When Recruiting Volunteers, Think “Outside-In”

In the business sector “Outside-in Thinking” is the philosophy of thinking about a product from the customer’s point of view, not the organization selling it. Conversely, “Inside-Out Thinking,” puts the organization selling the product in the center of the thinking.

The same is true in the nonprofit sector. Our organizations use Inside-Out Thinking to recruit volunteers to work with our clients who use our services. We start with the skills our volunteers will need and recruit from there.

That model is crucial to recruiting volunteers and most likely accounts for the majority recruited. But I’m sure there have been times when you found yourself desperately needing volunteers and your usual inside-out method came up short.

That’s when you need to flip your paradigm and look at things from the prospective volunteer’s point of view. The question is no longer, “Where can we find volunteers that fit our needs,” rather, it’s “How can we attract people with those skill sets to our organization?”

Outside-In thinking means you zero in on groups that contain individuals (or organizations) who may volunteer for you. Then you redesign your volunteer positions to make them more attractive to your prospects. This is especially helpful when you want to increase the diversity of your volunteer base.


Let’s say you realize you need volunteers for a number of client-related and fund-raising positions. Your current recruiting processes still leave you with gaps. Looking at your volunteer demographics, you see you’re underrepresented among young professionals.


The outside-in question you want to ask is, “What would make young professionals volunteer for our organization?”

Some possible answers might be:

  • Networking opportunities, both social and professional
  • Acquire skills that could enhance their resumes
  • Satisfaction in knowing that they made a difference in your clients’ lives
  • Activities that are fun yet make a positive difference

Now you can redesign your volunteer positions to take the above into account. Getting them involved in fund-raisers organized by volunteer committees where they have a chance to network, acquire leadership skills and where the fund-raiser is, well, fun, are one possibility. On the other side of the coin, if you are recruiting them for one-on-one client contact, can you build in ways for them to network with each other and have fun doing it?


Where can you find young professionals. Well, they’re Millenials, so social media should be one of your communications channels. But don’t get caught in the trap of assuming all you have to do is put out the call on Facebook and you’ll get volunteers. Social media is a communication channel; you still need to craft a quality customer experience that will not only attract and keep them, but motivate them to tell their friends to volunteer. (And Millenials rely on their friends for a lot of recommendations, more so than Gen X and Boomers.)

Just because they’re in to social media doesn’t mean you should give up the old-fashioned methods. Reach out and contact organizations like the Jaycees, local churches, and other organizations that contain civic-minded young professionals. In larger cities there may be organizations of young professionals based upon ethnic backgrounds.

The important point here is to put yourself in their shoes and ask why your organization is one they would with which they would want to be engaged.

In volunteer recruitment, there’s a place for both inside-out thinking and outside-in. When you find yourself needing more volunteers, give outside-in thinking a try.

4 thoughts on “When Recruiting Volunteers, Think “Outside-In”

  1. Pingback: Your Organization is Not Important! | Laughing In The Face Of Danger

  2. Pingback: One Strategy & Six Tactics Designed To Increase Volunteer Recruitment | Laughing In The Face Of Danger

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