Here’s a story from a volunteer who was searching for opportunities in the F/M area:
Sandy* was searching for volunteer opportunities in the local F/M area; she contacted one agency who advertised a local need. She emailed them and quickly received a response. Their response, however, was that they had no needs at that time. Hmmm . . . why were they advertising a need if there wasn’t one? Sandy was told that they would call her if something came up.
Sandy decided to contact another agency. The agency responded initially; both parties played phone tag for a while and finally connected. The agency was going to contact her again with the orientation date, but Sandy never heard from them again.
She went on to try another agency that was looking for volunteers, a place near her home where her children were old enough to help. Again, an initial response arrived shortly after, but then there was no follow-through from the agency.
Those agencies lost Sandy as a potential volunteer. She moved on and currently volunteers her time elsewhere. So what happened?
Volunteer Coordinators are very, very busy; that is likely what happened here. And yes, we know that volunteer coordinators call back many, many prospective volunteers and that often those volunteers are the ones who don’t call/write back. They often disappear into the ‘potential volunteer abyss.’ The point I’m making here, however, is that not following through on even one email or phone call can result in the loss of a great volunteer. Recruitment is a big part of your job, so being diligent about responding to every inquiry is crucial. The lack of response from you can sour an individual on volunteering, and that is bad for everyone.
Perhaps you haven’t responded to the volunteer because you feel that the person is not right for your agency. Sometimes the proper response to a potential volunteer is “thanks, but no thanks”. It’s not easy to tell someone that they aren’t a good fit for your organization, but it is far better than to avoid responding to them at all. You may have avoided being uncomfortable, but I can assure you that the volunteer is walking away with a bitter feeling about you and your organization. Therefore, a polite “thank you, but I think we are looking for someone who has more expertise with ______. However, have you heard of X Y or Z agency?” Or “You can find more opportunities at FirstLink at www.myfirstlink.org.” J
Remember to be specific when you are listing a volunteer need. The more detail you provide on your website about the position will help to “filter” the right person for your opportunity. You are not obligated to accept everyone who fills out a volunteer application. Finding the right volunteer is what’s best for your organization, not simply having a seat to fill. The right fit can result in a volunteer for life; the wrong fit can be a problem for everyone involved.
Perhaps you no longer have the need for volunteers and forgot to update this on your website. It is important to set aside time every week or twice a month to update your agency’s website. These things take time, but it can make all the difference for your agency’s image to keep your website current.
So . . . ‘flag’ those emails, make those return phone calls, and put time on your calendar for responding each week to every enquiry you receive. It will save you time in the long run!