How to Attract Volunteers

Volunteer Recruitment

Thumbing through a recent edition of the Journal of Applied Psychology I came across an article dealing with a niche of the recruiting scene that a lot of us don’t often think about, but which probably has its own set of rules: recruiting volunteers. It’s no surprise that when you drop that whole paycheck thing from the equation that the rules change and other factors come into play when motivating people to just give you their time and effort.

Perhaps the most surprising and possibly counter-intuitive finding of this research was that telling potential volunteers how totally mind-blowingly awesome you and your charity are may work against you. Specifically, volunteers who were told that the organization was doing a super job at completing whatever goals it had were less likely to volunteer for them, possibly because they felt their services might be put to better use elsewhere. So, don’t over sell yourself.

So what does make a big difference? For one, support. Potential volunteers were interested in signing up to the extent that they thought that the organization would provide them with the support they needed to do the job. I imagine this translates to an “Am I going to be wasting my time here?” sentiment? If you’re giving up your weekends or evenings, you want to feel like someone is benefitting from it instead of just sitting and saying “Tisk, tisk. Someone should really DO something.”

Interesting stuff. The full title is “Volunteer Recruitment: The Role of Organizational Support and Anticipated Resepect in Non-Voluneers’ Attraction to Charitable Volunteer Organizations” by Edwin J. Boezeman and Naomi Ellemers. It’s in volume 93 of Journal of Applied Psychology.

The “Name Letter Effect” in Job Attraction

Here’s an interesting little news brief about how the “name letter effect” can supposedly influence our choice of employer. In short, we humans seem to give preference to things that begin with the letter of our first name. And now somebody has studied this in relation to choosing an employer.

In a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the psychologists found that there is indeed a name-letter effect between employee names and the company they work for. There were 12% more matches than was expected based on the probability estimate. The researchers noted that “hence, for about one in nine people whose initials matched their company‚Äôs initial, choice of employer seems to have been influenced by the fact that the letters matched.”

I KNEW there must have been a reason I compulsively engage in resume blasts to J.C. Penny’s, J.P. Morgan, and Jethro’s House of Chicken & Waffles.



Here’s another one to file in the “Why Aren’t More People Doing This?” cabinet. One of the things that Internet capitalists have figured out is that people want to use the Web to meet people. You’ve got your fan sites and social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, but I’m thinking here more along the lines of dating sites like or, which facilitate your meeting potential partners for everything from a long-term romance to, well, you know… I’ve never had occasion to use these kinds of dating sites, but it’s not hard to find stories –even ones told first-hand– about people who have experienced great success with them. And I have used other websites of a slightly different bent, like, to find groups of people interested in getting together to participate in our shared hobbies like photography and gaming.

Bells and whistles aside, at their core what these sites do is ask you about what you like and what you’re interested in, then they show you people who have matching or complementary interests who you might like to meet, then they facilitate your getting together. This begs the question of why academic researchers and practitioners aren’t doing this to seek out collaboration opportunities, especially those working in the area of Industrial-Organizational psychology.

This is actually an idea that a guy by the name of Alan Walker mentioned in an issue of Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology a while back, and it’s been rattling around in the back of my head, given how frequently I’m called upon to think of the scientist/practitioner model. Researchers (including graduate students, especially graduate students) need real-world data to test their theories and get their publications. There’s only so much you can accomplish by offering college sophomores extra credit to participate in yet another lab study. Practitioners have the data, or at least access to it. Practitioners also have problems that the researchers can help with. How do I reduce turnover in my call center? How do I best select people for my line crews? What sort of executive education curriculum would work best for my industry? Would adding biodata questions to my online applications help me select better candidates?

Yet researchers and practitioners are so often like ships passing in the night. They each WANT to hook up and play a few rounds of “show me your correlation coefficient” if you know what I mean, but it’s a big world and unless you really know how to network you’re just whistling in the dark. So wouldn’t it be great if there were a website to play matchmaker? Say you were a researcher with a list of interests and you could go onto a site and see a list of decision-makers in organizations that have problems that line up with those interests? Or even just one that would be willing to let you include a few experimental items for that scale you’re working on in exchange for measuring some other stuff while you’re at it? Or what if you were a graduate student in need of data for your dissertation on a certain job taxonomy and you’d be willing to conduct job analysis as long as you could use the data for your own research?

Or heck, I’m a practitioner who would love to do more research but just doesn’t have the time and hasn’t kept on the bleeding edge of research like people whose job it is to do just that. But I’ve got access to some data, some applicants, some statistics and wouldn’t mind working with someone to get a publication or presentation out of that if the circumstances were right. Or maybe two researchers working at different institutions want to get together to collaborate.

Granted, there are practical problems (reliability and timeliness and ownership of data come immediately to my mind), but there could be a lot of missed opportunities here as well. This is a niche that organizations like SIOP, SHRM, or the Academy of Management could really do us a service to fill.