TABLE OF CONTENTS
Recruiting the right nonprofit volunteers takes effort. Learn our nonprofit volunteer recruitment tips for 2022.
Every nonprofit organization has a vision, such as a world where everyone has access to clean water, a world where no child goes to bed hungry, or a community where everyone is accepted and welcome.
Such big visions require equally big efforts if they are to come true!
While fundraising is necessary to keep the doors open, volunteers can be an invaluable resource for organizations of all sizes.
However, volunteer programs only bring value to a nonprofit organization when they’re done “right”. Recruiting, engaging, and retaining nonprofit volunteers takes time and effort.
Without proper attention and the right information and tools, working with volunteers can actually waste precious resources.
When done right, working with volunteers allows nonprofit organizations to:
- Reduce operating costs and otherwise save money and resources;
- Broaden the scope and scale of their impact;
- Gain access to diverse skills, experiences, and knowledge;
- Increase service delivery quality;
- Build better relationships with the local community and/or bridge generational gaps;
- Increase visibility;
- Bring in new opinions, ideas, or approaches;
The first step to effective nonprofit volunteer management is volunteer recruitment.
With so many organizations to choose from and so much vying for our attention, it’s not always easy to attract the right volunteers.
In this article, we demystify the process of attracting the right volunteers for your nonprofit organization.
If you’re interested in a broader overview of nonprofit volunteer management, check out our Essential Guide to Nonprofit Volunteer Management.
How to Recruit Nonprofit Volunteers - Insights and Tips for Nonprofits
1. Understand Why People Volunteer
Volunteers give their time and talents freely, so one might easily wonder why.
People volunteer for all kinds of reasons. For example:
Personal value system
Many people, religious or not, see helping others as the morally right thing to do. Volunteering is, then, congruent with their personal value system.
Whether they’re conscious or not, many people volunteer to enhance their self-image.
Many young volunteers are likely to be motivated by the benefit of personal and professional development. Career exploration, building up their resume, or gaining transferable skills are all common motivations for volunteering. Some even volunteer in hopes of being offered a paid position later on.
Growing friendships and networks
People might choose to volunteer to meet new people or grow their network. This is a good option for many as interacting with others in real-time in meaningful ways becomes ever rarer in the modern world.
Some others volunteer to get to know other places and cultures, and some to better their local communities.
While volunteering by definition involves “a commitment of one’s time, energy and/or resources to benefit others with no expectation of reward or compensation”, it’s not to say that volunteers expect and want nothing when they sign up to volunteer with an organization.
Typically, volunteers need to feel a connection or passion for the cause. They need to feel valued and appreciated, and they need to feel that their work has meaning.
Understanding why people volunteer will help you create and offer valuable volunteering opportunities.
These insights will also be invaluable when designing your recruitment campaign and writing up your volunteer role descriptions. If you’re aiming to attract mostly young volunteers, for example, when promoting the role you could focus more on the personal and professional development opportunities they’ll benefit from.
2. Ask the Big Questions
To effectively recruit the right volunteers for your nonprofit organization, you must first get clear on your objectives and goals for working with volunteers.
Start by answering the following questions:
- Why does your nonprofit organization want to recruit volunteers? To encourage community involvement, to gain access to a specific skill set, to get some extra help with a community outreach project?
- What role do you want your volunteers to play? Will they be doing front-line service work only or will they be involved in some back-end activities too (e.g. marketing or research)? If you have a specific campaign or event coming up that needs volunteers, start there. Consider any aspects of your day-to-day operations that would benefit from extra support.
Here you might determine the numbers and different types of volunteers you need. For example, you might decide you need 5 volunteers who will support your broader initiatives with general assistance (e.g. answering the phone), 2 skill-specific volunteers (e.g. a photographer and a videographer), and one pro-bono lawyer.
- What skills are you looking for? Depending on the role, these might be general or specific.
- What will the volunteers exactly do?
- What time frame are you looking at? Do you want volunteers who will provide ongoing support, volunteers to support specific projects or events, or maybe you want to recruit on-demand volunteers? Or maybe you’re looking for individuals interested in micro-volunteering?
- Do you have the resources needed to maintain a volunteer program? For example, can a staff member dedicate some of their time to volunteer management, and if not, can you hire a volunteer coordinator? Do you have the space for your volunteers to work from, if relevant?
Answering these questions beforehand will help create clarity and make sure volunteers feel valued, engaged, and supported right from the start. Clarity will drastically simplify the recruitment and volunteer management process.
3. Write Volunteer Role Descriptions
Clarity is imperative to success with volunteering programs. Once you asked yourself all the big questions and you have more clarity on why you’re looking to recruit volunteers and what they could contribute to your organization, you’ll have the information you need to write volunteer role descriptions.
Like job descriptions, these descriptions should include:
- Duties and responsibilities
- Time commitment
- Other expectations, rules, and guidelines
Ideally, onboard your volunteers “live”, whether in person or online. This way they can ask any questions they might have.
For best success, inspire your volunteers by sharing exactly how their role contributes to the bigger organizational goals.
Remain flexible, attentive, and open to change. Let the role description evolve as the volunteer starts working. Stay in conversation with them.
Pro tip: Create the “ideal volunteer” persona. Looking at the roles you mapped out, who would the “ideal” volunteer be? Develop a clearer picture by writing out their ideal skills, characteristics, interests, and time availability.
4. Plan the promotion campaign
By now, you should be well set up for planning a successful volunteer recruitment campaign.
To plan a promotion campaign:
Assess your organization’s image
People might have many assumptions about your organization, some of which might not be true. To counter this, always clearly describe the population you’re serving, what you’re looking for in volunteers and what’s expected of them.
You can proactively address any assumptions or stereotypes people might have. For example, animal shelters might show images and videos of their volunteers answering emails, playing with puppies, but also cleaning cat litter boxes. This will paint a clearer picture of the role and avoid applicants imagining a role where they only play with animals all day long.
Likewise, if your organization works with a specific population (e.g. women), you need to be clear if men are welcome to apply or not (because they might assume they can’t). If your organization works with children, specify if previous experience of working with children is required or not.
Craft a clear recruitment message
In one study, published in 1998 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 74, No. 6, pages 1516-1530), psychologist E. Gil Clary, Ph.D., and Snyder surveyed 61 hospital volunteers about their motivations for volunteering, and then later about their experiences as a volunteer. They found that the people whose experiences best matched their motivations were more satisfied with the experience. Those same people also said that they'd be more likely to continue volunteering.
This is why clear role descriptions and clear recruitment messaging matter. When drafting your recruitment message, communicate exactly what it is that you’re looking for. Specify the benefits of someone joining your volunteering program (e.g. new friendships, making an impact, developing teamwork skills, etc.)
- The message is concise and clear.
- The message is tailored to the target audience.
- The message describes your needs and requirements.
- The message specifies the benefits.
Share the benefits
Although altruism is definitely a motive for many who choose to volunteer, communicating clear benefits is a very powerful way to attract the right volunteers for your nonprofit.
It’s well documented that there are numerous emotional, physical, and social benefits associated with volunteering. Studies have demonstrated that volunteers experience a “helper’s high” — a prolonged feeling of calm, reduced stress, and greater self-worth after helping others —and overall life satisfaction is higher among those who volunteer. Studies of senior citizens have found that volunteering “reduces the pace of functional decline” and is related to lower rates of depression. In addition, volunteering has been shown to enhance self-esteem and self-confidence, perhaps because of the increased sense of purpose and identity that results from serving others.
Depending on your target audience, communicate the benefits of your nonprofit volunteering program clearly and succinctly.
It’s also important to make sure you can realistically offer those benefits. For example, unless you have a clear idea of how your volunteers will improve their leadership skills, don’t promise that as a benefit.
Pro tip: When writing your recruitment message, urgency and passion will go a long way. Talk about why you need volunteers right now, and why you’re so passionate about the mission of your organization.
Create a call to action
A call to action (CTA) mobilizes and inspires action, as well as provides a clear guideline as to what’s expected.
These are some examples of CTAs you could use:
- Volunteer today!
- Sign up to volunteer with our organization
- Join our volunteering program. Register here!
Each call to action should link to a separate volunteer registration or sign-up page. If you are using volunteer management software, you can lead your volunteers directly to your opportunities pages.
5. Get the ground ready
Talk to your team
Before launching the volunteering program and welcoming the volunteers, whether online or in person, make sure your team is on board, engaged, and active. There’s nothing quite as deterring to a volunteer as when they come to the office, excited and ready to contribute, and the team barely acknowledges their presence.
Make sure the team knows what the volunteers will be doing and how it potentially links to their own roles. This will avoid a lot of potential confusion and misunderstanding in the future.
Prepare everything the volunteers will need to successfully execute their roles.
You might need to choose and appoint a volunteer coordinator or supervisor and brief them on their role.
You might need to free up and designate office space, if relevant. Your volunteers might need computers, phones, or other material resources to execute their roles well.
Just like resources, take the necessary time to streamline the processes the volunteers will need to work within their roles (e.g. reporting, entering or analyzing data, posting on socials, etc.)
Devise the recruitment strategy
A volunteer recruitment strategy is going to play a crucial role in your volunteer recruitment efforts. It ties together planning, marketing, fundraising, and outreach efforts making sure the goal is clear, as are the tactics for achieving it.
This creates a better experience for your volunteers who will be more likely to stay if their experience is engaging and valuable right from the start.
Pro tip: Establish a risk management plan to protect from personal harm, property loss, and lawsuits.
6. Run the recruitment campaign
There are many ways in which you can promote volunteering opportunities at your organization.
Depending on your audience and the scale and location of your operations, physical promotion in the form of fliers or stands might or might not be effective.
Whatever the size and focus of your organization, digital promotion cannot hurt.
As with online fundraising, digital marketing is essential for increasing your reach and spreading the word about your work.
Here are the most common promotion channels nonprofits use to recruit new volunteers:
- Digital marketing, everything from mass appeals to social media
- Volunteer recruitment platforms where you can post individual opportunities
- Word-of-mouth from staff members, board members, and current volunteers
- In-person outreach at places where the target audience might be
- Print marketing, like posters, bookmarks, and envelope stuffers
- Connecting with corporate partners and local businesses
- Reaching out to volunteer-focused groups and volunteer referral organizations
- Personally reaching out to former volunteers and most active donors
- Using mass media (e.g., television, radio, newspapers, billboards)
- Making announcements at relevant social and organizational gatherings
- Asking celebrities and other people with big networks to spread the word
- Mailing and e-mailing
- Reaching out to students, people looking to transition careers, people in recovery, retirees, persons mandated to perform community service, stay-at-home mothers
Most organizations use a combination of several channels to promote their volunteering program. It’s imperative to know your target audience in order to choose the right ones.
Whichever channels you end up choosing, make sure signing up for your volunteer program is easy and intuitive.
Pro tip: Create a volunteer sign-up form that asks for a bit more than just personal information. This will help you screen the volunteers later on. However, be careful not to overcomplicate the sign-up form and in that way deter potential applicants.
7. Screen and assess the volunteers
Screening and assessment are an important part of selecting the right volunteers for your nonprofit. While it might be tempting to take on as many volunteers as you can to get as much help as you can, accepting the volunteers whose skills and motivation won’t be the right fit can actually do more harm than good.
In your volunteer application form, you’ll want to gather information on work and volunteer experience, relevant skills and qualifications, as well as their motivations for volunteering.
Then, here are some steps you can take to effectively screen and assess your volunteer applicants:
- Choose the team members who will do the screening. This can be one person, but ideally, it would be a few. One of them should be an experienced volunteer who is familiar with the requirements of the role.
- In the first round of screening, focus on selecting the best applicants according to the sign-up/application form.
- Conduct a reference check with previous employers or volunteer supervisors.
- Interview the top applicants. Prepare the questions in advance and ask the same questions to all candidates for the sake of consistency.
- Complete a Criminal Record Check and background check on all volunteers. This is especially crucial if you work with vulnerable clients such as children or at-risk youth.
Some generally desired traits in volunteers are a genuine desire to help, interest in the mission/cause, positive attitude, willingness to learn, organization skills, teamwork and leadership skills, and flexibility.
Here’s a process you can follow when interviewing:
- Thank the applicant for their interest in your organization.
- Share with the applicant the agenda of the interview.
- Share more information about your organization and the role.
- Let the applicant talk about their background.
- Ask role-specific questions that assess skills and competencies.
- Ask questions that assess motivation and aspirations for volunteering.
- Ask any other relevant questions (e.g. checking for culture fit).
- Ask the applicant if they would like to share anything else they think is important.
- Ask the applicant if they have any questions or concerns.
- Agree on the next steps.
Pro tip: Throughout the whole process, make sure you’re constantly communicating with your applicants notifying them of the next steps. It can be easy to drop off the bandwagon at this stage, especially if the applicants perceive the process to be too cumbersome. Focus on keeping the process as clear, simple, and brief as possible.
Getting the Right People on Board
Developing a volunteer network can boost your organization’s success immensely. Volunteers help save money and time and are also often the heart and soul of an organization.
However, creating a community of highly effective volunteers requires you to put effort into the recruitment process.
To sum up, in order to effectively recruit the right volunteers for your nonprofit you need to:
- Have a clear idea of why you’re recruiting volunteers and how they’ll be contributing to your mission.
- Come up with a recruitment strategy that includes an understanding of why people volunteer, a clear recruitment message, and identified channels of promotion.
- Have everything prepared, from volunteer coordinators and volunteer role descriptions to office space and processes and materials that will support them in their work.
Finally, for long-term sustainability, it’s recommended to have multiple revenue-generating activities and funding sources. Even if you run an incredibly successful volunteering program, online fundraising should be a part of your fundraising strategy, no matter the size or focus of your nonprofit.
The simplest thing to do is to set up online fundraising forms with an online donation platform like GiveForms. Then, all you need to do is share the link, and the rest is taken care of. The process becomes hassle-free for both you and your donors. Online donation forms are also shareable, which increases your chances of reaching your fundraising goals!