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The Best Volunteer Recruitment Methods for Nonprofits

12 min read
July 14, 2022
Allison Smith headshot
Allison Smith
Content Marketing Coordinator, Neon One
volunteers with gloves and masks

Volunteer recruitment is important for most nonprofits, but it’s often overshadowed by other activities. It’s easy for fundraising, client management, board member engagement, and programming to eat up all your time and energy: That’s why having a reliable volunteer recruitment plan ready to go is such a valuable strategy.

Whether you’re looking to recruit in-person or virtual support, this article includes tips you can use to build a successful volunteer recruitment plan.

Our favorite volunteer recruitment methods. Learn how to build a volunteer recruitment plan that works for your nonprofit
Our favorite volunteer recruitment methods. Learn how to build a volunteer recruitment plan that works for your nonprofit

What is a Volunteer Recruitment Plan?

Before you bring in new supporters, you need to have a recruitment plan. Your plan should take into account your organization’s priorities, goals for volunteers, how you will onboard and manage volunteers, and how people will benefit from giving their time to your nonprofit.  

Use the following three steps to create your volunteer recruitment plan.

1. Identify Volunteer Roles & Opportunities

First, your team needs to discuss the goals of your volunteer program and decide what types of tasks your volunteers will be working on. These two elements will inform the rest of your recruitment plan, so talk to each department, take stock of needs and goals, and then prioritize. 

Start by asking the following questions with each department:

  • What initiatives have you always wanted to start but never had the time for?
  • Who else would you hire if you had the budget? 
  • What goals is your nonprofit struggling to meet? 

Next, determine the qualifications and commitment for each volunteer opportunity so you can set realistic expectations with your future volunteers!

Qualifications may include skills, certifications, or experience levels. For example, if you need someone to manage your Google Ads Grant, you’ll want someone with a marketing background and an understanding of Google Ads for Nonprofits

Commitment can include things like how many hours a week or month you need someone to volunteer, information about any onboarding or meetings they’d need to attend, and any other information that will help candidates decide if it’s a good fit for them. 

Alternatively, if one of your goals is simply to drive deeper engagement with supporters, you may want to create volunteer opportunities that are based on your typical supporters’ interests. For example, if you’re a cat shelter, you can assume donors and volunteers are interested in animal welfare. Brainstorm some ways they can support your organization where they can see an immediate impact such as working at your shelter, running supply drives, or raising money for your animals.

Don’t forget volunteers can support you virtually, too!

2. Write Clear Descriptions of Volunteer Opportunities

Think of this similar to a job posting: Applicants should know exactly what they’re signing up for, what they’ll be doing, and what you expect of them.

Once your description is written, make sure your interviewing and onboarding processes are as straightforward as possible. The steps required for each volunteer opportunity may be different. If your volunteer will work closely with children, for example, you’ll need reference requests and background checks, but that may not be necessary for other roles. 

Depending on the position and the level of involvement, you may even be able to skip the interview process entirely, so use your best judgment. A front-desk attendant may need an interview, but an event volunteer for a 5k probably doesn’t. Think through which screening processes are truly necessary, especially if your volunteers are assisting your nonprofit virtually. 

Shortening these processes can reduce the number of delays that could prevent interested applicants from participating with your nonprofit and increase your volunteer base.

3. Talk About the Benefits of Volunteering

In your volunteer description, focus on what the volunteer will get out of the relationship and include a few lines about how spending time with your nonprofit benefits your beneficiaries, your greater cause, your supporters, and your community. 

Recruiting volunteers and asking for donations are very similar: Focusing on making a person feel good about their engagement is the most effective tactic. 

Finally, conclude your volunteer opportunity with a call to action that inspires people to get involved. Sure, a request to “Volunteer” can be effective. But a request to “Mentor a child” or “Save a forest” can be even more compelling.

The benefits you reference in a volunteer opportunity should be reflected in your volunteer program. If you tell volunteers they get benefits like special access to events, volunteer appreciation gatherings, or other perks, make sure you follow through on those promises. It can be easy for volunteers’ benefits to be pushed down your priority list, especially when you’re busy. But this should never be the case—if volunteers feel unappreciated or don’t experience the benefits they were promised, they will leave. Your volunteers may not donate their money, but they do give their time and talents to help your organization. To keep them engaged, you need to thank them, communicate the impact they have at your organization, and make them feel great about their involvement. Looking for volunteer appreciation ideas? Here are some ways to celebrate your volunteers.

The Best Volunteer Recruitment Methods for Nonprofits

Now that you’ve identified your volunteer needs, you’re ready to recruit! Here are some of our suggestions you can use to recruit new volunteers this year.

Look At Your Existing Supporters

Step one: start volunteer recruitment internally
Step one: start volunteer recruitment internally

Sometimes, the best candidates for volunteers are already in your donor database. 

If your nonprofit hasn’t explicitly asked for volunteers or publicly offered a volunteer program before, your existing supporters may not know you need their help. They’ve already proven that they’re passionate about your cause, and they may be excited to learn about new ways to support you. 

Start by posting your volunteer opportunities where you know your supporters spend their time. Share them on social media, include them in your donor newsletter, and share them individually with other relevant members in your database. This will help you reach existing supporters (and their networks) and help them become aware of your volunteer opportunities.

Watch this video to learn how Alison Gerber, Volunteer and Development Manager at Open Books, successfully recruited volunteers from their donor base.

Recruit Volunteers from Your Community

step two: recruit volunteers from your community
step two: recruit volunteers from your community

After you’ve reached out to your existing supporters, it’s time to start sharing with your broader community. The benefits of volunteering with a local nonprofit are similar to those of donating to a local nonprofit: Volunteers get to see first-hand the impact their support makes in their own backyard. 

Not sure where to start? Try researching other organizations with similar missions and goals. Look at what they do to recruit volunteers in their own communities to get ideas you can use to find active volunteers nearby that are not yet involved with your organization. 

To reach new volunteers, you should also consider where like-minded people in your community spend their time. Consider your donor personas and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your mission support children? Get connected with local family groups or share volunteer opportunities at family-oriented stores and facilities.
  • Is your organization focused on environmental preservation? Host a volunteer drive at local plant nurseries or set up a booth at farmer’s markets. 
  • Are you an arts-based organization? Build relationships with performance venues, local musicians, or retailers that serve your target audience.

Don’t forget about the public sector! Partnering with local schools can help you gain an influx of volunteers. High school and college students often need volunteer hours to graduate, so work with local groups to provide volunteer opportunities that will meet their requirements.

Reward Volunteers for Their Support

step 3: incentivize involvement in your volunteer recruitment plan
step 3: incentivize involvement in your volunteer recruitment plan

Incentives are a quick, simple way that will reel in more people to volunteer. When deciding what benefits your volunteers will gain from giving their time to your organization, it might be worth offering unique perks and exclusive experiences. 

According to a Software Advice study, free food is the most attractive discount incentive a volunteer program can offer. Gift cards, discount coupons, or vouchers for free meals will do the trick. This could be a great opportunity to work with your business partners! Giving a gift card to a hot new restaurant can make volunteering appealing to supporters and drive business to the restaurant that donated to your organization. 

Other ideas for volunteer incentives can include:

  • Exclusive branded merchandise
  • Discounted rates for events or programs
  • Volunteer appreciation events
  • Special experiences or outings for volunteers

There are endless opportunities to incentivize volunteers—what will you do?

11 Volunteer Recruitment Ideas to Try

If you need some inspiration, these volunteer recruitment ideas might help. Remember, keep your own mission, community, and supporter base in mind.

  1. Recruit volunteers from your existing supporter base: Segment your email list and create appeals based on your supporters’ level of involvement with your nonprofit.
  2. Place an ad about volunteer opportunities in your city’s newspaper and post on social media channels. Remember to include a link to your website or contact information someone can use to sign up!
  3. Set up a table at local farmer’s markets, First Fridays, and other community gatherings. Have a way to collect contact information for people who are interested in volunteering, whether it’s a pen-and-paper signup sheet, a digital volunteer enrollment form on a laptop, or a QR code people can scan with their phones to reach your volunteer page.
  4. Work with local schools to provide volunteer opportunities to students who need service hours.
  5. Encourage groups of people to volunteer together. Many people are more willing to donate their time and talents when they can participate with their friends or family.
  6. Build relationships with local affinity groups. Parenting groups, hobbyist groups, networking or professional groups, clubs, or sports leagues may be great places to recruit volunteers.
  7. Post flyers at businesses you know are popular with the kind of volunteer you need. Make sure you ask permission before posting!
  8. If you need a volunteer that has a specific skill, try reaching out to businesses that employ people with that skill set. Remember that these people are (usually) professionals who use this skill to earn a living, so communicating expectations and benefits will be extra important here.
  9. Talk to your board. They may have friends, family members, or co-workers who could be interested in volunteering. Ask them to facilitate an introduction or meeting to see if their contact would be a good fit.
  10. Make volunteer opportunities easy to locate on your website. You may be surprised at who’s looking for a way to give back to their community.
  11. Use LinkedIn. People on that social network are often focused on building professional skills: They may be willing to donate their time in exchange for experience.

These ideas can get you started, but talk with your volunteer coordinator, board of directors, and other staff to brainstorm recruitment ideas together that fit your nonprofit. 

Plan Volunteer Recruitment, Then Plan Your Retention Strategy

Recruiting volunteers is only the first step in building a thriving base of supporters. You need a plan to keep them engaged, too! Regularly thanking volunteers, showing them your appreciation, and regularly reporting their impact are all important elements to include in your retention strategy. 

Retaining your volunteers will help you achieve a few different goals. You’ll start to build a base of loyal supporters, which will limit the demands you have to place on existing volunteers and reduce the need to constantly acquire new ones. You’ll also have to spend less time onboarding the people who sign up to help you since experienced volunteers don’t need as much training as new ones do. 

It may also help you with your fundraising goals. According to research from Donors: Understanding the Future of Individual Giving, 53% of people donate to a nonprofit before they enlist as a volunteer, and that deepened level of support can mean better retention rates and a higher donor lifetime value. Another 39% of people indicated that they tend to volunteer with a nonprofit before deciding to give financially. 

You may want to invest in a volunteer management system (VMS). A VMS can help you find, recruit, and register volunteers, and you can also use it to schedule, manage, and communicate with them. 

Looking for volunteer retention ideas? Check out this article for 7 Tips to Retain Your Volunteers

Volunteer Recruitment Is an Important Strategy for Any Nonprofit

Whether you need a skilled volunteer with many years of experience or a pair of hands to help at an event, a solid volunteer recruitment strategy will help you find the right person. Work with other people within your organization to identify the kinds of volunteers you need and create volunteer postings that clearly list the role’s requirements, qualifications, and expectations. Start your search by reaching out to your base of supporters, then broaden your outreach to include your community as a whole. Consider incentivizing involvement to get more people interested in supporting your work.

As you begin building your base of volunteers, take steps to keep them engaged with your nonprofit long term. The longer someone’s involved with your work, the more likely they are to continue to support you—and the more opportunities you have to deepen that relationship by inviting them to donate or to support you in other ways.

If you’re interested in learning more about volunteers, who they are, what inspires them, and how to inspire them to stay engaged with your nonprofit, check out our recent report.

Donors Report Tablet View
Donors Report Tablet View

Donors: Understanding the Future of Individual Giving

Discover data-based donor insights that you can apply to your fundraising communications efforts.

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