How to Cast Wide and Deep When Recruiting Volunteers

If you work for any type of church or nonprofit organization you know that recruiting volunteers to help with your ministry is difficult. People are busy, have limited time, and often already have commitments to other organizations besides yours. In this post I will show how you can recruit more volunteers by casting wide and deep in your volunteer recruitment efforts. Credit: Justin Norman

I. 2 Elements of Wide and Shallow Volunteer Recruitment

Opportunities to volunteer must be expanded to all segments of the community—it is consistent with the concept of equal opportunity. Instead of being the privilege of the already privileged, volunteering must become the right of everyone: minorities, youth, seniors, the handicapped, blue collar workers, business people, the disadvantaged. Remember—those who understand the culture and lifestyles of those you are trying to recruit make the best recruiters.
Marlene Wilson, The Effective Management of Volunteer Programs, p. 118

A. What You Ask For:

When casting wide and shallow in your volunteer recruitment you are asking for people to help you with events that need lots of volunteers. These are times when you need unskilled volunteers; this is basic work that does not require a lot of training. These are events such as holiday events or crisis needs.

B. How You Ask:

Because you are looking for mostly unskilled volunteers you are going to want to spend all year long recruiting people. People in unskilled volunteer roles usually have a high turnover rate so you are going to want to spend the entire year trying to recruit new volunteers. Additionally, you are not looking for a specific type of volunteer with a specific skill set. Therefore, you can use a variety of methods to recruit volunteers because almost any person can do the work positions you are recruiting for. So, be sure to use a large variety of methods to recruit diverse people. This is what I call casting your net wide.

In order to recruit volunteers you need to survey different volunteer recruitment tactics, find which ones work, and then stick with those methods. Below I have outlined the many different ways you can ask for volunteers.

1. The Different “Wide” Methods You Can Recruit Volunteers

A) Print

It is important to remember that people still read. In fact, research shows that the Millennial generation is more likely to read than any other generation in America (see “America’s Facebook Generation Is Reading Strong” on NPR). To recruit volunteers use print media such as:

  • newspaper
  • brochures and flyers
  • posters and displays
  • donor appeals
  • newsletters

B) Audio and moving visuals

  • radio
  • TV
  • SlideDeck
  • YouTube
  • podcasts

C) In person

  • speeches and presentations about your organization for service clubs, professional organizations, and volunteer fairs
  • tours and open houses of your organization for the general public

D) Digital

  • Use your website to recruit volunteers.
  • email newsletters
  • social media
    • This iss especially effective for Millennials because they are “always on” and “always plugged in” (Gozzi, “Two Generation Gaps,” p. 476).
    • All for Good Facebook (
    • For this to work you (as the Volunteer Coordinator) must be the one to write up the materials, get the pictures, etc. and then give all of that information to your marketing person.
    • If you place the responsibility of this on the marketing person it will not get done, especially when it comes to competing against fundraisers and event ticket sales.
    • LinkedIn
  • volunteer recruitment websites
    • community calendars
      • local TV channels (especially news channels)
      • local radio stations
      • local and regional newspapers

E) The 10 best attention words according to Yale University’s research

Yale University recently did some marketing research and found that there are ten words that work best when attempting to get and keep people’s attention (, “Volunteer Management and Volunteer Attention Words”). These ten words are:

  • gain
  • earn
  • new
  • avoid
  • get
  • health
  • free
  • secret
  • unique
  • profit

I also found this video about how to talk to potential volunteers about volunteers when attempting to recruit them.

II. 2 Elements of Deep Volunteer Recruitment

A. What You Ask For:

  • Be specific.
  • Look for the special skills and needs.
  • Focus on recruiting just a couple of volunteers.
  • These are people you probably will interview and for whom you might conduct background checks.

B. How You Ask:

1. Find people and groups that have similar values, interests, and priorities to your organization’s mission or the specific volunteer job you need filled.

  • churches
  • service clubs
  • advertising firms
  • accountant and attorney offices
  • specific businesses based on their philanthropic focus areas

2. Actively seek out these people for a specific role.

When you are doing “deep” volunteer recruitment you are looking for people with specific skills and requirements. Therefore you might want to seek out someone you already know in order to recruit him or her to volunteer. If you do have someone in mind you are going to contact about volunteering here are some helpful tips.

A) 4 Ways to Ask

  1. Need-based: “I need someone to fill this important role, and I think you would be a great fit.”
  2. Relationship-based: “I know you want to help and serve others, and I think you can do that more in this volunteer position.”
  3. Significance-based: “You have some of the skills and strengths that I need for [volunteer position].”
  4. Vision-based: “As you know, our vision is to create a safe place for all children to go after-school. Would you be interested in serving with us to make that vision real?” (adapted from Aubrey Malphurs and Will Mancini, Building Leaders, pp. 132-133).

B) Phone Tips for Better Volunteer Recruitment

  • Prepare: Think about what you are going to say in order to deliver a strong and clear message.
  • Engage: Inflect your voice (don’t be monotone) and be conversational.
  • Empower: Don’t say, “I hate to bother you,” or, “I’m just calling about. . .” Instead, be excited and positive saying, “I’m excited to let you know about. . .”
  • Acknowledge: If you’ve contacted the volunteer already, acknowledge it directly and don’t dodge the fact that they have been dodging you. For example, “I appreciate you listening to another message from me, and I’m certain we’ll connect soon.” This lets the volunteer know that you value her, your work is important, and that you need her help.
  • Affect: Be personal and friendly. Add into the conversation things you remember about that individual’s life and interests. Ask her how she’s doing and what is going on in her life. Show a genuine interest.
  • Affirm: Thank the potential volunteers for listening to your message, accepting your call, and considering the volunteer opportunity (Church Volunteer Daily, “Phone Tips for Better Volunteer Recruitment”)

C) Remember that “No” Doesn’t Mean “Never”

  • If someone does say “No,” ask why he said “No.”
  • Ask if you can follow up later.
  • Follow up!

Now, it’s time for you to create your own wide and deep volunteer recruitment plan. 

  1. Identify five methods you can (and will) do in the next week to begin recruiting in wide and shallow methods.
    • At least start the process even if you have to get things approved from leadership.
  2. Identify one volunteer you are going to pursue for a deep volunteer need that you have.
  3. Most important: find what works for you and stick to it (remember that organizations that have the most recruitment methods often have the most trouble recruiting volunteers)

Question: Which of these volunteer recruitment methods have you used that worked well? Which have not worked? What other methods have you used that did work successfully?

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at