8 Ways to Recruit & Retain Volunteers for Your Nonprofit

Volunteers can provide help, support, and manpower for nonprofits. However, does your nonprofit have the necessary processes in place to take full of advantage of your volunteers?

Many nonprofits I have come across understand the importance of volunteers and even WANT more volunteers, but unfortunately are not organized enough to really utilize volunteers well for their nonprofits.

You may be confusing and even frustrating your volunteers if you relate to one of the following:

  • After a volunteer starts, you realize it is more work for you to organize yourself to give the volunteer tasks to complete
  • There never seems to be enough work for the volunteer, but you seem to be still as busy as ever
  • Your volunteers do not stick around for long
  • You never provide appreciation days or incentives for your volunteers
  • You do not include your volunteers as part of your nonprofit morale or culture
  • You have no idea where all the volunteer forms are
  • You want to get a bunch of grant money, but you have nothing in place to mobilize volunteers

I get it. You might be a small or start-up nonprofit and your limited staff are wearing ten hats each as it is. But if you want to grow, then it is important to take the time to get organized and prepared for people to help you.

1. Think about the mindset of your volunteers

  1. Why would someone want to volunteer at your nonprofit?
  2. What are they wanting to get out of their experience?
  3. What do you think they want in return?

If you already have volunteers, you can draft up a quick survey and ask some of these questions or put together a brief focus group and ask in person. You may be surprised by what you hear. If you do not have volunteers yet, let’s just take a look.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations states some of the reasons the people volunteer includes the following:

For some, it provides an opportunity to:

  • Give something back to a nonprofit that has impacted on a person’s life, either directly or indirectly
  • Make a difference in the lives of others
  • Feel valued and part of a team
  • Spend quality time away from work or a busy lifestyle
  • Gain new skills, knowledge, and experience
  • Develop existing skills and knowledge
  • Enhance a resume and improve employment prospects
  • Meet new people and making new friends
  • Get to know the local community

So looking at these possible reasons that volunteers are interested in volunteering at your nonprofit means that this is a two-sided street and there are expectations on both sides. I’ve seen many nonprofits not fully utilize volunteers and have them only assist with menial tasks such as answering phones or helping with an occasional car wash.

Yes, both of these things may be needed and can be fine, but are you really providing the full experience for your volunteer while getting the help that you really need?

2. Create simple operational manuals for every task

One way to benefit your nonprofit and the volunteer is to have manuals created for every task. In this way, if someone shows up at your door Monday, you can hand them something tangible to do that will offset your work or someone else’s work so they can step up into something more technical.

3. Have your volunteers do more skilled work

Every single nonprofit I have worked with has stated they wish they had more individuals with the above skills but cannot necessarily afford to pay these individuals with these skills.

There are two solutions:

a) Put out volunteer job announcements with specific skills. You may be able to attract volunteers, simply by providing a volunteer job announcement with certain skills that you are looking for.

b) Provide training for these skills to your volunteers. There are heaps of online courses now that are at very affordable prices (psst…quick promo here if you want to check out my online Grant Writing Course) that you could purchase and then have your volunteers learn a skill. This is very advantageous for many reasons and we will talk about those more in the next podcast.

4.  Appreciate your volunteers

Volunteers appreciate appreciation. Everyone does, but especially those who you aren’t paying. When you appreciate volunteers, they will be more likely to feel good about what they are doing and stick around. Appreciation should be all year-round, but you can also do a bigger annual fun event, too!

An annual volunteer appreciation even does not have to be a black-tie event at the upscale hotel in town (although it could be). The volunteer appreciation day could be an afternoon bowling, ice cream social, or any number of simple items. This will help retain volunteers if they feel appreciated.

One word of caution: I would stay away from potlucks. You want the appreciation day to be fun and relaxing for the volunteers. If you do a potluck they will feel like they have to buy food or make food. This whole process goes against the point of appreciating them and letting them relax for that day. Sure, some people find making food relaxing, but many do not.

5. Include volunteers in your company culture

Just what do I mean by this? Try to not segregate your volunteers away from your staff. I see this sometimes where the volunteers are in their own little world and are not assimilated into the staff. Treat your volunteers just like your staff, where if you have them type up a storm don’t squeeze them into a cubby on a makeshift table. Provide proper space and equipment for them and include them in the water cooler talk.

Volunteers are also contributing to your organization and deserve the same feeling of inclusion. Sure, sometimes you have big events and need tons of volunteers just for that event, so you may not be so inclusive, but for the long-term volunteers include them in your company culture.

6. Create simple forms

Have volunteers sign commitments, liability waivers, and so forth so you make sure you are both legally covered. I am not a lawyer so please do consult with your legal department or HR for the correct forms, but make sure they are signing waivers of some sort!

Keep these forms in a volunteer binder so it is easy to know the process of onboarding volunteers.

7. Track volunteer hours and tasks

If you have your staff punch in, I would also have your volunteers punch in and keep track of time. This is especially important if you are utilizing volunteer hours to match grant funds!

You can also have volunteers keep track of items purchases (and reimburse them if they are nonprofit-related!) if they are driving clients or other specific services.

8. Ask volunteers to chair committees or project

There is no better way to retain volunteers than to have them chair committees or projects. They will feel exponentially more invested in your nonprofit and into seeing the project or program completed.

Remember, volunteers are ambassadors for your nonprofit so treat them with respect and allow them to spearhead change!

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