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At the Rural Center: Getting New Volunteers

April 2005
By: Dinah Monahan
Recently I was talking to a rural center director who was sharing her concerns about the lack of volunteers. "People seem interested when I talk to them," she said, "but they never come in." I think every center can relate to that. Compounding that problem, many centers don't adequately follow up when potential volunteers do come in.

When our center started experiencing the demands of growing and expansion, we knew we needed help. We just couldn't do it all! We developed a simple plan that worked. The key to our success was a humble information card.

We printed quarter-page cards on bright stock. The bright color makes the cards easy to find in our purses and serves as a reminder every time we see them. On these cards we put lines for the usual data: name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and areas of interest. The cards are generic. How we use them is the trick. All volunteers and staff carry cards with them. When we bump into someone who expresses an interest in the ministry, we whip out the card and (this is the important point) have them fill it out on the spot. Don't let them say, "I'll fill it out and send it to you." They won't! One trip to our local superstore can net me five filled cards.

After we created the cards, we set up a procedure for processing them. If the contact just wants to receive our newsletter but doesn't have an e-mail address, the card goes in the database basket. If she has an e-mail address, a copy of the card comes to me to add to my e-mail newsletter list, and I send her e-mails about prayer requests, praise reports, needs, and updates. I even include photos. I always get responses. We recently needed a printer/fax machine. I put it on the e-mail list, and the next week we had a new one. We needed diapers. One e-mail had people bringing them in the next day. Don't limit your e-mail contacts to people in town. Some of our most eager supporters live in cities hundreds of miles away. This is the easiest way to communicate with your supporters and volunteers, and it costs you nothing!

What about the contacts who indicate they want to volunteer? Not only do they get added to the database and the e-mail list, they get a welcome letter, a call, and an invitation to tour the clinic. During the tour we give them a packet with information about us (mission statement, statement of faith, our history, etc.) and an application, which we ask them to fill out on the spot. From there they are plugged into the appropriate area of service, and we have a committed volunteer. Since we put this system in place, we have filled all our volunteer positions, and our clinic is abuzz with activity. It took a little time to set it up, but it truly has paid off. Try it!

Dinah Monahan is the Heartbeat International Consultant for Rural and Small Centers and the founder and Executive Director of Women's Choice Pregnancy Clinic and Hope House Maternity Home. She can be reached at Dinah@cybertrails.com.

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