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group of people doing star handsign

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I don’t know about you, but when I travel, I tend to pick local restaurants based on reviews. I get a sense of what to expect from reading the accounts of people who have eaten there. Does a restaurant serve great regional food? How much will I have to pay? Is the service friendly?

So, are organizations kinda like restaurants? Do volunteers learn anything from volunteer reviews? What good are reviews anyway? In searching for volunteer opportunities, reviews are personal endorsements from people who have experienced volunteering firsthand. The reviewers have already been through the first assignment, the training, the fitting in. They’ve done the work.

And here’s the bonus. Reviews immediately answer the common questions potential volunteers have:

  1. will I find something meaningful to do?
  2. will they respect my time and talents?
  3. will I like it?
  4. how will they prepare me?

Consider these actual reviews on VolunteerMatch:

“(Organization name) is a magical place. It is a family style community where everyone gets the opportunity to participate and work together in the many fun activities and craft workshops. I had the greatest joy meeting new people.”

“I feel as if I’m a part of something that is really making a difference. I’m glad a program like this exists. They treat their volunteers very well.”

I’d definitely give those organizations a second look. Now imagine if there were 10 or 15 reviews that painted your organization in a positive light. How many more hesitant people would contact you based on 10 good reviews that answer their initial questions?

Besides reviews, there are testimonials, recommendations and endorsements: No matter what you call them, they serve a purpose in encouraging potential volunteers to try volunteering.

Don’t just ask volunteers to submit a review. That’s too vague and most won’t bother. Go mining for testimonials. Explain to volunteers how important it is for potential volunteers to have their fears allayed. Don’t put words in the volunteers’ mouths, but help them frame their thoughts by suggesting areas to talk about. Again, think of questions potential volunteers might have.

I created a volunteer recruitment brochure filled with volunteer testimonials that each tackled a different area. One recommendation spoke of how valuable the training was. Another endorsement talked about how specialized skills were utilized. Still another lauded the flexible schedule.  Each recommendation answered a potential question with actual volunteer words instead of corporate blather.

Just as great volunteer recruitment ads work night and day for us, volunteer reviews also produce with the added benefit of answering the upfront questions that might keep potential volunteers from following through.

Put reviews on your website. Encourage volunteers to share on social media. The more chat from actual volunteers in their own words, the more prospective volunteers will feel comfortable with your organization. They will feel as though they already know the existing volunteers, which is an incentive to join.

More reviews mean diverse opinions and more areas covered. More volunteer reviewers mean similar messages are worded differently.  This increases the chances that the wording in one of those messages will resonate with someone who is contemplating joining your volunteer team.

Consider organization A with one review, albeit a good one.

  • “It is a great place to work. I love it here.”

Now consider organization B:

  • “I can come in when I have extra time.”
  • “I got the training I needed.”
  • “We all look forward to seeing one another. It’s like family.”
  • “I go home knowing I’m really helping.”
  • “I’ve learned so much.”

Organization B’s reviews answer more initial questions, don’t they? Again, don’t write reviews for volunteers or give them a script. Their own words (and not the ones crafted by us) will speak volumes to potential volunteers. Ask volunteers unbiased, open questions like, “What would you say about our training? Your first day here? Your role?”

I often asked volunteers to come and speak at open houses or presentations or training sessions. I would stand back and give them an uninterrupted platform to speak.

Sometimes I would cringe at what they shared and want to step in but I stopped myself. Why? Because their honest accounting did more to encourage prospective volunteers than my carefully worded talks. After all, it was my job to paint volunteering in a positive light. An added bonus was my standing back accomplished two things:

  1. It showed how much we respected our volunteers’ opinions.
  2. It gave prospective volunteers a chance to ask questions and learn what volunteering was like from a peer’s perspective.

How important are reviews? Picture a potential volunteer who wants to get involved, late at night, sitting in bed, scrolling through websites or volunteer ads, feeling a little overwhelmed and shy. They chance upon your ad and read through the reviews by your volunteers. One of your volunteer reviewer states, “I didn’t know what to expect but I was instantly made to feel welcomed.”

All of our carefully worded recruitment ads describing volunteer duties and all the adjectives we use to describe the volunteers we want like “enthused” or “flexible” do not answer the questions potential volunteers have.

Think again about that potential volunteer, late at night, scrolling through ads. There was just one question that potential volunteer had, a question that kept them from following through. But then, they chanced upon the above review by your volunteer. Your volunteer answered their question: Will I be made to feel welcomed?

Now picture that same potential volunteer. Because their initial question was answered in a review, they follow through and contact you.