Nonprofit organizations rely heavily on the time, energy and dedication of their volunteers to carry out their mission and achieve their goals. However, finding, recruiting and retaining volunteers can be a challenging and time-consuming process.
Below, a panel of Forbes Nonprofit Council members share concrete strategies that are essential for successfully attracting and retaining volunteers. Whether you’re a small grassroots organization or a large established nonprofit, these strategies can help you build a strong and dedicated team of volunteers to support your cause.
1. Find A Point Of Entry
Find an accessible point of entry for volunteers, such as a half-day or hands-on activity like planting a garden, painting a mural, reading with children or cooking at a shelter. Then, ensure that the volunteer experience is stellar. Build on that initial engagement through prompt acknowledgment and invitations for additional activities. – Laura MacDonald, Benefactor Group
2. Create A Sense Of Community
At an NGO I founded, we have piloted a leaders program where we work with a small group of highly motivated volunteers to give them specific roles within the organization. We created a cohort model to create a sense of community and togetherness that means they not only will leave with new skills, but also a priceless network of colleagues. This program has been highly motivating. – Lucy von Sturmer, The Humblebrag
3. Search For Risk-Takers Who Are Quick And Devoted
Our volunteers are quick, devoted and risk-taking people. The volunteers who get our aid—and myself—into Ukraine are just that. Be it for Ukraine or for earthquake aid, our best volunteers don’t ponder which tasks suit their CV. They do what’s needed and fast. In turn, we give them latitude, inspiration and thanks. I am humbled by their devotion. These volunteers come from communities served, the diaspora and our giving community. – Jennifer Hill, Refugee Protection International
4. Recognize The Difference Between Those With Expertise And Those With Interest
It is important to recognize the difference between the expertise the volunteer may bring to the table and the interest they may have in a topic or activity. Based on this distinction, it is so much easier to find a place for them and to manage expectations. Tap them for knowledge and expertise and invite them to create a community of interest. They are not mutually exclusive but they are different. – Magdalena Nowicka Mook, ICF (International Coaching Federation)
5. Provide An Opportunity For Volunteers To Feel They Make A Difference
Volunteers need to feel their work is making a difference. It requires a nonprofit to prepare in advance, be transparent in managing expectations and deploy projects that provide a clear “result” to best partner with volunteers in meaningful engagement. – Deidre Lind, Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles
6. Create A Clear And Meaningful Experience
One key strategy for effectively finding, recruiting and retaining volunteers is to create a clear and meaningful volunteer experience. This includes defining specific roles and responsibilities, providing adequate training and support and offering opportunities for skill-building and personal growth. – Leonard Freeman, Oregon Tilth
7. Invest In Your Volunteers
Recruiting and retaining great volunteers is essential for fundraising. You have to actively invest in them to keep them engaged and to reinforce that they are making a difference. Communicating the great achievements of the organization, recognizing their services and impact and inviting them to institutional events are simple, cost-effective ways to keep them engaged. – Daniel A Wubah, Millersville University
8. Include Training And Opportunities For Professional Development
A well-designed volunteer program that includes orientation and training, ongoing communication and feedback, opportunities for professional development and recognition and tech and social media skill-building will foster a broader interest and loyalty, supporting an inclusive culture that values the contributions of volunteers. This can help build community and increase volunteer engagement and satisfaction. – Kenneth Deans, Health Sciences South Carolina
9. Reach Out To Colleagues For Referrals
Receiving referrals from trusted colleagues has been one of my most successful strategies for the recruitment and retention of volunteers. These volunteers are known to be trusted individuals you can count on for major projects and events and are eager to participate in orientation and ongoing training. They also become a solid pipeline for standing committees and the board of directors. – Nicole Suydam, Goodwill of Orange County
10. Treat Volunteers As You Would Staff Members
Treating volunteers like other team members is essential. A volunteer may not be on the payroll, but they are indeed valuable as team members working toward the same mission. Our organization trains, cares for and engages our volunteers very similarly to the way we do for our paid staff. Though some staff are paid and some are volunteers, we refer to all of them as our “team members.” – Duana Patton, Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging Inc.
11. Participate In Volunteering And Communicate Desired Outcomes
Make volunteering a passion that fits and is easy to use. If they volunteer, use them. If you don’t, they will move on to someone who will. Clearly communicate desired outcomes and how the volunteer becomes the hero of the story. Empower and encourage volunteers with information that builds their confidence in the task at hand. If you connect them to a successful outcome, they’ll be raving fans. – Aaron Alejandro, Texas FFA Foundation
12. Connect Volunteers With Your Mission And Vision
People invest time and energy when you connect with their passion. We make a practice of a thorough onboarding of all members. It’s in their handbook, and we have individual and monthly sessions to reinforce training. Creating a sense of connectedness and inclusiveness with volunteers helps them experience a sense of belonging and alignment with the mission and vision. This is critical to retention and engagement. – Suzanne Ogle, Southern Gas Association
13. Invite Volunteers To Special Projects
Invite groups in for a special project like setting up a clothing closet for women in need. Volunteering is just as much of a social event as it is a purposeful activity for an individual person. When a group of people gathers for the same cause, they show up with a purpose, energy that they draw from each other and lots of fun. – Kimberly Lewis, Goodwill Industries of East Texas, Inc.
14. Allow Volunteers To Showcase Their Individual Talents
A successful strategy that has worked for us is to create opportunities that allow volunteers to bring their talents or passion into our organization. If a volunteer has a passion for art as an example, ask them to incorporate or create an art piece that showcases your nonprofit’s work. Challenge them to use their talents to highlight the importance of the work being done through your organization – Christopher Dipnarine, 4MyCiTy Inc.
15. Create Consistent Communication
Creating consistent communication that tangibly connects the humanity of your mission and the involvement of your volunteers will deepen the relationship your volunteers have with your cause. The closer someone feels to the work of your mission, the more invested they become in the outcomes. – Nick Lynch, Collidescope IO, Inc.