Open to Possibilities

Recruiting and Training Volunteers for Library Advocacy

Mantra Roy /

Do you have great ideas to advocate for your library? Maybe you have charted ways to raise awareness about your programs, but who will go out of the library and do the work? You have a wonderful but already over-stretched staff. Do you have a good team of volunteers? Have you trained them to achieve your goals? If you have questions about how to recruit and train volunteers, you want to check out our recent webinar, "Recruiting and Training Volunteers for Library Advocacy", presented by Sara DeVries, Marketing & Public Relations Manager, Herrick District Library, Michigan.

The webinar is divided into two parts. The first part gives general tips and strategies, while the second part provides more details about training of volunteers.

Part One

Sara refers to her library's experience with our Geek the Library advocacy campaign in order to demonstrate the need for volunteers before offering excellent tips and strategies for recruiting, training, and working with volunteers.

When her team recognized community partnership as a major strategy to promote their library, they realized they were already offering 50% more programming than previous years with 25% less budget. When Sara read about Geek the Library program, she was eager as was her entire staff. But they did not have enough man-hours to send people out of the library in order to utilize the whole potential of Geek the Library campaign.

That is when recruiting volunteers came up as the perfect solution - an experience many of us will experience or have already encountered in our respective libraries.

The most important questions that loomed large when it came to implementing the strategy of recruiting volunteers were:

  1. How will she recruit volunteers?
  2. How will she train them?
  3. How will she thank them for their work?

5 simple ways to utilize volunteers efficiently

1) Share your (targeted) ask with everyone.

First make connections with people who will know influential people and connect you with them. Consult through staff meetings who they may know who can play prominent roles in the campaign. Ask around who can give exposure to your library with minimum investment. Try to work with mid-level influential people, such as officers of the Chamber of Commerce, the school board, and people who have public speaking skills. Then try to hold a "sneak-peek" meeting with those first influential people you reach out to and share your plan with them. In Sara's experience, these first few attendees were very excited and felt important and eventually very responsible for having been selected as the first points of contact.

2) Provide multiple opportunities to connect with people.

Try to connect with people who the community recognizes and who are connected with other organizations and people. That will offer many opportunities for increased contact with people. This layered contact structure builds promotion for the library. Sara gives examples of coffee shop owners who were excited to do their bit for the campaign and printed coffee cup sleeves with "Geek the Library" on them. A school principal organized an event where he encouraged students and their families to take pictures with "I Geek___" printed on the photos. Try to reach out to local celebrities or school mascots to promote your programs.

3) Decide on kind of training - virtual or face-to-face.

It's important to train your volunteer bank so that they know how they will say what they have to say to promote your library programs.

Since your volunteers may not know everything about your services, give them a list of activities you do and why. Design questions (with answers) that they are likely to encounter from visitors to the library event. Prepare a kit for them so they are prepared to answer questions about your library and events.

Decide if online tutorials or face to face tutorials will help. Assess your volunteers' preparation needs and decide.

4) Connect, Update, and Thank.

Get to know your volunteers, listen to their stories and form connections because they will form your long-term supporters who will not only spread the word about your events but will most likely volunteer in future events. Develop a long-term bond. Keep them informed about upcoming events and provide resources for them to prepare if they want to volunteer again. Thank them with gestures such as gift cards or "Thank You" cards. These gestures build relationships that create goodwill for your library. All of us know goodwill and community support are critical for any library's success.

5) Go social with volunteers.

Celebrate volunteers with promotional activities, with "Geek of the Week" titles, and share widely on social media. Such acknowledgments encourage everybody to work more actively and passionately.

Part Two

Decide on the delivery mode. For patrons who come to the library regularly, plan on inside-the-library training sessions. They come in anyway; so attending at designated times should not be a problem for them. For less frequent visitors, visit the community where you can reach them. Such a dual approach will make your presence more prominent outside the library and you will seem less demanding in terms of expecting volunteer support. You are prepared to meet them halfway. Offer resources and updates as frequently as you can.

Managing volunteers is very similar to managing staff. It is time-consuming. It requires solid preparation on your end because good training is essential for effective promotion of your library events. Volunteers' schedules, like those of staff, can be unpredictable; so be prepared with back-up strategies.

When you hold meetings with volunteers, be open to possibilities. Engage your team by asking them to suggest ways of promoting events. If you don’t like or agree with an idea, word your response so that volunteers do not feel snubbed. Instead of "No" say "I wonder if…" and suggest an alternative way of approaching the same idea. The more you allow volunteer ownership, the more they will view the library as "My library" instead of as a place they volunteer. This will help them to be more engaged and they will participate more wholeheartedly to promote your library events.

Try to relate your ideas with your volunteers' passions and interest areas. They will naturally be forthcoming in suggesting good ways of engaging with the promotional activities. The whole process will become self-motivated.

In the webinar archive you will see slides which include the typical questions you will need to train your volunteers to answer, such as "How do I get a library card?" and "Why did you move to RFID (self check-out) and how did the move affect your staff?"

Sara concludes the webinar with a final important comment. She says:

"If you take one thing away from today's webinar, I hope it's this: Volunteers are best used for advocacy efforts when their interests, passions, and connections are aligned to advocacy opportunities."

If this topic is of interest, be sure to check out Sara's article from May on using volunteers in libraries.