How to Get People to Work Without Pay

As a nonprofit organization, you are probably faced with this question:

How can we get people to want to work for us without a paycheck?

It happens, right?

You might be looking for volunteers. You might be trying to find a few unpaid interns. Or, perhaps your organization is just getting on its feet and you basically need the entire staff to work without pay.

So, how do you convince someone to work for you without a promise of a paycheck?

Promise them more than money… promise them experience. Promise them a chance to be apart of something that is larger and more meaningful than money. Promise them that they can help change the world around them.

Here are two ways to recruit people to your organization without promising them a paycheck right away.

Tactic #1: Scarcity

I see this tactic work with nonprofits across the nation and across the world. You have a nonprofit organization that has an incredible mission and is trying to do a lot of good in the world.

You look on their website and find that they have internships!

Yay! I can work with this organization! I’m sure they want help!

You start looking through the application and you realize it is INTENSE. They are asking for all of your previous work experience, essays, previous employers recommendations, all of your past volunteer experience, and basically everything else about you.

Oh, and there is only one intern opportunity listed as open.

Now, if you are a new organization with not much work behind you, this might seem like something that you can’t do. WRONG. This is what you SHOULD do. Although you might feel a little desperate to get people to come be unpaid interns or volunteers or even employees, you want the best of the best.

In this example, implied scarcity is working for the organization.

When someone looks on their website, they will notice that there is only one or two positions that need to be filled, and, for all they know, the organization has AT LEAST 100, if not 1000 applications sent in for that single opportunity.

What impact does this have on the potential applicant? First, they are going to want to stand out in their application. They are going to show you that they are going to be the best in the position. Second, it can cause the potential applicant to want the position even more (even though you aren’t even paying them for it!). They see ONE POSITION to work with an organization and a cause that is important to them and they are determined to get it. So what that it isn’t paid. There must be 1000 other applicants that are applying for this position and they aren’t concerned about it not being paid, so I’m not going to care either.

Tactic #2: A Mission Larger than Life

Are you familiar with Teach for America?

Teach for America is a nonprofit organization that is committed to bring in excellent teachers to low-income schools. They work to increase the opportunities for students in low-income schools and in high-risk areas around the country. Its a great organization and guess what… when they first started out, they had thousands of applications to become their teachers, and they weren’t promising a dime.

Today as a Teach for America teacher, you can be a full-time, salaried employee, but at the beginning, you had to pay for everything out of pocket. And, yes, they had thousands of applications to go through for people who were willing to pay for this opportunity. Why? Because Teach for America stood for something larger than itself, and that is what they shared with their potential teachers.

Teach for America shared the dream they had to help low-income children be able to excel and reach new heights. They focused on the impact that these teachers could have on the children’s lives.

So, if you are an organization looking for people to work without pay, try these things. First of all, imply scarcity by setting up an application process for a limited amount of interns or positions. Be sure to let the applicants know that your organization is looking for the best possible candidate who will work really hard for the cause. Secondly, show potential employees or interns WHY they should want to work with you. Give them a cause worth working for. Teach for America knew there would be teachers who innately want to make a difference in the lives of their students. Likewise, there are people out there that are passionate about your cause as well.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *