Best Practices in Volunteer Recruitment

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.

Volunteers don’t just contribute physically; they contribute monetarily as well. 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. You can use the following information as a guide for recruiting volunteers for your nonprofit.

First, Assess Your Organization’s Image

Before you start recruiting, it is important to understand how the public perceives you.  People want to volunteer their time to a worthwhile cause in a meaningful way. If they see your organization as one that is truly doing good things in the community, it is that perception that will draw them to volunteer. Tune in to your successes, failures, goals, and mission, and assess by 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.

Next, Craft an Effective Message

One of our clients, Volunteer Maine, suggests that you craft a recruitment message that both invites and encourages people to get involved with your organization. Consider this messaging from Seattle University Youth Initiative: “agency serving low income youth at risk looking for photographer with equipment to volunteer taking photographs at our 1st graduation ceremony! Agency will pay for developing, etc. Help make this event a wonderful memory. Call Seattle Youth Initiative, 382-5011, ask for Patty.” This is a good example of a well-crafted message, because they clearly communicate why they are recruiting volunteers, as well as the position they hope to fill. 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 evaluating 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?
  • Which staff is best suited to deliver this message?
  • 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.

Then, Screen Your Applicants

Some organizations cast as wide a net as possible when 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 their driving record important? Are misdemeanors okay, but not felonies? This step is vital for mitigating risk, saving valuable time, and protecting your organization’s clients and staff–and its reputation.

Finally, Develop Your Recruitment Strategy

Volunteer recruitment is the process of attracting and asking people to get involved with your organization. Recruitment is often a multi-faceted strategy that can involve outreach, fundraising, educating the public, reaching out to community partners, and involving school groups. Below are a few options for recruiting volunteers.

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 impact to your volunteers. Give them a tidbit to bring home and tell their families about. Host a “bring a friend” day, or create family-friendly opportunities.

Post on 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 link to their volunteer matching software.

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 cultivating 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.

Use Recruitment Software.  Increasingly, volunteer managers are finding success using online recruitment software. Tools like Galaxy Digital’s Connect Software are helpful in recruitment, scheduling, and managing volunteers. For instance, Leon County, Florida has their own county-wide volunteerism site which is a great place to post opportunities.

Just Ask.  Sometimes the task of recruiting new 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.

In Conclusion

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.

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