So many of us rely on the amazing contributions of volunteers to run our campus food pantries. Whether we are volunteer-only, or have some paid staffing hours put to our work, it would be challenging to serve our campuses if people did not donate their time. Here are a few tips for recruiting and retaining amazing volunteers.
1) Engage in co-curricular partnerships. Are there classes being taught on your campus that touch on issues of poverty, hunger, and food insecurity? Reach out to the faculty who teach those courses to see if they could include service at your pantry as part of the curriculum.
2) Use volunteer recruitment as a form of outreach. Some students will not outright take a flier for your pantry in a public space because of the stigma. If you do most of your student outreach as a “we offer this service AND we are looking for volunteers” your outreach audience broadens to include those who don’t need your services but would volunteer. It also creates a safety net for students who want to take your information to use the service…they can do so looking like they are volunteering instead.
3) Do a specific, organized, and thorough volunteer training. If you train your volunteers they will be more effective in their work, and they will also get the message from you that what they are about to do really matters. It also weeds out folks who care less about what you are doing. Create a certificate for your volunteers stating they completed the training, and have them renew it annually so you can teach them about changes and check in with them on how they are doing.
4) Recognition is important. Thank your volunteers in as many ways as you can – verbally, in email communications, through social media, and through other things like volunteer of the month, a pizza party (if you have the money), or taking out ads in the campus paper. Be willing to write them letters of recommendation. It’s not necessary, but it feels really great for them, and for you because it’s fun to say great things about great people.
5) Have boundaries. You do not need to create new volunteer opportunities just because someone wants to volunteer. Be clear with people who come in what you need, and help them to be successful in doing it. If you have a volunteer who is not doing a good job it is OK to give them feedback and try to help them improve. If their presence is problematic it is OK to ask them to leave.
6) Create leadership opportunities for awesome volunteers. Have a “senior volunteer” position that helps to train new folks. Let them take on tasks that are more complex within your distributions. When there are projects that require independent action, ask these folks first if they want to take it on. This is a way of recognizing the expertise and skill of your volunteers, and it helps them to build their leadership skills and resumes.
7) Give them a space. This can be a hard one since so many of us are space-limited. BUT if you have the opportunity to have a desk or a room for volunteers it sends the message that they are important. This can be a permanent space, or something temporary during distributions. Booking a classroom for your distributions? Book the space next door so that volunteers can put their things down away from everyone, and they can step out and breathe for a moment without clients looking at them. This also allows you to have private space to talk with your volunteers as well.
8) Get a VISTA. If you have the ability to bring in an AmeriCorps VISTA to work with your program it can be an amazing capacity-building strategy. The cost can vary $7-12k, which is not insignificant. However for this you have a person who is volunteering with your pantry 40 hours per week for a year. I have seen VISTAs develop volunteer programs, write grants, manage pantry distributions, run fund raiser events, and many other things that can really boost the capacity of your pantry. Check out Campus Compact in your state to see if this is a good option for you.
Originally published by Clare Cady February 10, 2015