Nonprofits Use “Speed Dating” Model to Recruit Volunteers

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November 17, 2013; Fox 40

This is an interesting approach to recruiting volunteers. Fifteen nonprofits in the Sacramento area collaborated to hold a “Speed Matching” event for individuals looking to volunteer in the community, based on the classic “speed dating” or “speed networking” model. About 40 volunteers attended the event, of which one participant said, “It’s very fast paced and you get to meet fifteen nonprofits in less than an hour, so this really connects everyone together.”

At Speed Matching, all participants are speedily introduced to each organization and informed on how they would contribute to the organization as a volunteer in just one hour. After three minutes of interacting with one organization, a bell rings, and all prospective volunteers rise from their seats and move onto another station.

Jeanette Wason, events assistant with the Sacramento Zoo, said, “This is a really important event to bring in volunteers because many of these organizations rely on their volunteers to help them, and if they didn’t have them they wouldn’t be able to continue to run their programs.”

The Leadership Grand Rapids program hosted a similar event back in August aimed at recruiting nonprofit board members. Participants at the event met with executives from 14 local nonprofits for five minutes each before they were ushered to the next table. Matthew Downey of the Johnson Center for Philanthropy also hosted a seminar session, in which the group spoke about ethical dilemmas, fundraising duties, and other issues and responsibilities involved with serving on a board.

These “speed networking” events are increasingly becoming popular as a thoughtful way for organizations to collaborate on resources and bring in new volunteers. We’d be interested to hear what other nonprofits think about this idea: Does this model serve as a beneficial networking tool for nonprofits? Does recruiting volunteers face-to-face make a significant difference over recruiting volunteers online? NPQ would be interested to hear what the sector thinks about these recruitment strategies.—Aine Creedon

  • Lori Halley

    What an interesting idea! We suggested speed dating as a novel way to orient new volunteers in a post a few years back: ( so I’d be interested to see how it is working in volunteer recruitment.

  • Lauren Mascha

    BVU: The Center for Nonprofit Excellence, located in Northeast Ohio (Cleveland and Akron area), has held “speed-dating” events several times a year since 2008. We call the program Linking New Leaders. We connect emerging professionals from the business community in Northeast Ohio with area nonprofits representing diverse missions – from arts, education, health, human services, community and economic development. Linking New Leaders addresses the desire of nonprofits to engage younger individuals in their organization as well as the interests of our member businesses to involve their younger employees in volunteerism. Thanks to Boards-By-Design in Pittsburgh for this idea. We first heard of their program in 2007 in the Wall Street Journal and traveled to Pittsburgh to experience their “speed dating” event for ourselves. Since 2008, our program has resulted in more than one hundred “matches” between young professionals and nonprofits that use their skills and networks on boards, associate boards, and committees.

  • Abigail Denecke

    It would be helpful to know what questions volunteer coordinators found the most effective in helping the nonprofit or the volunteer identify a great match.