Article

Calling for Volunteers? Here Are 8 Volunteer Recruitment Strategies [2022]

Gia Chow
Gia Chow

Volunteers are essential for nonprofits. In a sector where we usually have more work to do than we have staff to do it, volunteers boost our power, lighten the load, and exponentially increase our impact. Best of all, they do it because they believe in the cause and want to help.

While volunteerism has declined over the years, 63 million Americans report volunteering their time. On average, individuals spend 52 hours per year volunteering and the national value of volunteer time is estimated to be $24.14 per hour. That’s a HUGE amount of unpaid support!

But between busy schedules, how do we find these enthusiastic superstars willing to give their time, energy, and expertise? Where are they all hiding?

In this post, we’ll go over eight strategies and best practices for volunteer recruitment.

Let’s dive in!

1. Ask

This first point seems obvious, but it’s often overlooked. You need to actually ask people to volunteer. You may think it’s self-evident that you’re looking, but you’d be surprised how many people in your circle don’t know.

Extend the invitation to volunteer across your communication channels:

  • Does your website include a section for prospective volunteers?
  • Do you regularly highlight volunteers and volunteer activities on social media? Do people who see this know they could volunteer, too?
  • Pitch stories to the media about volunteering, always including that you’re looking for volunteers.
  • Feature volunteer opportunities in your newsletter, along with a call-to-action to volunteer.
  • Ask your current volunteers to invite their friends to a volunteer event

In addition to spreading the word, don’t forget to ask one-on-one. You may have supporters who would love to get more involved with your organization, if they only knew you wanted them. Prospective volunteers are everywhere you look.

Once you start looking outside your immediate circle, the Internet is here to help you. Many communities have websites that serve as a central place for posting volunteer opportunities.

There are also national websites that share opportunities or match volunteers and organizations, like VolunteerMatch, Create the Good and Idealist. You can search for volunteer opportunities by location and interests, so it’s a good way to find people in your area who already care about what you do. Some cities and states have their own versions of sites like these as well.

Offline, consider partnering with faith organizations and civic groups. You may be able to speak to them about volunteering, or put your ad in their newsletters. Setting up a display and meeting people at volunteer fairs and community events is also a good way to meet new prospective volunteers.

2. Segment Your Communication

If you’re planning on putting out a call to your contacts about volunteer opportunities, sending the same templated message to everyone isn’t always the most effective. 

Instead, we recommend taking the time to craft a message that aligns with their interests and/or past engagement. If you’re trying to re-engage lapsed volunteers, try crafting a message along the lines of how much you’ve appreciated their help in the past and would love to have them involved with your cause again. On the other hand, if you’re wanting to bring in donors as volunteers, you might express how grateful you are for their contribution and describe how they can further help your cause through volunteer efforts. 

It’s important to be intentional about who you’re communicating with and how you do it.

3. Get Specific

“Volunteer” is not a specific description of a job. All it means is that someone isn’t being paid for their time. Therefore, if you put out a general call for volunteers…no one knows exactly what you mean.

Instead of calling for volunteers, ask for people to do the specific jobs you need volunteers for. Put out the call for visitors, reading buddies, bike mechanics, tour guides, dog walkers, party planners, or deck builders. Prospective volunteers will know exactly what you’re looking for, and see themselves in your posting.

In fact, you may want to consider crafting a “job description” for your volunteers. This way, not only are you communicating expectations up front but you’re holding your volunteers accountable and setting boundaries. 

As well as specific jobs, point to the specific skills that volunteers need to do the job. If you’re willing to teach someone how to do something, make sure you mention it. Otherwise, people may remove themselves from the running if they don’t know how to do the tasks you describe. Likewise, if you need special experience or have certain requirements, make that clear.

Along with specificity, be sure to include an email or a phone number that prospective volunteers can reach out to if they have further questions, like in this example.

Getting specific also helps to get around any mistaken ideas about volunteering that people may have. If someone’s only experience with volunteering is a group or corporate volunteer day, they may think you’re only looking for envelope stuffers or someone to pound nails, which they may or may not be interested in. Specifics paint a clearer picture.

4. Focus on Their Benefits, Not Your Needs

We’ve established that volunteers are wonderful and you need them. Now it’s time to flip the question, and ask why they need you. Why should someone give their time to your organization?

It’s easy to focus on your organizational needs, but this cannot be the central story of your volunteer recruitment efforts. “We need help!” may be true, but it doesn’t make the most compelling case for volunteering. Instead, focus on what volunteers gain by giving their time. 

Things like:

  1. Making a tangible difference
  2. Using their skills and talents for good
  3. Meeting and networking with others in the community
  4. Working to elevate a cause they believe in
  5. Helping others/lending a hand-up

This call for volunteers focuses on making a huge difference, having fun, and creating a lifetime of change – all benefits to prospective volunteers.

5. Have A Nice & Easy Process

Have you tried to sign up to volunteer for your organization? Is it easy? Are there clear steps to take? Are the people you encounter friendly and helpful?

It’s worth it to make sure you aren’t offending or otherwise giving prospective volunteers a negative experience before they even get to you. Don’t underestimate the power of a form that won’t load, a cold-sounding receptionist, or an unreturned phone call to turn a volunteer off from your organization forever. It sounds dramatic, but it really does happen – first impressions matter.

Take a look at the Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois’ website. They have a dedicated volunteer page that clearly lays out next steps toward becoming a volunteer, and provides an email address and phone number, along with a great big “Apply to Volunteer” button. It’s easy to navigate, which means people are much more likely to actually begin and complete the process.

Once someone expresses an interest in volunteering with you, follow up quickly (between 24-48 hours), even if it’s just to say, “Thanks, we’ll get back to you soon.” You want them to know how much you value their interest, so don’t leave them hanging. Set up an automated email for this to make sure you don’t miss anyone.

6. Provide Opportunities for Different Levels of Engagement

Some volunteers will be ready to take on a part-time job level of volunteering, while others will be looking for something to do once a month, or a couple times a year. Maximize the number of volunteers you can appeal to by providing opportunities to help out at different levels of commitment.

Grey2K, a national organization dedicated to ending greyhound racing, gives several options for ways to get involved. Some, like organizing a rally, are a large undertaking. Others, like hosting an outreach table, are less of a commitment. They even give the option of sharing posts on social media–a very low commitment, but still a big help.

Peer-to-peer fundraising is another great way for volunteers to get involved with your organization. Raising money to support your cause can be done on their own schedules, within their own networks, while still connecting to your organization. Raising money can also offer volunteers a very tangible way to see the impact of their help.

Postpartum Support International provides a general overview of volunteer opportunities for different levels of engagement, schedules, and interests. From working the helpline to being a peer mentor, there’s bound to be something suited for everyone.

For each opportunity listed, there is a detailed description so volunteers know what kind of commitment is expected. In addition to time and responsibilities, be sure to mention whether your volunteer opportunity is in-person or virtual.

Make it clear in your volunteer content that you have opportunities for different levels of commitment. This helps people understand that they can be as involved as they want to be. If someone has a positive experience doing a small volunteer assignment for your organization, they may consider getting more involved in the future.

It’s important to be flexible to your volunteers’ changes in schedule and routine. They’re the ones committing their time to your cause. 

7. Anticipating Concerns

A big part of calling for volunteers (and retaining them!) involves anticipating potential concerns and troubleshooting solutions. 

If the challenge centers around work commitments, have your volunteer ask if their employer has or would be interested in a company-sponsored volunteer program. Company volunteer programs come in all shapes and sizes. Some employers may allow volunteers a certain number of hours per month to dedicate to a cause of their choice. Others may arrange structured outings where teams can participate together.

If your volunteer cites personal and family commitments as concerns, be flexible with a schedule that works for them or engage their family as a volunteer group. The more the merrier!

Aside from time constraints, another reason why someone might be hesitant to volunteer is that they may not feel qualified. To mitigate this, consider setting them up in a role that aligns with their skills or make your candidates feel confident in their role by having a thorough onboarding process and providing ongoing support and training. If your volunteer doesn’t feel comfortable or isn’t interested with what they’re doing, they’re unlikely to continue to volunteer. 

By being proactive about potential challenges and concerns, you’ll see more success in your recruiting efforts.

8. Make Your Volunteers Feel Appreciated

A big reason why volunteers leave is because they don’t feel appreciated. Making sure your volunteers feel valued falls in the bucket of both recruitment and retention. When you recognize and appreciate the value of your existing volunteers, you can leverage their support and loyalty by encouraging them to bring new volunteers on board via word-of-mouth marketing. 

There’s no one right way to recognize your volunteers. Based on your relationship with them and their preferred methods of communication, you can show your gratitude through:

  • Giving verbal and written heart-felt thank yous
  • Spotlighting them on your organization’s website
  • Featuring them on your organization’s social media platforms
  • Highlighting their accomplishments on your organization’s newsletter
  • Thoughtfully gifting things such as photos, giftcards, or experiences
  • Hosting a volunteer appreciation event
  • Soliciting their feedback (and finding ways to incorporate their suggestions)
  • Presenting them with a special award (i.e. “Volunteer of the Month”, “Rising Changemaker Award”, etc.)

So Remember…

When calling for volunteers:

  • Ask people to volunteer, within your circles, and the larger community
  • Tailor your communication to the audience you’re trying to recruit from
  • Be specific about what you’re looking for – indicate if there are special skills needed
  • Focus on the benefits to volunteers, rather than to your organization
  • Double-check to make sure it’s easy and pleasant to sign up to volunteer
  • Provide a range of volunteer opportunities to engage volunteers at different levels of commitment
  • Be proactive about concerns and challenges your volunteers may bring up
  • Make sure your existing volunteers feel appreciated and valued

Recruitment Is Just The First Step

Once you’ve recruited a new volunteer, you’ve only just begun! Now you’ll need to manage and retain them. Retention is the opposite side of the recruitment coin, and it might even be more important.

Welcome your new volunteers, and make sure someone is appointed to check in and engage with them regularly, so that the volunteers you worked so hard to recruit grow with your organization.

To get more tips on all things nonprofit, from marketing to leveraging volunteers for fundraising, subscribe to our email list, trusted by over 85,000 nonprofits!

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