni, become recruitment messages for new volunteers.

Messages that work - and those that don't

Messages that attract potential mentors:
Messages that do NOT attract mentors:
That doesn't mean that you shouldn't post about your annual report - you most certainly should. But remember that all of your outreach, collectively, is creating an image of your organization. You want that image to be inspiring, one that draws the right people to support your organization as mentors.

Everyone at your organization is a recruiter

Everyone at your organization - every volunteer, every employee, every long-term consultant - should be able to say what your does, just very basically, that your organization recruits mentors for young people, and where people can find complete information online about mentoring. The accountant, the human resources manager, the six-month marketing consultant: all should be able to say what the organization does, in their own words (no “canned” speech) and what the web address is. Also, all employees, consultants and volunteers, regardless of their responsibilities, should be invited to presentations on success stories - it will inspire them about the organization they work for AND make them better recruiters with family and friends.

Leverage other organizations and associations

Build partnerships/relationships with the organizations named below - don’t just contact them about mentor recruitment. Attend their events, “like” their Facebook postings (and comment on them!), let your volunteers and staff know about their events, etc. Invite them to your open houses, let them know about new videos you have posted on YouTube, etc. Do not make your very first engagement with any of these organizations a plea for mentors.

Once you have made at least that first connection, ask these organizations if they would put an item in their newsletter to members or staff about your mentor recruitment. You can also ask to speak to their membership or staff about mentoring. Organizations you should contact:

Your web site needs to be super-detailed!

Please see this web page, also on my site, Required Volunteer Information on Your Web Site, for details on what your organization should have on its web site in order to be able to recruit and support volunteers. In addition to what I have on that page, your web site also needs to have this information:

Use Third-Party web sites like VolunteerMatch

I already explore this in detail on this page, so I won't repeat myself here.

Social media
You don’t have to adopt a new social media channel until you hear about it for *at least* three months from several staff, volunteers, etc. Wait for it to “catch on” before you invest the time.

You DO have to do this! Don't have time? What about involving volunteers to help with social media activities? There are a lot of people who might not be able to make the commitment to mentor who would LOVE to help with this type of work!

Leverage National and International "Days" and "Weeks"

There are oh-so-many days in the USA designated to recognize volunteers or encourage volunteerism. In addition to having an incredible volume of high-quality books on volunteer engagement, Energize Inc. offers a comprehensive list of these days and weeks. Use these days to issue press releases in recognition of the events and your own mentoring program and results, to launch a new video that illustrates what's great about your mentoring program, etc. Many of these days come with tags you can use (like #youthday).

Recruiting Local Volunteers To Increase Diversity Among the Ranks

Having plenty of volunteers to undertake all the roles at your organization usually isn't enough to say a volunteering program is successful. Another indicator of success is if your volunteers represent a variety of ages, education-levels, economic levels and other demographics, or are a reflection of your local community. Most organizations don't want volunteers to be a homogeneous group; they want to reach a variety of people as volunteers (and donors and other supporters, for that matter). This resource will help you think about how to recruit for diversity, or to reach a specific demographic. This link will take you to detailed information about recruiting to increase diversity among your volunteers.

Create non-mentoring volunteering opportunities

Sometimes, people need a taste of an organization before they are willing to commit more fully in a role like mentoring. Volunteers can help with social media, web site management, videos (uploading, editing, tagging, etc.), photo sites (uploading, editing, tagging, writing descriptions, etc.), events, etc. You might even want to explore microvolunteering, short-term assignments for tech volunteers, and creating one-time, short-term group volunteering activities as taster activities for potential volunteers. These people may not eventually become mentors, but if they have a positive experience and feel inspired by your organization, they will probably refer family, friends and colleagues to you.

Be Nimble!

Email is often derided now as an effective way to reach people. But mentoring expert Lisa Bottomley pointed out in a conversation for our workshop that a mentoring organization that she works with had great success with a one-time, highly-personalized email to sent to some key volunteers, telling them about a specific mentoring need and asking them to let their networks know about this particular need. That email worked - but if the organization tried that every month, it probably wouldn't.

And where did I find most of the ideas listed on this page? Some I have undertaken myself. Some I see working on the social media and web site activities of other organizations. I steal marketing ideas - from nonprofits, from fast food restaurants, from anywhere and everywhere.

The point: always be thinking about ways to connect and get the word out. What works now may not in six months. What didn't work six months ago may work now. Ask all employees and volunteers to be looking for outreach opportunities and tell them to whom they should make those suggestions - and credit them when a strategy works!

More resources
If you want detailed information on how to work with online volunteers, and how to fully integrate virtual volunteering in to all of your community engagement, including how to set up and support an online mentoring program, see:

 The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook

available for purchase as a paperback & an ebook

from Energize, Inc.
Completely revised and updated, & includes lots more advice about microvolunteering!
Published January 2014.

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