Volunteer Recruitment: Strategies for Getting the Volunteers You Need

A nonprofit’s operation often depends on the enthusiastic work of its volunteers. Whether the volunteers provide childcare, help with taxes, or sort in-kind donations, they are an integral part of many organizations. Therefore, volunteer recruitment should be a focus for any volunteer program. 

A Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund report found that people who volunteered in the previous year donated ten times more money to charities than non-volunteers, and 67% of those who volunteered said that they would donate to the same nonprofits where they had served. It is, therefore, in a nonprofit’s best interest to effectively recruit and retain new volunteers. 

Use these volunteer recruitment best practices to help establish a healthy, proactive volunteer program:

Craft Your Message For Recruiting Volunteers

Whether you are sending an email to community partners, using social media, or hanging volunteer recruitment posters around town, you’ll need to have a unified, clear message prepared. This is what you want to tell your community about your organization to get them on board with your cause. Follow these steps to compose a message that supports your volunteer recruitment strategy: 

1. Evaluate Your Organization’s Image

When it comes to recruiting volunteers for nonprofit organizations you’ll need to think about how the public perceives you. People want to volunteer their time to a worthwhile cause in a meaningful way. Tune in to your successes, goals, and mission, and assess how each of those may be viewed by potential volunteers. The more you understand your organization’s image and reception, the better you’ll be at targeting the right volunteers. Ultimately, this internal review will serve as your starting point for planning and designing an effective recruitment strategy.

2. Draft Your Message

To learn how to get people to volunteer, we spoke to the volunteer recruitment experts at Volunteer Maine. Volunteer Maine suggests that you craft a positive recruitment message that is inviting and encourages people to take action and get involved with your organization. When deciding on a message, try to focus on why you are recruiting volunteers and what positions you need filled. In your messaging, be sure to also define the volunteer role description, the nature of the opportunity, and the potential benefits to the volunteer.

When considering your messaging, Volunteer Maine says to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the message honor the volunteer?
  • Do I know someone who would say no to this message?
  • What skill level(s) am I hoping to attract?
  • Have I correctly tailored the message to my audience?
  • Does the copy effectively communicate the needs of my clients?

By asking these questions, you will be better able to tailor your recruitment message to appeal to the volunteers you hope to attract.

3. Create a Call to Action

Whenever you pitch your volunteer program to community partners and prospective volunteers–especially via email–you’ll want to include a call to action. This is what will drive your community to be proactive and invite volunteers to register with your organization promptly. Here are some call to action examples for your volunteer recruitment email and outreach efforts:

Volunteer Call to Action Examples:

  • Help us do more for our community. Volunteer today!
  • We’re a nonprofit and we rely on the help of people like you! Sign up to volunteer with [Organization’s Name]. 
  • We hear you’re pretty amazing. Why not volunteer? Register here! 

Don’t forget to follow each call to action with a link to your volunteer site. If you are using a volunteer management software, you can lead your volunteers directly to your opportunities pages.

Screen Your Applicants

Some organizations cast as wide a net as possible by recruiting unskilled volunteers, while others are looking for individuals with specific backgrounds. Throughout the recruitment process, decide what level of screening you require for potential volunteers and ask specific questions in your volunteer interview or application to filter out the people who may not be the best fit for your organization. 

Background checks are crucial if you work with vulnerable clients such as at-risk youth. If your volunteer opportunities require background checks, think about how extensive the screening needs to be. For instance, is a volunteer’s driving record important? Are misdemeanors okay, but not felonies? Will your volunteers be working with minors? This step is vital for mitigating risk, saving valuable time, and protecting your organization’s clients and staff–and its reputation.

Determine Your Volunteer Recruitment Audience

Do you need lots of volunteers for an upcoming event? Or are you looking for a group of volunteers with specific skills? It’s important to establish your needs so you can adjust your volunteer recruitment strategy accordingly. Generally, there are two major volunteer recruitment methods, (1) broad recruitment and (2) targeted recruitment:

Broad Recruitment

Broad recruitment, often referred to as “warm body recruitment,” can work for your organization if you’re looking to attract a large number of volunteers in a short amount of time (like for an event). This kind of volunteer recruitment may involve distributing flyers or posting a general call for volunteers on social media. While “warm body recruitment” can be an effective strategy when you need lots of volunteers quickly, you’re more likely to recruit one-time volunteers (as opposed to more engaged, recurring volunteers). This method also makes it harder to screen volunteers for more specialized roles, such as working with minors.

Targeted Recruitment

Targeted recruitment, on the other hand, requires a bit more planning but can pay off in the long-run. Targeted recruitment tends to be the best way to recruit volunteers if you’re looking for volunteers with specific skills or interests. For example, if you’re looking for volunteers to work with middle school students over the summer, reach out to your local university’s graduate program. You may have to do a bit of research to find the personnel–like the Student Service or Career Center Coordinator–that can help you better target your outreach. With some preparation today, you’re more likely to recruit more qualified, engaged volunteers tomorrow. 

Conduct Volunteer Interviews

You may not need to interview every prospective volunteer that walks through your door. However, if you’re looking for individuals for more specialized roles, you may need to conduct an interview. But what should you ask your volunteers? We’ve put together some sample interview questions that may inspire your own:

Volunteer Recruitment Interview Questions:

  • What would you like to know about our organization? œ
  • What causes are you passionate about?
  • What experiences in your life have led you to want to volunteer? 
  • What types of work have you done before? 
  • What experience or training do you have that will help you in this role? œ 
  • How do you deal with situations that don’t go as planned? œ 
  • Do you tend to work with groups or on your own?

Take Advantage of Volunteer Recruitment Tools

In addition to these effective volunteer recruitment strategies and practices, you’ll want to have the right tools in place to boost your efforts.

Using Software to Recruit Volunteers

Today, most organizations and nonprofits recruit volunteers online, and volunteer managers are finding success by using the recruitment tools in volunteer management software. Platforms like Get Connected can help with recruitment, scheduling, and managing volunteers. Plus, the software will automatically recommend opportunities based on interests and skills, so it’s easy for volunteers to find opportunities that are right for them. When volunteers are passionate about a cause and feel their skills are being utilized, they’re more likely to volunteer with your organization again. 

How can I attract more volunteers to my site?

As part of your volunteer recruitment plan, you’ll want to drive prospects to your website or recruitment platform. Your site has a wealth of information that encourages volunteers to engage with your cause. Any time you send a volunteer recruitment email, post on social media, or hang a flier, direct individuals to the volunteering page of your website with a link or URL (and don’t forget your call to action!). 

Remember the best way to recruit volunteers is organically. Volunteers who are already passionate about your cause should be able to quickly locate your mission statement, volunteer opportunities, and registration. So make sure your “Volunteer” page is easy to find on your website, as people are more likely to lose interest if they have to dig around your website to find volunteer opportunities. 

Job Sites like LinkedIn

Nonprofits often neglect their LinkedIn accounts in general, and in particular when recruiting volunteers. The Heart of West Michigan United Way is a good example of a volunteer center using this platform to their advantage. They post volunteer opportunities on their page, and they always link to their volunteer matching software.

Social Media Platforms

We get a lot of inquiries about how to recruit volunteers on social media. Social media can be an effective and inexpensive addition to your recruitment tool kit. You already have followers who are invested in your organization, so why not feature your volunteer opportunities, or a monthly spotlight highlighting your top volunteers? Creative content will encourage prospects to get involved. Don’t forget to link to your volunteer management site so it’s easy to learn more and sign-up while you’re still on their mind!

Develop Your Volunteer Recruitment Strategy

Once you have established your organization’s message, and determined the tools and types of volunteer’s you’ll need, you’re ready to piece together your volunteer recruitment strategy. Effective volunteer recruitment strategies for nonprofits are often multi-faceted, and should involve outreach, fundraising, educating the public, reaching out to community partners, and involving school groups. Below are a few of the best ways to recruit volunteers that can help form your strategy: 

Word of Mouth Referrals

Encourage your current volunteers to recruit others in the community through word of mouth. There are several ways to optimize this technique. At the end of each service opportunity, communicate your volunteers’ impact. It will give them a tidbit to bring home and tell their families about. Prospects are more likely to trust a recommendation from friends, so why not host a “bring a friend” day? Don’t forget to include family-friendly opportunities. Volunteering together can be fun and improves your volunteers’ experience (and may increase the chance that they’ll volunteer again)!

Cultivate a Corporate Partnership

With the rise of corporate social responsibility as a means to increase a corporation’s bottom-line, more and more companies are establishing employee volunteer programs. For example, IBM is brilliant in how it uses volunteerism to increase profits and employee retention. This is partly because it views volunteerism and service as opportunities to improve internal leadership development. Its “Corporate Service Corps” sends top-ranked employees to volunteer with nonprofits for one month every year. This program has been wildly successful in bolstering cultural intelligence and global awareness in its employees, while also nurturing a deep commitment to IBM. Consider cultivating a partnership with a local forward-thinking business that can provide platform for recruiting corporate volunteers.

Establish a School Partnership

Increasingly, high school and college campuses are requiring mandatory community service hours as a graduation requirement. As a result, schools are reaching out to local nonprofits to establish service learning programs. For instance, UNC Asheville has an extensive service learning program and partners with the Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, and the VA Hospital for some of its programs.

Consider Other Community Partnerships

Think about where people gather. Members of churches, community fitness centers, and local book clubs (just to name a few) can make for great volunteer teams! Look for groups who may be interested in your cause. So if you’re looking for volunteer fitness instructors for your senior health program, your local fitness center is a great place to start! Hang fliers or reach out to organizers of these communities. Work to establish an ongoing relationship with these communities. Encourage members to volunteer in teams; they’ll have lots of fun and you’ll recruit more volunteers! 

Just Ask

Sometimes the best volunteer recruitment strategies are the simplest. Recruiting volunteers seems so daunting that nonprofits forget the large pool of potential volunteers at their disposal. If you already have Facebook fans, Twitter followers, newsletter subscribers, and monthly donors, ask them to volunteer! These people are already engaged with your cause, and they may just be waiting for the opportunity to help. Try including calls to action in your regular correspondence to recruit these volunteers.

A volunteer network can be critical to an organization’s overall success. In providing their services, volunteers keep your nonprofit’s mission alive in their communities. If you use these effective approaches to volunteer recruitment, you won’t just attract new volunteers; you’ll also strengthen your organization’s image in your community, create awareness about your mission, and save resources.

Download our Sample Volunteer Recruitment Plan >>

Improve Volunteer Retention

Your primary goal with volunteer recruitment is to grow your volunteer base to have more impact in your community. But recruiting those who only volunteer once is inefficient. To create a healthy volunteer program, you should also strive for volunteer retention. But how do you improve volunteer retention? Here are a few ways you can strengthen your volunteer program with the volunteers you already have:

Implement Orientation and Training

To ensure your volunteers feel prepared and engaged from the outset, we recommend implementing orientation and training where appropriate. Orientation and training can improve retention and volunteer satisfaction. Check out this resource for developing an effective volunteer orientation program. Note that if your orientation and training is too involved, volunteers may not be able to make the time commitment. Try to create an orientation that gives volunteers just enough information to engage with your cause and feel prepared. 

Match their Skills and Interests

Volunteers are more engaged when they feel they are truly making an impact and contributing their skills. A volunteer management software can help organizations match volunteers with the right opportunities automatically. Make sure to provide a variety of opportunities suitable for different ages, interests, and abilities. Consider providing opportunities that will accommodate individuals and teams. 

Recognize Your Volunteers

While you should strive to find volunteers who just want to help others, it is important to show your appreciation. Make sure to track their hours and recognize your most committed volunteers. There are plenty of ways to show appreciation, but don’t overestimate the power of a simple thank you!
Once you’ve mastered how to recruit and retain volunteers, you’ll enjoy a healthy, engaged volunteer base who truly care about your cause.

These volunteer recruitment and retention strategies can help you boost your volunteer program and increase your impact on your community. What are your volunteer recruitment ideas? Let us know!

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