How to Attract the Best Volunteers [And Keep Them]
Volunteers are an incredibly valuable part of any thriving nonprofit. But sometimes it can feel impossible to find dedicated, skilled volunteers – and even harder to keep them. In this article, we'll walk you through everything you need to know to recruit stellar volunteers, as well as some key considerations to keep them coming back.
Volunteers are a crucial element to any successful nonprofit. With each shift they volunteer for, they bring their own expertise and passion for your cause – not to mention all the hours of work they’re saving you and your staff.
And their work is incredibly valuable. In fact, in 2022 the value of each volunteer hour reached nearly $32.
But many organizations struggle to find those rockstar volunteers – and those that find them struggle to keep them. In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about volunteer recruitment and retention so you can build the best volunteer program possible.
What is Volunteer Recruitment?
Volunteer recruitment is the process of recruiting the best candidates for volunteer work in your nonprofit organization. Volunteer recruitment is very important for nonprofit organizations as they can help with any number of tasks – from administrative tasks and fundraising to program delivery and spreading the word about your nonprofit.
Great recruitment can look like a lot of different tasks, but its main goal is to grow your volunteer program with high-value volunteers who can make a lasting difference at your organization.
How to Attract and Recruit the Best Volunteers for Your Nonprofit
1. Create a Strong Foundation
Before you attempt to recruit top-notch volunteers, ensure you have a strong foundational understanding of how your volunteer program works. Collaborate with your team and get clear on some key areas. For example:
1.1. Volunteer Job Description
This step is incredibly important – not only to make sure you get the job done by someone who has the right skills but also to increase the chances that the volunteer(s) will be satisfied in their role (role fit is crucial to job satisfaction).
With your team, go over your plans and strategies and review your progress so far. Where is it that you are doing really well? Where are you lagging behind? Identify the underperforming areas, projects, and programs and then consider recruiting volunteers to help out with those. Be sure to clearly identify the skills that are needed for that to happen and recruit volunteers for those specific roles.
Having a written job description will also help with the onboarding of the volunteer(s) when the time comes.
1.2. Onboarding Process
Volunteer onboarding is the mechanism through which new volunteers acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective members of your organization.
Depending on the resources available to you, you might consider creating a volunteer handbook or a formal in-person training program – whatever it takes to efficiently and comprehensively get the new volunteer recruits on board.
Have these materials and plans ready before you start recruiting. That way, you’ll be prepared to get volunteers started right away.
2. Decide How You Want to Recruit
There are multiple methods you can use to recruit volunteers. Not every method will be suitable for your nonprofit. This is why that first step is important. When you know who you need to recruit and what they will be doing – the how gets much easier!
In addition to taking into account the jobs you need volunteers to do, also consider who could do those jobs best and who might be interested in the first place. Depending on your mission/field of work – you might attract volunteers from different demographics (e.g. Baby Boomers or Millennials).
Decide how you want to promote the role(s): online portals, volunteer fairs, social media, email. This will depend on your demographic. Then it’s time to create your materials.
2.1. Draft Your Recruitment Message
Regardless of which recruitment method you use, you must have a compelling recruitment message. Explain what your nonprofit hopes to achieve and why you need help. Make your message short, simple, and direct. Communicate the need for the volunteer’s service.
Point out the benefits (e.g. skills and experience) the volunteer will receive as well as the community benefits that arise from volunteering.
2.2. “Warm Body” or Targeted Recruitment
Decide whether you want to run more of broad a recruitment campaign (i.e. warm body) or more targeted recruitment. Warm body recruitment is more appropriate if you’re recruiting a large number of volunteers for (usually) very short periods of time or for a specific event. This might involve distributing flyers, setting up brochures, speaking to groups, posting on socials, and more.
Targeted recruitment usually involves a targeted campaign towards a specific group of individuals. This type of recruitment is effective when you need individuals with very specific skills. Think about where you could find those volunteers and what would motivate them.
3. Use Your Social Network
Maybe the volunteers you’re looking for have been right under your nose the whole time. One of the best ways to recruit volunteers is to simply ask your friends and family if they or someone they know might want to volunteer. Then, ask your current volunteers and other staff members to do the same.
This tactic will help your reach grow exponentially. Plus, it builds social proof through word-of-mouth marketing. People are more likely to trust people they know than organizations. It’s also easier to “persuade” people who already know you in one way or another than it is for those who don’t.
This type of recruitment, therefore, involves primarily people who are already familiar with your nonprofit or the problem you address, or who are connected through friends or staff members.
Pro tip: Your donors are an excellent pool for volunteer recruitment. You already know they’re interested in your cause and trust your organization enough to part with some of their hard-earned money. To recruit them, simply pull a list of recent donors from your donor management tool. Donorbox makes this easy to do! Simply set your filters and export your CSV file.
You can use this list for emails, phone calls, and other personalized outreach.
4. Find Your Volunteers
In addition to using your social network to find volunteers, there are a plethora of other ways to recruit the right kind of support.
Here are some places you can look for:
Schools and Universities
Schools and universities are often filled with young and enthusiastic individuals who wish to get engaged in community service. Get in touch with the Student Services department.
In many communities, businesses look for community involvement opportunities for their employees. Approach the community relations, community affairs, or corporate giving department within a company. Corporate volunteering is an increasingly popular practice.
Clubs and Community Groups
Reach out to social and professional clubs, campus-based sororities and fraternities, membership groups, and community groups. All of these can be excellent volunteer resources.
In addition to these, consider posting flyers and placing announcements in the media.
For more help, check out this webinar on finding your next 20 volunteer superstars with free tools and smart strategies. In conversation with Tobi Johnson, an internationally sought-after expert and master trainer in volunteer management, we discuss how you can attract a committed fan base to your cause.
5. Use the Right Tools
Volunteer recruitment and retention will only work if you use the right tools for the job. This means a volunteer management system designed to streamline your workflow and make the whole experience seamless for your volunteers.
In addition to a volunteer management system, you’ll want an easy way to convert volunteers into donors. Volunteers are more likely to donate to your cause – and being both a donor and a volunteer helps you build an even stronger relationship with them.
The Donorbox + POINT integration is the perfect pairing to help you recruit volunteers and convert more of them into donors. Learn more about how these tools work together in this blog.
Volunteers, like employees, come to your nonprofit with a passion for your cause and an interest in your work. They, like every other human being, have preconceived ideas and expectations about their roles and your nonprofit.
In order to keep your volunteers happy, it’s essential to clearly communicate expectations at the very start of your work together.
Volunteers should be made familiar with their job descriptions in detail, including the inner workings of your nonprofit (to the extent required for them to thrive in their roles), their supervisor/point of contact, and the communication system. Most importantly, volunteers should understand how they will help your nonprofit advance its mission.
It’s in the onboarding process that you will need to balance volunteer expectations with your own organizational goals and program expectations. This will set the tone for a positive experience for your volunteers. Your volunteers should feel like their expectations are heard and their questions answered. This increases the chances that they will continue their involvement with your nonprofit.
8. Make it Enjoyable
Fun is the secret ingredient to employee and volunteer engagement alike. Sure, it’s important to draft job descriptions and get your volunteers familiar with the internal communication system – but it’s perhaps even equally as important to create an environment in which volunteers will have fun and enjoy their work.
One of the ways to achieve this is to create an environment where volunteers can easily develop personal, emotional, and professional connections. In your onboarding process, resources allowing, include activities that will cultivate such connections among volunteers and between volunteers and staff.
For example, you could design ice-breakers and organize informal social gatherings where volunteers and staff will get to know each other. Furthermore, you could design a shadowing program where new volunteers will shadow experienced volunteers for a period of time.
A sense of belonging and a community go a very long way in creating a positive and enjoyable atmosphere that volunteers will want to keep coming back to.
9. Recognize and Pay Attention
As mentioned previously, similar principles that ensure high employee retention apply to retaining your volunteers, too.
Recognition and attention are the basics of effective volunteer management and volunteer engagement.
Thank every volunteer who helps in any way. Treat everyone with the same respect and make sure no effort goes unnoticed – as much as you can afford to.
In addition, make sure you recognize the most active volunteers in your nonprofit (e.g. volunteer of the week/month or a reward).
Publicly recognizing volunteers will make them feel proud of their own accomplishments.
Pay attention to the experience of your volunteers – what motivates them, how they feel, and how you can help them grow. Here are three things most volunteers are looking for:
Allow your volunteers to have an appropriate level of autonomy where they can direct their own tasks and come up with strategies and techniques to achieve goals.
Ensure your volunteers are learning in their roles. Volunteers should feel like they’re making progress – like they’re “mastering” something. Match volunteers to roles that are just the right amount of ‘challenging’ for them. This will help keep them motivated.
Purpose This is arguably easy for nonprofits – who already recruit volunteers who buy into their mission/cause, but everyone gets bogged down in the nitty-gritty of their role at times. Make sure your volunteers see that they’re pursuing a higher purpose and contributing to something bigger than themselves.
Informally, telling volunteers they’re doing a great job and asking their opinions on internal developments are all important.
Paying attention will make your volunteers feel valued and increase the chances that they’ll stay with your nonprofit.
For tips on how to recruit and retain volunteers for your church, check out this blog.
Your volunteers are incredibly valuable assets to your nonprofit. They’re also people who deserve attention, resources, and appreciation. As you plan your volunteer recruitment strategy, remember to keep this in mind. What would make you want to volunteer for your organization? How can you successfully convey that to find some awesome volunteers?
Once you have your volunteers, take the time to onboard them, make them feel useful, and recognize all their hard work. These steps are crucial for retaining volunteers – so all of your hard recruitment work doesn’t have to start right over!