Our Work


Recruiting Great Volunteers

By Chris Alfano on December 22, 2014

Hello, everyone. In August, I (KaLeena Dixon) joined the Illinois Legal Aid Online team as the Legal Content Volunteer Coordinator. In a nutshell, I am helping ILAO expand and maintain a strong network of Legal Content Volunteers. Our volunteers are legal professionals and substantive experts who help write, edit and provide feedback on our legal resources. We rely on them to keep us up-to-date on changes to laws or procedures. Without them, we would never be able to manage all of our resources.

We've had some pretty awesome volunteers over the past 14 years. My role now is to figure out how to transition and improve our legal content editor volunteer program as we work to build the next generation of our products and services.

ILAO is not looking for just any volunteer. We are looking for great volunteers! Great volunteers are knowledgeable, motivated, collaborative-minded individuals who can work within moderate time constraints. They are creative, flexible, and dependable. When they see a problem with the volunteer process, they are able to relay their concerns. Most importantly, they are dedicated to serving the public.

Before beginning our search for how to build a great volunteer program, we drew up a plan. As a team, we decided that the first step in creating a legal content volunteer network was learning how we could improve the process of volunteering. This seemed like a logical step because we wanted to ensure that our volunteer process is both welcoming and undemanding. We want to create an environment in which our soon-to-be recruited volunteers will feel inclined to continue working with us. In other words, once we recruit them, we want to convince them to stay. We began tackling our plan by conducting 3 focus groups and an online survey. We explored various topics including motivation, scheduling, and, of course, recruiting. Thanks to over 70 participants, we picked up a few tips for recruiting great volunteers:

Simplify the volunteer process: People are highly motivated to volunteer. The underlying reasons, both personal and professional, are endless. Despite the willingness to volunteer, primary obligations, such as employment, can interfere with a volunteer’s availability. To combat limited availability, the volunteer process must be simple. Simplicity can take many forms such as allowing volunteers to use tools they are familiar with when completing tasks. For example, most of ILAO’s volunteers are familiar with Microsoft Word. Requiring them to log into and navigate through our organization’s website to write and format articles causes a great deal of inconvenience. Valuable time would lapse. Frustration would ensue. Volunteers may be lost. Simplicity saves time, eliminates annoyances, and promotes volunteer retention.​

Open the channels of communication: During the volunteer process, it is possible that volunteers may not feel adequately supported. They may find themselves wondering who to contact when complications arise. Other times, they may feel like they should not report the issue. Even when there are no issues, volunteers appreciate open lines of communication. Asking them to express their concerns and letting them know that the issue will be resolved is beneficial for everyone involved. It exposes unforeseen problems in the volunteer process. It also keeps volunteers motivated.​

Show gratitude: Gratitude is an equally important form of support. Volunteers want to know that their time and efforts are appreciated. So, send them greeting cards or host an event in their honor. When volunteers feel appreciated, they also feel supported. When they feel supported, they will be motivated to continue volunteering. They will also be motivated to promote the volunteer opportunity.​

Search for candidates who have something to gain: In general, people are highly motivated to volunteer. But great volunteers are highly motivated to participate in a particular opportunity. It is the recruiter’s job to present as many motivators to potential volunteers as possible. Motivators can be any of the following:

  • ​Uniqueness of the opportunity
  • Helping as many people as possible
  • Enjoyment of tasks related to the volunteer opportunity
  • Ensuring that that a certain public need is met
  • Resume building
  • Volunteer recognition (thank-you notes, appreciation events, etc.)
  • Expanding knowledge
  • Refining skills
  • Gaining notoriety for an employer
  • Establishing expertise
  • Encouragement from employers
  • Keeping up with developments in a certain professional field
  • Professional recommendations
  • Performing a public service

If a potential volunteer can identify with at least one personal or professional motivator and associate it with the volunteer opportunity, that person may be a great volunteer.

Perfect the Pitch: While recruiting, it is import to convey a clear message. This will help audience members determine whether the volunteer opportunity is right for them. The classic “Five W’s” formula will help recruiters relay the clearest message possible:

  • Who should consider the volunteer opportunity?
  • What would the volunteer’s responsibilities include?
  • When should the volunteer complete the task?
  • Where should the volunteer complete the task?
  • Why should people consider this volunteer opportunity?

When appropriate, visual aids can be incorporated into the pitch. Details and specificity increase the likelihood of having people sign up only when they are truly motivated and available.

Ask as many people to volunteer as possible: Many people do not volunteer simply because they have not been asked to do so. Others may believe they do not have the requisite skills to complete the tasks. That is why it is important for recruiters to try to reach as many people as possible. Have everyone on the team scout for more volunteers. Ask current volunteers to refer anyone who may be interested. It is only through communication that more volunteers can be recruited. Do not underestimate the power of simply asking.

So, in the interest of practicing what I preach…

Are you a legal professional looking to help more people? Would you like to empower the 2 million underprivileged Illinois residents who have no access to legal representation?

If so, Illinois Legal Aid Online needs you to join our team as a Legal Content Volunteer. Work with us to conduct research and draft legal articles to be posted on our public websites.

You can volunteer from any location at any time. If scheduling is an issue, do not worry! We will work with you to plan accordingly.

To learn more, email our current Content Improvement and Promotion Coordinator VISTA at cmckinley@illinoislegalaid.org. We look forward to hearing from you!