How do we recruit volunteers?

July 22, 2020
How do we recruit volunteers?

Like many of you, I’ve long been passionate about civics and politics. During an internship in high school, I was thrown into helping run a voter registration drive and recruit volunteers. I built a passion and experience for voter engagement and brought it with me to college.

Since my first days with HVC in Fall 2018, recruitment has been the tool that makes our work possible. Having served as Harvard College’s HVC Director of Membership and Director of Organizing, I have learned so much. The work of Harvard Votes Challenge would not be possible without the massive collective effort of volunteers, team members, stakeholders, and, of course, organizers. So — let's talk about how we bring people into our work. What’s our approach to recruitment?

Know what you’re recruiting for  
You need to not just know the position; you need to be able to outline the responsibilities and level of commitment for what you’re recruiting for. Having a clear and hard ask for recruitment goes a long way in getting people to say “yes.” Giving people a concrete idea for what they are being asked to do is important.

For example, do you need more people to help you text bank students about their plans to vote? Outline an approximate weekly time commitment. Provide a scheduled training session. Set a date and location for when the remote text banks will be happening as well.

Use your networks and get creative
Are you recruiting for organizers to do voter engagement and registration? Target civically minded people and groups you know — relational recruitment will always be more successful. Is the organizing residential? Target specific needs — recruit someone who lives in a specific area. Is the organizing group or socially based? Target organizations that already directly engage these issues. Think outside your typical network and use people who can get you in touch with likely recruits, including those who are hesitant, skeptical, or too busy to join themselves.

For example, you might be struggling to fill a personnel need in a residential building. Reach out to a staff supervisor or administrator for students they know who would likely be interested. From there, target those students and also ask them if they’d have any possible neighbors or acquaintances interested in joining.

Be flexible
While you should present a clear ask with recruitment, people are busy, and they might not be able to provide a clear commitment. This is where you can develop the “ladder of engagement.” The ladder of engagement indicates an ascending level of commitment for your recruits. If contributing at the amount you’re seeking is too much for someone, then provide them the opportunity to stay involved in a less intense manner. They can continue to engage in the work and, perhaps, get more involved down the line. You can get the most contribution out of anyone by allowing them to volunteer in whatever capacity and level of interest they have. You just might have to recruit some more to reach the necessary capacity your team needs.

For example, you need to recruit students to help table for National Voter Registration Day, and one of the students you’ve reached out to wants to be involved but is busy with class all day. Allow them to stay involved by pubbing the event to their networks and reaching out to friends to make sure they’re registered to vote. When the next event comes around, they may be free to help and willing to make the time for it since they’ve helped before.

Build community and team
Whoever you’re recruiting should know you, and a training or orientation is a great place to start. Open up communication channels for all the people you’ve recruited. Meet in a manner that is interactive! Ultimately, promise and give recruits a community that goes beyond the work they’re doing.

For example, this could be a virtual training over Zoom with time dedicated to every participant getting to know each other and sharing their stories as to why they’re involved.

I got involved with Harvard Votes Challenge in my earliest days as a student. I’ve stuck with this work because I strongly believe in the uplifting power of democracy and the need for everyone to participate and that participation be accessible. This isn’t always easy, but recruiting new volunteers in a smart, authentic way helps bring people  into this work and sustains their involvement. We can’t do this work alone — so thank you for helping us bring in new voters and voices into the civic process.

Luke Albert
Harvard Votes Challenge Director of Organizing
Class of 2022