Social media is one of the most powerful (and affordable) ways for recruiting volunteers. Whether its posting a live video on Instagram or growing your reach in a Facebook group, there are endless ways to connect to supporters online.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to growing your audience, connecting your followers and finding like-minded volunteers.
Choose a Platform and Grow Your Audience
The first step in recruiting volunteers through social media is choosing the right platform. It’s best to choose just one or two social channels to focus your search. Trying to share your story across too many platforms can dilute your message. So, how do you choose the right ones?
It all comes down to where your audience is, says Alicia Johnston at SproutSocial. You want to choose a platform where potential volunteers are already hanging out. MediaCause has a nice explainer to help you make this choice:
- Facebook is a great option for news and entertainment, with a large emphasis on video and live streaming. It also sends more website traffic than any other social medium.
- Twitter is better for generating conversation, and is also popular for live streaming.
- Linkedin is best for sharing news and articles to a more professional audience.
- Instagram is best for more visual content, but isn’t great at sending visitors to your website.
Find the Right Tone For Your Message
A clear and consistent tone across your social channels (in regular updates as well as in recruitment messages) can resonate more deeply with potential volunteers.
Take Thai Freedom House in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for example, which serves at-risk populations in Burma and Thailand to provide social mobility. The group’s Facebook presence has an informative voice that gets straight to the point when sharing about issues like illegal work trafficking and sustainable living. At the same time, the tone indicates hope for the future and creates a supportive, nurturing atmosphere. This voice echoes Thai Freedom House’s mission, which is to acknowledge wrongdoing and take the less fortunate under its wing.
Once you’ve found your voice, use this tone in all recruitment messages. Whether you’re looking to elicit empathy or a giggle, the point is you’re making an emotional connection with someone that can motivate them to take action.
Consistency is key when you want to get a message out. It might help to schedule your posts ahead of time, says former nonprofit social media manager Kaleigh Moore. “Content calendars and planned content serve as a backbone for consistent sharing—and from there, you can supplement with engagement and interaction that adds that ‘human element’ so often missing from social media presences.” This human element is key in inspiring volunteers because you’re looking to make an emotional connection with someone across a digital divide.
Well-planned social media management can also give you leeway before a big event. Say you host a yearly gala fundraiser that requires extra volunteers to set up and break down. You can plan to post a call for volunteers two months prior, giving you ample time to find and train the right people.
Tell Stories to Clarify Your Mission
Storytelling is a powerful way to stir emotion in your followers and get them interested in volunteering. Touch the hearts of your followers by telling the stories of current volunteers. Consider an example from Pajama Program, a nonprofit that donates storybooks and comfy pajamas to children to create nourishing bedtime routines. In August 2019, Pajama Program told the story of one of its first volunteers, who’s been with the organization since 2004. The post was a great way for a longtime volunteer (and now leader in the organization) to share why she got involved in the first place, how she made a difference and what volunteering means to her. Pajama Program shares volunteer spotlight posts regularly. This consistency helps illustrate the many different types of people who donate their time to the cause.
Videos are another powerful storytelling tool that can pull at heartstrings. Creating video content has become really easy – you no longer need to invest in expensive equipment or rent a studio to communicate personal stories in video format. Even video editing can be done on mobile apps, so all you actually need is a smartphone and a story to tell.
One such example comes from Movember, the worldwide men’s health initiative. Their videos highlight the different men’s health organizations to which donor money goes. One touching Movember video highlights Legends of Lawndale, a Chicago-based organization that supports mental health and mentorship for boys and young men of color. While the video isn’t a specific call for volunteers, it does visualize the impact that donations are having. It also shows how storytelling is important for telling volunteers what you do — and why they should get involved.
A popular way to tell stories is by short looping videos — create clips that promote causes or highlight volunteer activities to distribute through your social media channels. If you’d like help getting started with storytelling, there are plenty of resources online to guide you in the right direction.
Live videos are another great way to share expert tips, ideas and experiences. Take the nonprofit Genius of Play, a movement to bring more play into children’s lives. They went live on Facebook with child psychologist Dr. Amanda Gummer, who talked about how children may be impacted mentally and physically from busy, stressful schedules. In the video, she offers a model for parents who want to incorporate more play into their children’s lives.
Get Your Audience Talking
Your audience follows you because they share your mission and vision. They believe in how you make the world a better place, and they want to learn more about how that happens. This is why it’s so important to spark conversation with your audience when you post on social media. Two of the most effective social media tools for getting your audience talking include Twitter chats and Facebook groups.
Twitter chats are a great way to engage your audience because they’re pre-planned. Just as with a fundraiser or some other in-person event, you can invite people to attend the chat and let them know the topic beforehand. It’s also important to choose a goal for your Twitter chat before getting started, advises nonprofit trainer Beth Kanter. You’ll also want to select a hashtag to associate with the chat. Share the hashtag in advance of the Twitter chat, as the United Way does.
Different chapters — from the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County branch to the United Way of Northeast Florida branch — all use #unitedwaychat when starting a Twitter chat. They also tag partners, leaders and volunteers who may be interested in the chat to spread the word further. And if you want to highlight the expertise of a specific nonprofit leader or volunteer coordinator, they can host the chat and answer all questions.
You can reach thousands of eager volunteers through Facebook groups. There are many Facebook groups on local, national and even global levels dedicated to helping people find volunteer opportunities.
For example, Volunteering Opportunities Around the World is a Facebook group where nonprofits can share their volunteer opportunities to people around the world. The group is managed by Voluntouring.org, an organization that provides room and board to volunteers in exchange for their help. This would be a smart place to post virtual volunteer opportunities that people can do from anywhere.
To use Facebook groups to find local volunteers, seek out a group near you. For example, Central Florida Charity Events and Volunteer Opportunities is a location-specific group where volunteers and nonprofits can connect. The content of this group isn’t private, meaning that any posts are searchable from Facebook’s main search tool.
Ask for Help
After you’ve built your audience and spent time talking with them, you can put out a call for volunteers. The Albany Pine Bush Preserve does a great job of this. Its social media team will put out a notice whenever volunteers are needed for a project like seed collection. There will also be a link to sign up and a phone number to call. Posts like these can get more than 1,000 reactions and hundreds of shares. The lesson: When your audience is engaged, simply asking for help can go a long way.
If you’re always actively recruiting volunteers, you can also put the information in your profile. This is the strategy of Rocky Point Bird Observatory, a Vancouver Island-based organization that monitors bird migrations. The group’s Instagram profile has a standing call for volunteers, includes an email to contact and has a one-sentence explainer that details its mission. Its website and blog are also included so interested volunteers can learn more. The organization then supports recruitment by highlighting individual volunteers in its Instagram feed.
Social media is a free, powerful way to find new volunteers for your nonprofit. Whatever channel you select, it’s important to find a network where your audience will naturally congregate. From there, you can shape a message that’s in line with your organization’s goals. Over time, those messages can become a unified presence that earns a loyal following.