It’s no secret that many nonprofits rely on volunteers to help support their work, broaden their impact, and fulfill their mission.
But you might be wondering—why are nonprofit volunteers so important? And how do I start using volunteers at my nonprofit?
We’ll show you! Keep reading to learn the value of nonprofit volunteers, what they can contribute to your organization, and how to begin recruiting volunteers to serve your nonprofit!
Why are Nonprofit Volunteers Important?
Volunteers are key to the success of many nonprofits! Why are they so important? Let’s dive in!
Volunteers can save you money.
Rather than paying for a full or part-time employee, a volunteer can help do work for your nonprofit for free. Keep in mind that not every task or project may be appropriate for a volunteer. But you can utilize them in a lot of different ways—fundraising, communications, program oversight, and community outreach. The options are endless!
Volunteers can boost your organization’s visibility.
Volunteers with a positive experience are likely to share their experience with friends and family. This exposure increases the number of folks who hear about—and potentially support—your organization. Recruiting volunteers is an amazing way to get your local community involved in your mission.
Volunteers can increase your nonprofit’s impact.
It’s simple: volunteers help you get more work done. The more volunteers you use, the more items you can check off your organization’s “to-do list”.
Volunteers can also fill unique roles that your organization might need. For example, if you have a big event that you’re preparing for, rather than hiring staff or paying current staff to work overtime, volunteers can help set up and execute your event for free!
Volunteers can supply diverse skills!
In small nonprofits, or those who are just starting up, there are likely a limited number of paid staff—if any! One person can’t do everything. But volunteers will bring a diverse array of skills to your organization!
Volunteers can assist with admin work, technology, event planning, direct program oversight, fundraising, communications, and so much more. One of the greatest benefits of utilizing volunteers is the breadth and depth of skills they bring to the table!
How to Prepare for Nonprofit Volunteers
You’re ready to embrace the incredible benefits that volunteers will bring to your nonprofit. That’s great!
But it’s important to make sure your organization is prepared to launch a volunteer program before you begin recruiting volunteers. The time and effort you invest to ensure you are prepared will pay off when your volunteers feel valued and keep coming back!
Here are 7 things to think about to prepare your nonprofit to work with volunteers:
1. Assess the skills you need
If you’re using volunteers correctly, they’ll be filling gaps that exist in your organization. Your nonprofit staff is likely stretched to capacity—this is where volunteers come in. However, it’s important for you to identify those gaps before you recruit volunteers.
Ask your staff (or yourself) where the gaps are, then create a list of skills or expertise that could fill those gaps. Use this as a starting point as you begin your recruitment efforts.
Here are some examples of common areas of volunteer expertise:
- Grant writing
- Content writing (social media, website, marketing materials)
- Video design
- IT support
- Event planning
- Financial management
- Administrative tasks (for example, mailing thank you’s to donors or sorting mail)
- Event support (promoting an event, volunteering to work at an event, etc.)
2. Know your capacity
An important piece of preparing to work with volunteers is knowing your capacity. Yes, volunteers provide diverse and valuable skill sets and help your nonprofit fulfill its mission—but they also need to be trained, supervised, and provided with ongoing feedback.
If you’re the sole paid employee at your nonprofit, you likely don’t have the capacity to manage 20-30 volunteers at a time.
Do an internal assessment about who in your organization will manage the volunteers and how much time and capacity they have to do so.
3. Create volunteer job descriptions
As with paid employees, volunteers need a clear description of what is expected of them. Investing the time to create documented job descriptions for your nonprofit volunteers will pay off by reducing confusion and frustration down the road.
In the job descriptions, be sure to outline the time required for the volunteer role, the schedule, and the key functions of the role. Be sure also to list the desired skills and experience that you want in a volunteer who will fill that role.
You don’t want someone with zero years of financial management experience to try to balance your budget! You also don’t want someone who is very introverted to serve as a greeter at your big fundraising gala! Clarity is key in ensuring that your volunteers are matched with jobs that are a great fit for them.
4. Create a volunteer handbook
A volunteer handbook is a great resource for new volunteers to get to know your organization! You can make your handbook digital or provide printed copies, whichever you prefer. Here are a few items you want to be sure to include in your nonprofit volunteer handbook:
- Your organization’s mission, vision, and history
- An organizational chart of your paid staff (if applicable)
- Contact information for the volunteer’s manager
- Volunteer job description, including time commitments and schedule
- Organizational calendar including holidays/days the organization is closed
- Volunteer onboarding and training schedule
- Resources your volunteers might find useful, for example, community resources they might need to access, or online databases they will need to use in the scope of their role
5. Create a volunteer onboarding, training, & retention plan
Most nonprofits assign volunteer management duties to a paid, full-time staff member; some nonprofits even have a Volunteer Coordinator position specifically to supervise volunteers. Whoever in your organization supervises and manages your volunteers should also be charged with creating an onboarding and training program for them.
This program should include the following:
- Volunteer onboarding plan: This should include everything from the job application your volunteers will fill out to ensuring that all volunteers have the appropriate background checks and clearances to conduct their work. Volunteer files will need to be stored somewhere secure once they’re assembled.
- Volunteer training plan: You should offer your volunteers the same (or similar) training that you offer to new employees. This is a great time to provide them with the volunteer handbook!
- Volunteer recognition and retention plan: It’s important to be intentional about recognizing and thanking your volunteers. There are a lot of ways you can do this, but creating an annual plan that details how you will recognize volunteers throughout the year is a great place to start!
Consider hosting a volunteer recognition breakfast, regular volunteer happy hours or “lunch and learn” sessions, or other events where volunteers get acknowledged and get to interact with you face-to-face.
6. Prepare your staff
If your nonprofit has staff, it’s important that they are included in the planning and launch of your volunteer program.
Even if they won’t have direct supervision duties over volunteers, it is possible that any and all of your staff might be approached by a potential volunteer during their work. They must know the ins and outs of your volunteer program so that they can be an ambassador of your volunteer program to the larger community!
7. Create a recruitment plan
Volunteer recruitment takes time! Once you know the skills you need from your volunteers, you’re ready to start recruiting.
Volunteer recruitment is a constant cycle—you should be prepared to conduct recruitment throughout the year. Even if you do a great job at retaining volunteers, it’s not likely they’ll stay with your organization forever— life happens! As volunteers move on to other things, you’ll need to recruit new volunteers to replace them.
Here Are 11 Ways To Recruit Volunteers For Your Nonprofit
Feeling overwhelmed about where and how to recruit nonprofit volunteers? Don’t worry! Efficiently recruiting volunteers for your nonprofit requires a strategic approach. Follow these steps to attract dedicated volunteers who align with your organization's mission:
1. Use an online volunteer platform
Using an online volunteer platform to post volunteer opportunities is a great way for potential volunteers to learn about your organization and your needs. There are several existing platforms you can research to see if they’d be a good fit for your organization, including Volgistics and VolunteerMatch.
Using an online platform can also help you keep track of volunteer applications, paperwork, and background checks in one location as well.
2. Get volunteer recommendations from your network
Leverage your personal and professional network to spread the word about volunteer opportunities within your nonprofit.
If you know someone that would be a good fit, ask them! If they say no, ask if they might have recommendations of other individuals who may be interested in volunteering. You’ll be surprised at how many connections you can make just by talking to your friends, mentors, and colleagues!
3. Create a recruitment video
A great way to recruit potential volunteers is to create a video that shows an inside look at your organization and how volunteers can get involved. Make sure the video is high-quality, but you don’t need to spend a fortune working with a professional videographer. A lot of smartphones have great video capabilities!
Habitat for Humanity has a great volunteer recruitment video that you can check out as an example. It’s powerful!
Give potential volunteers a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at your nonprofit, introduce them to your staff, and show them all the ways they can use their skills to support your work!
4. Develop relationships with local businesses
A great way to get support for your volunteer program is to reach out to local businesses in your community! Ask if they would sponsor a volunteer day or donate supplies to your nonprofit for a volunteer-led project. This is a great way to get them involved while also providing them with some positive publicity!
For more tips on getting support from local businesses, check out our post on how to make a compelling case to corporate funders!
5. Host a volunteer open house
Host an open house at your nonprofit where potential volunteers can come and learn about your organization and the ways they can get involved. Make sure this event is well-organized and well-publicized so that attendance is high.
Have informational materials and volunteer applications available at your event, as well as the staff members from your nonprofit that will be working directly with volunteers. You could even have a current volunteer speak at the event about their positive experience with your organization!
6. Attend local events
Get out and about in your community! Attend community meetings, career fairs, college and university events, or community days.
Use these opportunities to grow your network, speak about your nonprofit and your volunteer opportunities, and hand out informational materials. This is a great way to raise awareness about your work and connect with potential volunteers in person.
7. Use social media
Developing a social media strategy is an important tool to connect with potential volunteers and promote your volunteer opportunities. To get started, determine your target audience and key messages, and then use relevant social media platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, etc.) to spread the word!
Be sure to post regularly and make sure your content looks professional, is well-written, and is eye-catching.
Check out this great example from Girl Scouts in the Heart of PA!
8. Offer flexible opportunities
Offering flexible volunteer opportunities is a great way to reach a larger group of potential volunteers. Opportunities with non-traditional hours or remote work options are appealing to a wide range of folks who work full-time, are full-time caregivers, or have otherwise demanding schedules.
Remember—a volunteer that is only available for a few hours a week might have just as great an impact on your organization as someone who is available to work every day. It’s not necessarily the amount of time that someone has to give that is important, it’s the skills and passion they bring to your organization!
9. Leverage your current volunteers!
Your current volunteers are a great resource! Ask them to connect you to others in their personal and professional networks that might be interested in volunteering. Encourage your current volunteers to share your social media posts about volunteer needs on their personal pages to easily spread the word.
You can also host a “Bring a Friend to Work Day” and invite each of your current volunteers to bring a friend or family member with them. These friends and family might be inspired to become recurring volunteers themselves!
10. Ask your Board of Directors for help
Every nonprofit has a Board of Directors, most of whom serve in their roles as unpaid volunteers. This group is a great place to start to get personalized recommendations for potential new volunteers.
Your board likely has a vast network of personal and professional contacts who might be interested in volunteering for your nonprofit. Encourage your board to leverage those networks and provide you with referrals for folks who could be potential volunteers.
11. Connect with civic groups
Getting connected with civic groups like your local Rotary or Kiwanis clubs is a great way to meet potential nonprofit volunteers! These groups are constantly looking for volunteer opportunities for their members, so get on their radar and show them the value your organization brings to the community.
These groups also often invite guest speakers to their meetings and sometimes even have grant opportunities to fund local nonprofits. Getting connected with these organizations will benefit your nonprofit in so many ways!
How to Manage Nonprofit Volunteers
Once you’ve successfully prepared your nonprofit to recruit and work with volunteers, it’s time to think about who will be managing them—and how!
Managing volunteers is similar to managing paid staff, with one main difference: they don’t get paid! However, just like paid employees, volunteers must be treated with respect, provided with adequate training, supervised and offered feedback, and allowed to have a rewarding volunteer experience.
Who should manage nonprofit volunteers? Some nonprofits have a designated Volunteer Coordinator position on staff to oversee their volunteer program. If you don’t, that’s ok! The important thing is that you identify whose responsibility it is to manage and oversee volunteers and make sure your staff and volunteers know who that is.
One other important factor: volunteers must be thanked! Remember, they’re offering their time and talents to your nonprofit for free. You must show appreciation—whether with a thank you note or a gift—every single time someone volunteers for your organization. Check out our post on how to write thank you’s to volunteers for more volunteer recognition tips!
Acknowledging your volunteers will help increase volunteer retention. And retention is important! The more return volunteers you have, the less new recruitment you’ll need to do!
Wrapping Up: How to Recruit Volunteers for Your Nonprofit
Volunteers are a critical piece to the puzzle of a successful nonprofit. We’ve shown you how to prepare to utilize volunteers at your nonprofit, plus 11 different methods for recruiting new volunteers.
Don’t forget—every method might not work for your organization. You might have to try a few different recruitment strategies before you are successful. But don’t worry! Stay positive and persistent; you’ll be recruiting, onboarding, and retaining volunteers in no time!