Volunteer Recruitment Communication

Volunteer Recruitment Communication

Identify your audience(s) and plan how to reach them

Audience, scope & timing

In general, if you have a small, well-defined volunteer audience to reach, you may only need a letter, flier and/or brochure to distribute to current patients, or to use in discussions during patient visits.

If you need to recruit a larger or more diverse volunteer audience, then you should consider a more comprehensive approach that combines several different types of communication channels, including advertising (typically paid), publicity and social media (typically free).

Keep in mind that the more comprehensive your approach, the more time and budget you may need to develop and distribute the information or materials. See sample estimates. In general, we do recommend utilizing multiple techniques to reach participants to ensure you meet recruitment goals and to hopefully develop a diverse cohort meeting your study criteria.

Volunteer outreach

The UMClinicalStudies Registry provides a database of potential participants where individuals can view or sign up for research opportunities. Study team members are also able to manage their IRB-approved study information and connect with participants that may qualify or are interested in your research.

Your current volunteers could serve as helpful communicators about your study to other potential volunteers. Some options to engage them include:

  • Hosting an event to thank them for their participation and inform them of study progress
  • Sending a letter or email to thank and inform them of study progress
  • In both of the above, include an easy way for current volunteers to forward or share study information to their friends/family who might be interested. Examples: postcards, brochures, web link within email
  • Hosting an event that is open to the public to provide education about the specific condition of interest and current research/therapies to the community

Referring physician outreach

The Health System has a Physician Liaison program designed to help you reach community-based physicians.

The Public Relations and Marketing Communications Office also maintains a referring physician database that can be used for generating targeting mailing lists available through the UMHS MarketScope database. You may need to identify which specialties and what geographic region you would like to reach.

If you are planning to contact specific types of physicians or clinics directly we recommend creating and maintaining interpersonal connections to engage the support staff and to potentially obtain clinic staff “buy-in” for supporting recruitment efforts while working within the current clinic flow or process.

Additional outreach

If you are looking for participants that may reside outside of Michigan or the Ann Arbor area, you may want to consider utilizing ResearchMatch.org a recruitment tool. ResearchMatch is a secure registry developed by major academic institutions across the country.


Retention is an active process beginning with the very 1st contact with potential study volunteers. Study teams must engage their participants at every interaction if they are to maintain study volunteer participation for the duration of the study. The following are activities you may consider to encourage volunteers to continue participation throughout the study, and to improve or maintain communication:

  • Appointment reminder calls/cards/emails/letters including location directions/maps
  • Thank you cards/emails/letters
  • Birthday & Holiday cards/emails/letters
  • Newsletter
    • Potentially provide study results, progress, new research findings, tailored health information, FAQ section related to the study
  • End of study cards/emails/letters
  • Educational resources on the study topic
  • Educational events/presentations for active participants

You may also consider providing volunteers with additional resources to address health concerns or to encourage participation in additional research studies.

Plan ahead to ensure IRB approval for all of your recruitment materials

All study-specific communication materials need to be approved by the IRB through the eResearch application prior to public distribution (including to referring physicians). This not only includes recruitment materials, but any information given to the participant during the study.

The IRB must review and approve both the context (copy, script) and the final layout (ad, flier, radio spot, news release, etc.) prior to publication/distribution. Unapproved changes cannot be made to materials without IRB review.

The IRB also provides guidance pertaining to incentives for research participants.

Make sure you review the IRBMED Guidance for Non-Study-Specific Subject Recruitment Communication.
For more information: http://www.med.umich.edu/irbmed/guidance/guidance-recruitment-advertising.html

Determine how interested volunteers will contact you

Another consideration in the planning phase is determining how interested volunteers will contact you. Will you offer a web page and/or web form, an email address, a phone number or all of the above? Volunteers may request a specific method of communication, but it is generally best to include as many methods as possible to connect with a wide range of participants.


Once you determine your point(s) of contact and before you launch your communications, it’s critical to put systems into place to track how interested volunteers found you. This data will help you with future recruitment efforts. Consider using a detailed “how found” checklist that’s available on your site or can be completed by the person who answers the phone. Depending on how your web site is designed you may have access to Google Analytics as well.

Vanity URLs

One helpful way to track interest is by using a “vanity” or track-able website address or URL in your promotional materials. This allows you to measure the response to a particular promotional effort. UMClinicalStudies.org can provide a vanity URL that automatically re-directs to your existing UMClinicalStudies.org study posting page. This URL can be used as a call to action in your promotional materials (e.g., www.UMClinicalStudies.org/mystudyhere).

You can also add links to additional information or video clips (e.g., a videotaped interview with the PI) on that posting page if budget allows. For information, contact Maria White, UMHS Marketing.


Set an advertising and/or production budget

There are several low- or no-cost options that may make sense for reaching prospective volunteers, but to reach specific audiences through high-quality promotional materials or paid advertising, you will need a budget.

Budget needs can vary widely based on many factors, including:

  • The audience you’re trying to reach:
    • Do you know who they are and how to reach them directly?
    • Will you have to rely on mass communications channels, which are more costly?
  • The use and extent of paid advertising
  • The quantity and type of materials produced
  • How materials will be distributed (by hand, by email, by U.S. mail)
  • The need for supplemental communications materials (e.g., video)

Sample cost estimates are provided to help with planning.

IMPORTANT NOTE: University policy requires all purchases over $5,000 to be competitively bid. Contact the UMHS Contracts and Procurement Office for assistance prior to placing orders through vendors.

Determine the most appropriate promotional options based on your audience and budget

Following are a number of options for reaching your volunteer audience through no-cost or paid/produced communications. Learn more by clicking on each option.

Template materials

MICHR and PRMC have professionally designed promotional material templates.  Working with MICHR and PMRC to use these templates will allow you to create professional materials at reasonable cost as well as ensuring that all materials are in compliance with UMHS logo and style guidelines.

Templates include a tri-fold brochure, a flier with perforated tabs, a poster with tear-off pads, and ad designs (print and online) that can be customized by our graphic design agency Wagner Design Associates (WDA) at an hourly rate.

Study information that follows the basic organization/style of the template examples may be sent in a Word document to laura@wagdesign.com at Wagner Design Associates with your request for template layout services. If you’d like copywriting or editing services ($115/hour), please indicate that as well.

Wagner will acknowledge receipt of copy and provide an estimated cost and turnaround time for their services (typically 5-10 business days). They will also coordinate printing through one of the strategic printing suppliers (printing process typically takes 10-15 business days).

To minimize costs and delays, please follow the template format and make sure the information has been thoroughly reviewed and approved prior to layout.

The Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) does provide a general brochure in English and Spanish providing general information on becoming a research volunteer.

Estimated costs and examples

DIY option: If your budget is extremely limited, you may want to consider using the UMHS Do-It-Yourself (DIY) program. See the UMHS communications tools section.

Direct Mail

Potential costs may include: list purchase, printing (letters, envelopes), mailing coordination and postage. Costs vary based on letter length, enclosures (e.g. brochures) and quantities. Turnaround time is typically no less than 10-15 business days.

For recommended vendors, see DIY/Printers and Mail Services.


If your budget is limited and/or you have a strong sense of which local media outlet will best reach your target audience, you can contact the outlet directly to purchase time (radio) or space (print/online). The outlet’s advertising representative will provide specific details on ad sizes, script length, deadlines, etc. that can be shared with the graphic designer or writer as needed.

For more information on placing ads, see the DIY Kits/Ads.

Some popular online advertising options are do-it-yourself and have detailed information online (Google Adwords, Facebook).

If you have large-scale advertising needs (typically budgets > $7,500), it may make sense to work with a professional media buyer who has access to demographic and other data that can be very valuable in planning efforts. Media buyers are often able to negotiate better rates and/or additional “added value” deals.  See sample plan with radio, cable and online options.  To discuss specifics, please contact Maria White, UMHS Marketing.

UMHS communications tools

Depending on the audiences you’d like to reach, the following no-cost options may be right for your study recruitment communication plan. Contact the MICHR Recruitment Program for availability:

Determine whether social media makes sense for your recruitment needs

More and more researchers are using social media to find volunteers for their clinical research. The Health System has developed a social media toolkit that includes policies, guidelines and other helpful information.

Some social media activities, like creating a Facebook page or group, can be accomplished at no cost but will involve staff time for updating, while others (e.g., running a Facebook ad campaign) require funding.

Consider whether your study’s launch/recruitment has “news value”

A media relations specialist from the Public Relations and Marketing Communications department will work with you to assess whether your study is likely to generate interest among the general public. If so, a press release will be prepared with your input and approval.


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