Effective Recruitment Strategies: Voluntary Engagement

While I was working as a volunteer, trying my hand at community organizing and voter turn out efforts, I struggled to figure out the best ways to get people to show up to events and participate.

Time is such a valuable and limited resource. How could I convince people that my cause was the most worthy one for that block of time?

It is hard. Especially, in New York City. But we’ve had a lot of success with our current high touch model and salon program, so I wanted to share some of our successes with you. Maybe it will be helpful for people organizing other audiences.

The Salons: 

We just celebrated the first birthday for the Salon series I started with a friend while we were at Yale. The Fourth Wave project describes itself, currently, as:


Drawing inspiration from the French Enlightenment and consciousness raising groups from the 70s, Fourth Wave Salons aim to foster a tight-knit community of female changemakers through collective self-exploration. Each Salon is a small, intimate gathering of 15 women who commit to meeting regularly for discussions.

The group explores topics like the following: What is self-respect? // What makes a good leader? What does character have anything to do with it? // What do success or happiness even mean? // What is “being mature” or “growing up?” // What’s the difference between transactional vs. unconditional love? Is one better than the other? // Why is failure good for our souls?

All of these questions, we hope, lead back to the core investigation: What is a life worth living and how do I go about living that life?

We ran the first test of the project during my senior spring at Yale and then took it live in New York City a few months later. The group grew from 15 women to a little over 250 people in our mailing lists and attendee lists. We have salons running in Miami, Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. There are 4 salons running in New York City, regularly, each with their own loyal base of attendees. I have not yet attended a salon that did not have new faces and friends.

Why does this model work?

1) Make sure the leadership is accessible. We are very high touch. I reach out to and talk to every potential salon attendee about what we do, what the atmosphere is like, and what the program means to me.

2) Keep building and growing your team/base. We are constantly reaching out to new people and inviting them into the fold.

3) Offer options. Each salon has a different flavor to it — we try to fit people into the best fit for them.

4) We created something unique and high quality. Women are generally excited about the work we want to do here. The honest, open spaces of our salons feels like a real contrast to a lot of the social spaces in New York City. People open up to strangers, because we create spaces where people are immediately accountable to each other. We dig into complicated and personal topics and ask our attendees to give full picture stories of what they are thinking about/experiencing.

5) Culture matters. Set an example early on. Our discussion moderators and organizers start off conversations by being honest and contributing deeply to the conversation. They set an example early on that it is ok and safe to be honest in these spaces.

6) Give everyone some responsibility for making the experience run smoothly! Each person contributes to the experience: we usually host potluck brunches or dinners, and each person is responsible for something.

7) Choose an appropriate setting. We host all events in our living rooms. I think this adds a degree of intimacy and sharing a space that belongs to other people.

8) Ask for feedback. We are constantly asking our attendees what salons mean to them, what they enjoyed and what they would like to change about the experience. The whole experience is meant to be a collaborative effort.

That’s it for now, but I am sure I will keep adding points as I go through our year in review documents.

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Tea, Tequila, and informal economy enthusiast.

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