There will be a continued imperative to recruit large numbers of healthy volunteers to early phase prophylactic HIV vaccine (PHV) trials. We studied mechanisms associated with participation in two related phase II PHV trials. The most cited reasons for volunteering were altruism and a personal connection to HIV. The most successful recruiting strategies targeted organisations dealing with HIV, health or social issues, or were directed to large audiences through the mass media. However, circulated emails and word of mouth were the most resource-effective approaches. Group discussions and the collection of a pool of potential volunteers were much less effective than one-to-one discussions and immediate screening after recruitment. We utilised our findings to devise key recommendations to assist PHV trial teams who are planning future studies.