Advertising your program

Getting your program known among young people is the first step in the recruitment process. All programs need to utilise some form of advertising in order to reach their target group, recruit participants and raise awareness about the services they provide and what they are doing. Advertising your program may use one or a combination of several strategies, such as word of mouth via previous participants, newspaper advertising, and web based promotion. Programs can also use outreach strategies to seek peer supporters, for example by sending out e-mail brochures and enrolment forms through schools, youth centres and youth-related health networks. Offering prospective candidates incentives and/or compensation for program related expenses in turn for their participation has shown to be an effective measure in recruiting volunteers. Incentives may be in form of money but may also be in form of receiving vouchers, free meals, or receiving credit or accreditation for their participation.

Strategies for recruiting your peer supporters

Finding suitable young people who will fit the role of a peer supporter can sometimes be difficult. Using previous program participants who are well known by the program manager can be a useful strategy, however, this will not work for newly established programs.

A sensitive approach and a transparent process that clearly outlines the selection process is essential and will ensure that young people are treated fairly and equally. In general, there is no ideal way to recruit peer supporters as all strategies have advantages and disadvantages. Service providers need to consider which type of method will best suit their setting and target group best.1

Commonly applied strategies for selecting peer supporters include:

  • Recruitment of volunteers;
  • Peer nomination; and
  • Adult/staff nomination.

Recruitment of volunteers

Recruitment of volunteers involves advertising of the available position for which young people can apply if they are interested. The advantages of this strategy are that it allows the young person to make their own choices and to take on responsibility for a service voluntarily. This method will more likely contribute to recruiting young people who are highly motivated and have a genuine interest in the role, which may consequently lead to a lower attrition rate.1

Issues that may arise as a result of this strategy, however, include:

  • Higher number of volunteers apply than can actually be accepted to the program;
  • Some young people may not meet the necessary criteria of the role; and
  • Possible under-representation of young people from some ethnic, religious, sexual orientation and gender groups (more of relevance for program that does not target a specific at risk population group, e.g. young men/women in general).1

Particularly, when working with at-risk young people it is of importance if applicants cannot be accepted into the program to provide sufficient feedback that clearly explains the decision made.

Peer nomination

Peer nomination is the process by which young people nominate and vote for those people they consider would make good peer supporters. This strategy has the advantages of the young people taking responsibility for the service and it increases the level of credibility for and acceptance of the peer supporters and the service. The disadvantage of this approach is that peer supporters are often selected based on their popularity rather than on their potential as a peer supporter. Voting in young people who may not be interested in the role may make them feel pressured to take on the responsibility and can potentially result in a lack of enthusiasm and confidence in volunteers.1

Adult/staff nomination

Adult nomination involves program staff selecting young people who they believe exhibit the necessary qualities to be a good peer supporter. This method is not ideal for youth peer support programs that follow a youth participation approach as the control over the program is retained by program staff and may lead to a loss of credibility. Futher, peer supporters chosen with this method are less likely to be accepted by their peers. A more youth engaging approach to this method could involve allowing young people to select from a list of volunteers nominated by program staff.1

How to select suitable volunteers

When selecting young people for the role as peer supporter it can be helpful to consider whether it is intended to select them based on their previous knowledge and experience or on their demonstrated ability to carry out the required peer support skills. However, basing the selection on an individual’s previously acquired skills and experiences may not always guarantee that they are capable to perform the tasks asked of them.1

Read more about the roles and skills required of peer supporters.

Interviews and questionnaires are commonly used to assess a young person’s suitability as a peer supporter. A method to obtain a more objective and neutral opinion of an applicant’s suitability is by organising a selection day for all of those interested in applying, on which some basic training and practice in peer support skills are provided. Observing a young person’s behaviour and performance on that day may facilitate the recruitment process, and may involve self, peer and/or staff evaluation. This method also allows young people to realise their own strengths and weaknesses and consequently make their own decisions whether they are actually suitable for the role. Although this strategy may appear quite costly and time consuming it can be cost and time saving in the long run, if having to deal with issues arising from recruiting young people who turn out to not match the role adequately.1

If a program does not have the necessary resources, putting volunteers on a probationary period that allows both parties to reevaluate the situation after a previously defined period of time represents an alternative solution to screening young people.

It is also important to take into consideration the applicant’s previous history, i.e. experiencing mental health issues or other serious adverse life events, which may result in them needing access to a peer support group to improve their self-esteem and coping skills. A recommendation is to not use young people during times that they are struggling with a personal issue themselves; rather wait to involve them as peer supporters once they have managed to cope with the situation. While a young person who is struggling with a problem may not be in the position to provide support for others, they are often of great benefit to the peer group once they have gotten through it, as they can provide positive role models of effective coping behaviours. This way the peer supporter also benefits by being able to have continued access to a social support network and having opportunities to enhance their self-esteem. They may also learn that it is possible to be both a source of support and to receive support from others, which can assist those involved in supporting others not to deny their own problems.1

A few important things to keep in mind about recruitment:

  • Make sure that the selected group of peer supporters share the same characteristics of the group of young people targeted by the program; consider aspects such as ethnicity, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, religion, etc. Read more about defining your peers
  • In line with a youth engagement approach, utilise a method that places as much responsibility with the peer supporters as possible and that is empowering of them. This may vary for differing groups and program types, but in any case a respectful attitude and a belief in the young people to be able to find their own solutions is considered important.
  • Selection processes need to be transparent, fair and as inclusive of young people as possible. It is recommended to utilise a method with which young people who do not fit the role adequately can de-select themselves. If it becomes apparent during the selection process that a person is completely unsuitable for the role the person responsible for the project should not be afraid to turn them down. However, in this case it is essential to provide an honest and sensitive explanation of the decision to the young person.
  • It is recommended to recruit sufficient numbers of peer supporters in order to take into account the drop-outs that many volunteer programs experience.1

Useful questions to ask yourself when recruiting:

  • How will you advertise the position?
  • How will you select peer supporters?
  • Do you anticipate any difficulties in this – e.g. finding suitable volunteers, deciding who is suitable, turning down unsuitable volunteers?
  • How many will you select/recruit and why?

(Adapted from Cowie and Wallace 2000, p.77)1

Example of a volunteer peer mentor recruitment process

Billy Dower Youth Centre Young Men/Women’s Program (City of Mandurah 2009)

The Billy Dower Youth Centre in Mandurah, WA, carries out a Young Men’s and Young Women’s Program with the aim of providing isolated boys and girls aged 12-17 opportunities to meet with peers while engaging in meaningful activities. To ensure the well-being of all young people is maintained, young people interested in volunteering as a peer mentor are required to undergo a comprehensive recruitment process and acceptance as a volunteer peer mentor does not occur until this process is completed. The 6-step recruitment/screening phase consists of:

  1. Preliminary screening through an initial information discussion with the prospective mentor about the mentoring program and commitment required;
  2. Written mentor application form;
  3. Face to face interview/home visit;
  4. Working with Children Check (WWCC) & National Police Clearance;
  5. Two personal and/or professional referee checks;
  6. Induction and training phase.


  1. Cowie, H & Wallace, P 2000, ‘Peer Support in Action’, Sage Publications, London, pp.176.