Friday, August 7, 2009

Volunteer Recruitment and Retention

As soon as August rolls around many tutoring and mentoring programs start preparing for a new year of school. That means checking back in with students and tutors, but also recruiting new students and volunteers. In my two (!) years here at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection, I have hosted roundtables, and coffeehouses, and panel discussions at various points of the year on the topic of volunteer recruitment and retention. I highly recommend visiting Tutor/Mentor Exchange, which discusses the best practices of a tutoring and mentoring organization, especially the section about volunteer recruitment.

How does an organization find new students and volunteers? There's no magic bullet, but there are several ways that have results. One is using websites such as,, and Another is using your volunteers, as one program leader put it, as evangelists for your cause. Have them bring a friend to the orientation, or to a tutoring night, or to an event for your program. Another effective way is for them to have an informational meeting at their place of work where people can come on their lunch break to find out more. Also, if you're in Chicago, be sure that your program is listed in our Tutor/Mentor Program Locator, because we can dozens of phone calls every week from people who found our site when they googled "tutoring" or "mentoring" in "Chicago." Some of them become volunteers for Cabrini Connections, but many find that our tutoring schedule doesn't work for them, or that we're not in a convenient location for them. Then, it's my job to refer them to one of the over 25o programs throughout the city that could be a perfect match for them.

Once you have a volunteer, it's also important to train them properly. Make sure they know the rules and expectation of the program. Make sure the students and parents know the rules and expectations of the program. A good idea is to have veteran volunteers speak as well at these orientations about their experiences being a volunteer tutor/mentor for your organization. Try and find a good match with a student by having them include their interests and the student's interests on their respective application forms. Once the match is made, keep tabs on the tutor/mentor and student - do they seem to be doing work and communicating? How is their body language? Is the student on the computer and the volunteer on the blackberry? Or, are they looking at a college website and talking about possible career options? These are all things you need to be looking out for as a program leader. For more information about training people to be quality volunteers, please read Dan Bassill's most recent blogpost on "Preparing to be a Tutor or Mentor."

If a match doesn't seem to be working, don't keep the tutor/mentor and student together if you think their might be a better fit with another student and/or tutor/mentor. A happy kid and happy volunteer will mean that you will have them staying in the program until June and coming back the following year. Also, be sure to acknowledge your volunteers and your students - giving the matches that succed a special recognition at various times througout the year. For examples of this, I highly recommend reading our former Northwestern Public Interest Program Fellow, Chris Warren's student and volunteer profiles on his blog, Chrispip.

I also recommend having social events throughout the year, where the volunteers can mingle and have fun. In October, Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection will be hosting it's annual Martini Madness, which is a great place for new and veteran volunteers, in addition to employees and friends of Cabrini Connections. This year it will be on Friday October 9th, again at the Store, 2002 N. Halsted on Halsted and Armitage. You can recreate this same kind of social for volunteer year-round. The point is that volunteering should be fun and rewarding and once you get your volunteers, you need to keep them.

1 comment:

DoMoreGood said...

Hi Nicole - terrific post. Here's a few other resources for tutoring and mentoring volunteer leaders: is a new Volunteer recruiting web widget where programs can post their needs and Volunteers can search for positions.

Once mentors are screened and on-boarded, is a free and easy online signup tool that helps programs get their volunteers on the schedule - when they need them -- and without phone tag and spreadsheet juggling. VolunteerSpot also sends automatic reminders saving the Coordinator valuable time.

Here's to an awesome school year!