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The New Volunteer Manager’s Guide to Success

Maybe you’ve done some volunteer work in the past, or perhaps you’ve never stepped foot in a nonprofit; either way, you’re the new volunteer manager at your local nonprofit!

This is likely equal parts exhilarating and nerve-wracking. Often, volunteer management professionals receive little in the way of training and professional development skills before they are thrust into the role of volunteer leader. You might be left overwhelmed with questions like: How do I recruit volunteers? Will people show up to my event? How do I get the word out about my volunteer opportunities? 

Luckily, there are many methods for starting out as a volunteer management professional. We’re here to help with a proven framework that will guide you through your first year on the job

Article Contents
Volunteer Management: A Quick Take
Getting Started: Your First Year as Volunteer Manager
Day One
Week One
Month One
Year One
Additional Resources

Volunteer Management: A Quick Take

Let’s first provide a general overview of volunteer management. Essentially, your job encompasses all the tasks and responsibilities that it takes to recruit, retain, and engage a group of volunteers. This may also include promoting the volunteer program, registering new volunteers, expressing volunteer appreciation, and more.

Why is volunteer management important? 

Volunteer management is an integral part of a community organization because it helps to build lasting relationships with volunteers, community members, and other supporters.

These relationships are often key to increasing return on investment, fundraising dollars, and promoting your organization’s mission. In fact, we’ve found:


Even more, happy, well-managed volunteers are more likely to become donors themselves and recruit others to your cause. For these reasons, many nonprofits see their volunteer programs as an integral part of succeeding in their overall mission.

For more need-to-know insight on volunteer management, read our Volunteer Management: the Getting Started Guide

Getting Started: Your First Year a Volunteer Manager

New volunteer managers should bookmark this page and refer to it often. By following these manageable steps, you will learn to take charge and manage your volunteers with confidence. 

Day One

Take a deep breath; here's everything you need to know for your first day of the job:

Get familiar with your organization's mission

On your first day, make sure that you set aside time to understand your organization’s mission statement. Talk to other employees and volunteers about the mission and what it means to them.

Why is the mission statement so important? Well, your organization’s mission statement is the glue that holds everything together. This statement not only guides organizational decision-making, but it communicates desired outcomes to stakeholders and the community. It also conveys the niche and unique skills of your organization, which can help you learn about your organization more in-depth.

Understand your roles and responsibilities as the volunteer manager

While the specific responsibilities of a volunteer manager will vary by organization, it’s typical to wear many hats on the job. Volunteer managers are usually in charge of recruiting, vetting, supervising, and training volunteers for ongoing tasks and events. 

They are also responsible for tracking volunteer hours as well as managing award programs, employee volunteer programs, and student volunteers.

As a volunteer management leader, you’ll be involved in every step of the volunteer lifecycle, including:


Volunteer management professionals are often expected to be good marketers, fundraisers, social media managers, data analysts, and more. Therefore, flexibility and a can-do attitude will be key to succeeding in your new role.

Get to know your team members or department members

On your first day, make an effort to meet your new team members. When you consider that the average American spends one-third of their lives at work, we should prioritize getting to know our colleagues. Positive work relationships will make it easier for you to rely on one another, accomplish team projects, and be a better volunteer manager overall.

Remember, your colleagues are your best resources for organizational information and insight during your first few weeks. Plus, most people are eager to help! 

Even after you become more accustomed to your role, you should continue to lean on your team members. You can return the favor, or pass the knowledge on to new staff in the future.

Week One

Familiarize yourself with existing nonprofit technology and processes

Every nonprofit organization uses specific tools and programs to get the job done. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with these tools pretty early on, so that you can move on to more pressing volunteer management tasks. Here is a breakdown of some of the more common tools used by the nonprofit sector:

Learn about volunteer program clients

During your first week on the job, make a point to learn about your program’s clients. Introduce yourself to some of your community members who use your services. By hearing a myriad of voices and concerns, it will make you more effective in creating programs and relevant volunteer opportunities.

Also, make sure you reach out to key community leaders who are already working in tandem with your nonprofit. These might include members of your school board, stakeholders, government officials, and other professionals. These people have likely been working with your program clients for a lot longer than you, and will be able to provide valuable information and insight that will guide you in service.

Month One

Set Goals

Once you’ve become a bit more comfortable in your role, you’ll want to turn your attention to program goals and specific volunteer program objectives.

Whether these goals are already codified will depend on the organization, but the formulation of goals should include volunteer coordinators, staff, stakeholders, and volunteers. By including a wide array of voices, your goals will be more targeted and impactful.

Here are some examples of volunteer coordinator goals:

  • Recruit 30 new volunteers and retain them for more than six months.
  • Improve the quality of life of stray dogs in your community.
  • Provide 1,000 hot meals to community members by August 15.

SMART goals is a common technique used by businesses and nonprofits alike and will help focus your goal-setting. SMART goals are:

Specific- Create concrete, focused goals
Measurable- Is the goal outcomes quantifiable?
Attainable- How realistically can you achieve these goals with the resources at your disposal? Your goals can be ambitious but should be realistic based on you and your program’s capacity.
Relevant- Does your goal make sense in the context of your mission statement? Goals must lead to useful and relevant outcomes for those you serve as well as your nonprofit.
Time-Based- You must set a timeframe for achieving these goals. Deadlines help you create a clear path forward and can help motivate program staff and volunteers.

Write down these goals and store them in a place where you can refer to them often.

Year One

Formulate a Volunteer Program Strategic Plan

Now that you’ve been at it for a while, it’s time to start improving upon your volunteer program. How can you do this? With a solid strategic plan!

Make sure that your plan outlines your approach by including these key components:

Resource Allocation

What resources are available to your program? Write down your predicted program expenses, upcoming grant deadlines, and other ways that you plan on funding your program. Make sure to also consider how human resources fit into this equation. Make a note of your skilled and recurring volunteers.

Furthermore, try to think through the level of volunteer training required to do the job right. This will vary based on the services your organization provides.  Do you need any special materials to train volunteers? 

Finally, what resources do you have to put towards technology that will support your efforts? Once you have determined the resources available to you, you’ll have a better understanding of where your strengths and gaps are.

Volunteer Recruitment

After your first year, you should really think strategically about recruiting new volunteers. Think through how you are going to advertise your opportunities, manage volunteer registration, and whether or not you need to screen incoming volunteers. 

You might decide to invest in a volunteer management system to streamline registration and recruitment efforts.

Volunteer Engagement

Your strategic plan needs to have a strategy for engaging volunteers. After a year on the job, you know better than anyone that active volunteers are the lifeblood of your program. With this in mind, it is critical that you keep these individuals engaged. Your plan must include ways to engage different types of volunteers, like families, students, and teenagers. 

Here are the strategies we recommend for better engagement:

  • Match your volunteers based on skills and interests. By matching volunteers with opportunities where they can exercise their skills and passions, your volunteers are more likely to remain engaged.
  • Offer a variety of opportunities. Include both short-term and long-term options for your volunteers to choose from. This will cast a wider net and will allow those with different availabilities to participate and feel involved.
  • Set clear expectations with new volunteers. We recommend that you invest in volunteer training so that volunteers feel prepared and personally invested in your organization. Also, clearly communicate expected time commitments and responsibility levels. 
  • Say thank you. Always always always thank your volunteers for their service. When volunteers feel appreciated, they’re more likely to stay engaged with your cause and become recurring volunteers. Those who do not feel appreciated will likely disengage from your organization. Write down ways that you plan on thanking volunteers, and also include a timeline for doing so–then stick to it.

Volunteer Communication

Your strategic plan should outline how you plan to communicate with your volunteers. What CRMs or volunteer management software can best assist you in the communication style you wish to adopt? Who will be in charge of this communication? What frequency will you send emails or make phone calls? 

Volunteer Recognition

One of the best ways to retain volunteers is to recognize their efforts. The most successful volunteer managers always thank their volunteers for their contributions. The way in which you thank your volunteers will depend on your available resources. From a simple thank you note to an annual volunteer banquet, there are many creative ways to show your appreciation.

Volunteer incentive programs are another fun way that you can retain and engage volunteers. By creating volunteer hour benchmarks, you can motivate your volunteers with things like program swag, leadership opportunities, or parties. The important thing is that you establish a consistent, genuine system for letting your volunteers know they’re valued.

Has this guide helped you through your first year? Share this article with your volunteer leadership colleagues!

Additional Resources

Volunteer Management: The Getting Started Guide

Why Volunteer Programs Need to Invest in Technology

How to Start a Volunteer Program: The Ultimate Guide

 

Author: Annelise Ferry