What to do when you can’t get volunteers

Communities rely on volunteers to get things done. Everything from freshening up store fronts to hosting events, running food banks and keeping the museums open. Volunteers play a large part in making ‘things’ happen. But what happens when that pool of volunteers dries up? Here are some tips to help find them and keep them excited about helping.

My number one tip- ASK THEM PERSONALLY . I have found that fewer volunteer on their own, but asking someone in person usually results in a “yes”. It makes a difference.

Volunteers drive the stagecoach and wagons at Columbia, CA living history village.

Events take time, money and people. Events are for people, run by people. Often, these events are run by the same volunteers year after year. It almost becomes a habit to simply rely on these good folks. Most do it willingly for love of community. On the flip side of the coin, some volunteers resent being expected to do it, but see no way out of it. Finding new volunteers isn’t always easy. Look everywhere- they come from all age groups and all walks of life.

Get the ‘youngsters’ involved. Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts, FBLA, 4-H etc. These youngsters need service hours. As do many high school students. Many sports teams require some sort of community service. We also know of a number of schools that mandate service hours as a graduation requirement. Bonus: These kids will feel vested in their communities and more likely to volunteer later on. Many colleges also have service requirements for their athletes too.

Ask the hospitals, clinic, banks. Some have in-house programs that pay them for volunteer hours or give them extra time off. You could also get the Lions, Rotary, bike clubs and other organizations involved. Offer them a free booth in return for their time.

You may need drastic measures are needed. Presenting your community or board with a list of all the things that WON’T happen because of a lack of volunteers is an eye opener. Most don’t realize just how much is done by these unsung community champions. Don’t hesitate to shut down an event if you can’t find the people. -Yes, I understand there is fall-out from that too. But it too is an eye opener and I personally believe that a poorly run event does more harm than good. It may even be a time to consider moving away from just several large events and instead host more smaller events that are easily accessible.

Volunteers (yes,TOURISTS too!) painting a mural in Cheyenne. Photo: The Cheyenne Post

Small towns have only so many people to start with. Ask for volunteers in your neighboring communities as well. They are all inter-connected through school, family and church. Ask EVERYONE. And when they say YES, make them feel welcome. Like a part of the family. Nothing is worse than “allowing” someone to volunteer your time and talents and then leave them to stand in a corner.

Try not to rely on your communities FB/Twitter/Instagram pages to get the word out. Not every one is connected. Not every one checks it constantly. You can announce your volunteer needs at church, send letters home with the school kidd-o’s, have it announced of the PA system at games, in the paper, put a sheet of volunteer opportunities-large and small- in your tows welcome packet… get creative. If the hotel has pre-booked months in advance, call those folks and ask if they want to be part of XYZ event while they’re here (maybe in exchange for free dinner or tickets)- making it part of their experience in your town. Maybe a door to door campaign to recruit new volunteers is needed.

You could also offer volunteers perks. Perhaps free t-shirts, tickets, dinner vouchers- maybe a babysitter service (local Girl Scout or church group?) to free their time. Again, be creative. And don’t forget to Thank them.

Good luck!

~Katy~

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