Describe It to Me

“We need volunteers!”   Who hasn’t heard that refrain before?  Just about every organization out there could use some help.  But a general call for volunteers tell us very little.  What will the volunteer do?  How does that task relate to the mission of the organization?  What community need will the volunteer meet?  How?  What are the requirements of the position — is there a big time commitment?  Is prior experience necessary?   What are the benefits of the position?  Sure, volunteers don’t get paid, but there is plenty they can get out of it:  professional experience, an opportunity to socialize with others, and the satisfaction of addressing a compelling need, just to name a few.

A good position description begins with a great title.  Ironically, volunteer positions should not have the word “volunteer” in the title.  For example, when people volunteer at Paul’s Place, a nonprofit that serves the community in Pigtown and Washington Village in Baltimore, they have the opportunity to help give clothing to guests.  Rather than fall back on boring descriptions of clothing distribution and a clothing bank, Paul’s Place recruits “Personal Shoppers” and “Organizing Pros”  to help guests choose items from a room that is set up like a regular clothing store.  

These fantastic job titles already do a lot of the work when it comes to explaining the purpose and requirements of the position.  The rest of the description is really just an elaboration.  In the case of Personal Shoppers at Paul’s Place, it looks like this:

Purpose: Provide personal support and foster a sense of dignity to guests while choosing outfits.

Description of Duties: Assist guests, one-on-one, with picking out clothing in the department store designed shopping room.

Qualifications: Interest in shopping and picking out matching outfits with a cheerful and caring attitude.

Benefits:  Offers hands-on experience with one of the community needs AmeriCorps addresses.  allows participants to to connect with other volunteers, and learn about poverty and its effect on a neighborhood. 

A strong volunteer position description attracts the best volunteers and allows those who are not a good fit to self-screen.  It is also a great marketing tool, in that it does a great job explaining the mission of an organization.  

So the next time you want to sell people on volunteering for you, remember:  Describe it to them.  

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