9 Ways to Motivate and Engage Your Nonprofit’s Volunteers

The average volunteer hour is now worth $31.80, meaning your volunteers can bring a ton of value to your nonprofit. But if you aren't properly engaging them, you may be seeing a lack of volunteer retention and participation. In this article, we'll walk you through nine ways to bolster your volunteer program, encourage your volunteers to get more involved, and see valuable volunteers return again and again.

7 minutes read
9 Ways to Motivate and Engage Your Nonprofit’s Volunteers

Whether you have a massive army of volunteers and volunteer management staff, or a handful of volunteers reporting to the founder of the nonprofit, volunteers are one of the most valuable assets.

And people want to volunteer! In fact, over one billion people around the world volunteer, with one in four Americans reporting that they volunteer regularly.

But if you aren’t seeing as much volunteer participation as you’d like, it’s important to recruit and keep a strong volunteer base. In this article, we’ll show you nine fantastic ways to engage your volunteers to boost retention and participation.

Bonus Resource

Check out this webinar to rethink your volunteer recruitment strategy! 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 and motivate existing volunteers.

9 Ways Engage and Motivate Volunteers

Volunteers are the backbone of many nonprofit organizations, providing invaluable support, dedication, and passion to further the organization’s mission. However, engaging and motivating volunteers can sometimes pose a challenge. To ensure your nonprofit thrives and continues to make a positive impact, it’s crucial to employ effective strategies that foster volunteer engagement and motivation. Whether you’re a seasoned nonprofit professional or just starting out, these nine strategies will help you cultivate a vibrant and committed volunteer community.

1. Check your assumptions about volunteers

Before you focus on engaging and motivating your volunteers, check your own assumptions. Think rationally about the value that volunteers do or could bring to your organization. Your volunteers are like money in the bank and should be valued accordingly.

When a charity receives a gift of say, $25,000 or more, that’s considered a major contribution. But what about the volunteer who gives over one thousand hours of personal time to a nonprofit? What’s the value of that? Does your nonprofit know the value of a volunteer hour and the ROI of retaining supporters?

According to Independent Sector, the estimated national average value of volunteer time is now  $31.80 per hour. That adds up in a big way! Knowing their value will help you put more time and effort into finding ways to motivate volunteers.

2. Design a volunteer engagement policy

Often, volunteer involvement is handled far below the top of the organization. It may be a sub-unit of any department willing to house it that is not necessarily a logical home for it. A strong and healthy volunteer program is ideally handled from the top of the organization.

To motivate volunteers, volunteering should be perceived as a critical organization management function. It should be discussed in the boardroom and included in long-range planning and other mission-critical activities.

A volunteer engagement policy should be developed by management, key volunteers, and leadership. It should include goals for your program (i.e. the number of active volunteers) and ways to motivate and retain volunteers.

If you don’t have a volunteer engagement policy, take the first step by planning a brainstorming session on the topic of volunteer engagement. To get started, think about these important aspects of the volunteer experience.

2.1 What are the motivations of nonprofit volunteers?

The decision to volunteer, like the decision to donate financially, is an emotional one. Volunteers are motivated by different drivers. They may want to meet new people, develop career skills, get involved in your new initiative, or just give back!

Think about each of these motives and build your program around them. Also, be upfront about asking each of your prospective volunteers about their motives, so you can better match them with an assignment. This is a great way to find more people to volunteer, too.

2.2 Why do volunteers leave?

There are a variety of reasons why volunteers stop volunteering. Most commonly, it comes down to feeling underutilized, unwelcome, or improperly trained.

In order for volunteers to keep volunteering, they must feel valued. They must see the results of their work and feel respected. Considering why volunteers get involved and why they leave is a good catalyst for designing a volunteer engagement policy.

3. Get to know your volunteers

The best way to engage your volunteers is to build a rapport with them! Develop strong relationships with your volunteers so they feel not only welcomed but like the vital part of your organization that they are. You can do this through in-person communication and taking the time to introduce them to any team members they’ll be working with during their assignment. You can also include them in your regular outreach like newsletters and annual reports, so they always know what’s going on.

Pro tip: You can use Donorbox donor management tools to strengthen your relationships with your volunteers! For example, you can keep a record of your outreach so you know exactly how often you’ve reached out. You can also track any donations they’ve made and note important information about them like their employer and contact information.

Example of someone using Donorbox donor management tools to engage volunteers.

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4. Appreciate your volunteers

Genuine appreciation is the key to properly engaging volunteers so they come back again and again.

Treat your volunteers like major donors. They give their time, energy, and sometimes funds – all you need to do is show your gratitude!

Some ideas to try include:

  • Host regular volunteer appreciation events to honor their hard work.
  • Give out superlative awards at an award ceremony to show how well you know each volunteer.
  • Recognize them on social media and in your newsletter. Share those success stories!
  • Invite them to help steer parts of your organization – especially if they have expertise.
  • Give them more responsibility and reassure them that you know they can handle it.

The possibilities are endless!

5. Value your volunteers’ time

People volunteer because they want to make a difference in the world. They have busy lives and competing responsibilities as we all do. Therefore, if they don’t feel like they’re making a difference, they won’t continue to donate their time and energy.

Signing on anyone who steps forward to “help” in vague ways, without clear objectives and coordination, simply wastes time – for both the paid staff and volunteers. Give volunteers a sense of purpose while they’re working with you — set expectations, define goals, and make sure they know what they need to make the most of their time.

Pro tip: Use volunteer management software to streamline your volunteer sign-up experience, track hours, and assist with volunteer training opportunities. Having a hassle-free way to sign up for volunteer shifts will help keep your volunteers engaged.

6. Play to their strengths

Your volunteer base enjoys using its expertise for a good cause. Therefore, allow them to apply their strengths to better your organization, and ensure the task is challenging and stimulating.

Don’t just use your volunteers to do the work nobody else wants to do! If envelopes need to be stuffed, so be it, but perhaps put them in charge of the project. Do your best to utilize their skill set while ensuring that each task or assigned department is meaningful and enjoyable to them in some way. For example, if they have experience managing social media accounts, ask for their help designing a social media ad campaign – but only if that’s something that interests them!

As long as they’re capable and can do the job, assign them to their preferred task/area. A happy volunteer is a loyal volunteer.

7. Communicate and listen to their feedback

Listen to what your volunteers say. This is both a volunteer engagement strategy and a good rule of thumb for organizations that want to work smarter, not harder.

Volunteers who feel ignored probably won’t be volunteers for long. Therefore, ask their opinions, listen to their suggestions, and always follow up. When a volunteer approaches you with an idea, listen and ask questions. If it can be accommodated, let them know when it’s put into effect.

However, if it’s one that is not actionable, follow up with a timely explanation. Understand what the volunteer wants, learn what their expectations are, and communicate regularly.  The level of your volunteers’ engagement reflects your ability to listen to their wants, needs, and suggestions.

Pro tip: Regularly survey volunteers to see what feedback they may have. Make the survey anonymous so everyone feels like they can freely share their opinion. This will help you craft a better volunteer engagement policy!

8. Give volunteers the training and resources they need

Provide volunteers with the resources and tools they need to be successful, whether it’s a pen and paper or a computer with the proper software. Providing resources also includes providing sufficient training to do their jobs.

The team members who are interacting with your volunteers must be on the same page when it comes to volunteer engagement standards. Volunteers should have a welcoming point-person available to them who has time for their questions. This point-person should have the capacity to train them and the desire to help them improve.

Conducting regular performance evaluations with volunteers is another way to treat them as co-workers and show them you support their efforts and want to see them succeed. Respect them enough to spend time talking about their work and increase their responsibilities (when appropriate).

9. Cultivate your volunteers for other, bigger roles

Your volunteers may also be leaders — staff, advisors, board members, and consultants. Sure, you’ll have volunteers who just want to show up and assist with whatever task you provide. However, caring for all of your volunteers is critical for your organization’s reputation and growth. You never know where resources will come from, so think of your volunteer force as a network of opportunity.

Pro tip: Often, volunteers donate more than just their time – they donate their hard-earned money, too. Creating a more engaging experience for your volunteers is an excellent way to cultivate them into donors, too! For help with this cultivation, check out Donorbox’s integration with POINT.

POINT is a volunteer management software that provides streamlined tools to help you manage and motivate your volunteers. You can share your Donorbox donation form directly on your POINT organization page to help turn more volunteers into donors.

Learn more here.

Start Turning Volunteers Into Donors


Motivating and engaging nonprofit volunteers is easier than your organization may think. Because your volunteers want to make a difference – but they also want to feel valued and respected.

Having some solid volunteer engagement strategies in place can make a big difference in recruiting and retaining more rockstar volunteers. Whichever of these nine steps you take, each one is designed to bring you closer to an ideal, thriving volunteer program. One with more success stories and a stronger sense of community.

Donorbox helps thousands of nonprofits boost their fundraising efforts. With multistep donation forms that make for a 4x faster checkout, crowdfunding and peer-to-peer functionality, event ticketing, and more, Donorbox has the features to help nonprofits of all sizes grow.

For more volunteer program tips, check out the rest of our Nonprofit Blog. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a curated list of blogs in your inbox every month.

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Raviraj heads the sales and marketing team at Donorbox. His growth-hacking abilities have helped Donorbox boost fundraising efforts for thousands of nonprofit organizations.

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