When Recruiting Volunteers, Think “Outside-In”

In the business sector “Outside-in Thinking” is the philosophy of thinking about a product from the customer’s point of view, not the organization selling it. Conversely, “Inside-Out Thinking,” puts the organization selling the product in the center of the thinking.

The same is true in the nonprofit sector. Our organizations use Inside-Out Thinking to recruit volunteers to work with our clients who use our services. We start with the skills our volunteers will need and recruit from there.

That model is crucial to recruiting volunteers and most likely accounts for the majority recruited. But I’m sure there have been times when you found yourself desperately needing volunteers and your usual inside-out method came up short.

That’s when you need to flip your paradigm and look at things from the prospective volunteer’s point of view. The question is no longer, “Where can we find volunteers that fit our needs,” rather, it’s “How can we attract people with those skill sets to our organization?”

Outside-In thinking means you zero in on groups that contain individuals (or organizations) who may volunteer for you. Then you redesign your volunteer positions to make them more attractive to your prospects. This is especially helpful when you want to increase the diversity of your volunteer base.


Let’s say you realize you need volunteers for a number of client-related and fund-raising positions. Your current recruiting processes still leave you with gaps. Looking at your volunteer demographics, you see you’re underrepresented among young professionals.


The outside-in question you want to ask is, “What would make young professionals volunteer for our organization?”

Some possible answers might be:

  • Networking opportunities, both social and professional
  • Acquire skills that could enhance their resumes
  • Satisfaction in knowing that they made a difference in your clients’ lives
  • Activities that are fun yet make a positive difference

Now you can redesign your volunteer positions to take the above into account. Getting them involved in fund-raisers organized by volunteer committees where they have a chance to network, acquire leadership skills and where the fund-raiser is, well, fun, are one possibility. On the other side of the coin, if you are recruiting them for one-on-one client contact, can you build in ways for them to network with each other and have fun doing it?


Where can you find young professionals. Well, they’re Millenials, so social media should be one of your communications channels. But don’t get caught in the trap of assuming all you have to do is put out the call on Facebook and you’ll get volunteers. Social media is a communication channel; you still need to craft a quality customer experience that will not only attract and keep them, but motivate them to tell their friends to volunteer. (And Millenials rely on their friends for a lot of recommendations, more so than Gen X and Boomers.)

Just because they’re in to social media doesn’t mean you should give up the old-fashioned methods. Reach out and contact organizations like the Jaycees, local churches, and other organizations that contain civic-minded young professionals. In larger cities there may be organizations of young professionals based upon ethnic backgrounds.

The important point here is to put yourself in their shoes and ask why your organization is one they would with which they would want to be engaged.

In volunteer recruitment, there’s a place for both inside-out thinking and outside-in. When you find yourself needing more volunteers, give outside-in thinking a try.

Tell Compelling Stories To Make It Easier to Recruit Volunteers & Raise Funds

In a guest post, Volunteer Recruitment: What Works For Me, on Volunteer Match’s Engaging Volunteers blog, Anni Murray suggests three ways organizations can improve their chances of recruiting volunteers like her.

I’m betting all of our organizations have been guilty of her point about buzzkill. Many of us begin writing posts and articles in the “corporate voice,” rather than a more friendlier one. We all could probably seek out more, better user-generated content as well. Yet we frequently find ourselves on deadline forced to pound out a newsletter article on why we need funds which turns out to be superficial at best. As staff, it allows us to check off a task linked to our performance objectives, but there’s no real attempt to see if it resonates with our target audiences.

Taking the extra step to seek out and find relevant user-generated content can add to your workload in the short term, but pay off big time in the long term as it keeps more readers engaged longer. Let’s say your organization provides client services in your community. Rather than have a staff person write an article for the newsletter, why not solicit a letter from one of your clients and ask her to explain how the program she used made a difference in her life?

Or, do as Anni suggests, and write articles containing specific examples with non-stock item photos. A very good example of this is the newsletter sent out by the Tutwiler Clinic which provides medical assistance to the (way) underserved in Tutwiler, MS. Click on the pdf of their most recent newsletter. You’ll find it written in a friendly informal style as opposed to a “corporate” style. The articles mention how people were helped, and in several cases, their reactions. The photos are obviously not stock, but “home-grown.”

I received this newsletter in the mail the old-fashioned way after my first donation. Because I had only a general idea of what the clinic provided, I opened the newsletter and read it cover to cover–three times in a row without stopping. It’s not that this is a world class newsletter. It’s not. It’s that it spoke to me as a new donor, educating me and captivating me with compelling content that offered specific examples of how they used their donations. A corporate voice could never have done that. I’m now a regular donor.

Don’t just whip out an article. Craft it as the good folks at Tutwiler Clinic do. Better yet, seek out user-generated content from your clients, volunteers, and donors that compels people to support you.

Three Ways To Improve Your Nonprofit Board & Committee Meetings

Having spent 30 years in the nonprofit sector, I’ve attended a great number of volunteer board and committee meetings. Some of them were very productive; most were fairly productive, and then there were many that were a total waste of time. These last were usually the furthest from home and held later in the evenings.

One large board faced particular difficulties. Meetings suffered from low attendance and weren’t effective at setting goals and objectives. Officers and chairs took turns boring each other with oral reports about what had happened in the past.

As the staff liaison with that board, I sat down one day with the president and she and I came up with some simple rules that energized the board and helped to attract new members.

  1. Officer and chair reports of prior activity were required to be submitted in writing. No longer would members be bored by someone reading a long report about what had already happened. These reports were “approved as written,” instead of “approved as read.” Yes, questions could be asked of, say, the treasurer’s report.
  2. Oral reports focused on the time between now and the next meeting. Their time on the agenda moved from reciting what they had done to posing questions to the board about what assistance they needed between now and the next board meeting. This simple change made all the difference. Where reports had been past tense, now they were “future tense.” Board members were asked for their opinions and to be part of decision-making. Boring reports were replaced by energized discussion. Attendance picked up as board members began making a difference in the meetings.
  3. We invited guests. Our board meetings were not closed; they were open to the public, so our third step was to encourage board members to bring guests. Within three meetings this change paid off as we recruited a guest to fill a key committee chairmanship.

It took three or four meetings for board members to adjust to the new normal, but by the end of that time they were seeing the results. Meetings were livelier, better attended, more productive, and they were proud to bring guests, some of whom went on to become volunteers or who helped open other doors for us.

It’s important to note that we still used Roberts Rules of Order as our agenda template. It wasn’t the agenda format that was the problem. It’s what the members did with it that created unproductive meetings.

When you’re having problems with effective board meetings think outside the agenda. Consider what we did and see if it works for you.