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How to Entice Volunteers

The usual request for volunteers begins like this:

Volunteers Needed!

It doesn’t work. That’s because it focuses on the writer’s needs rather than the needs of the reading audience.

I just received an excellent call for volunteers from the Cascadia Chapter of ASTD. Here is the subject:

A Unique Leadership Opportunity Awaits You

That catchy subject was followed by this fine opening sentence:

Are you interested in furthering your career, building your network of professionals, strengthening your leadership skills, and implementing new ideas within our learning and development community?

After that persuasive opener came the heading "Opportunity" and this sentence: "If so, the Cascadia chapter has an incredible opportunity for you."

If the chapter were not a three-hour drive from my home and office, I would be enthusiastically in line for the job.

If you need volunteers, think about why someone would want to join you. How will volunteering meet their needs? Then talk to your readers about the benefits to them.

The excellent message came from Liza Greene, president of the ASTD Cascadia Chapter. Nice work, Liza!

Syntax Training

P.S. For more ideas on being persuasive, read my current newsletter, whose topic is "Be More Persuasive." Subscribe here.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

4 comments on “How to Entice Volunteers”

  • Lynn, I love the example you chose. People often forget that they’re talking to someone else when they’re writing, and even when they aren’t in business to make a profit, but simply want to get volunteer help, the central principle of writing holds true — offer your audience something!

  • I agree completely with Lynn. When it comes down to the bottom line, you are selling something and the key thing to remember in marketing anything is to make it so appealing that the audience you are targeting has to have it. A good way to do this is to make a list of advantages that the person will reap from volunteering and incorporate them into your e-mail. You can also appeal to their sense of goodwill by giving real examples of how their help will benefit the cause.

    For example, “Giving just three hours of your time to this charity event will help raise $1 million for cancer research.”

    Lynn has nailed it though. It comes down to listing the benefits. Great blog topic!

  • Adina and Joe, thanks for your comments about focusing on the audience. Joe, I visited your website at and was delighted to see you follow your own advice. The heading on your home page, A Word About Your Business, is a perfect example of focusing on the reader rather than yourself.


  • Great…amazing, i was looking for something like this and i found it…..thank you

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