Recruiting & retaining volunteers

Why do people choose to volunteer? Some volunteers may be looking to gain additional experience, while others may want to support an issue they care about by lending their skills or expertise.

Regardless of why a person chooses to help, we know volunteers play a vital role in the nonprofit world. Volunteers help develop and conduct programs, raise funds, and serve clients. The value of their hours can even be used as an in-kind match in many grant proposals. And in some cases, volunteers keep the entire organization running!

With the growing number of nonprofits in the U.S., and dwindling financial resources, it’s especially important that you know how to recruit and retain high-quality volunteers. This post will provide an overview of how to get and keep the volunteers you need.


Recruiting volunteers can seem overwhelming. Often, we have an idea of what we need but have difficulty finding people who align with our expectations. This is especially true for founding directors, who are used to doing everything alone (and in a certain way!). If this is the case for you, it’s time to let some of the responsibilities go.

How do you find volunteers? In many cases, volunteers are actively seeking opportunities. But in other cases, volunteers need to be connected to an opportunity that interests them. This is why recruiting is so important. Recruiting is an ongoing process that should be used to identify individuals you can work with to achieve a shared purpose.

Five ways to recruit volunteers:

  • Attend community events
    • Be active and visible in the community so potential volunteers can be aware of your organization’s goals.
    • Just ask and extend the invitation to volunteer to others.
    • Ask your current volunteers to bring their friends to events.
  • Market to your audience
    • Create a call to action to challenge volunteers to get involved. Share your call to action in your regular newsletters, social media posts, and website features.
    • Market your needs for prospective volunteers through community boards, shared calendars, and volunteer websites, like
  • Collaborate with your partners
    • Engage with partners to recruit volunteers for specific projects.
    • Ask for help from volunteer agencies who work with different volunteers such as United Way and the American Red Cross.
  • Provide an open house
    • Host regular open house events where interested individuals can learn about your organization, volunteer opportunities, and other levels of engagement.
  • Develop an internship program
    • Contact your local community college and universities to inquire about interns in your related field.
    • Create special projects so students can explore their interests and develop professional skills.

RELATED: Increasing Organizational Capacity with Interns


After implementing the tips mentioned above, you have successfully recruited volunteers. But it’s not just about getting them in the door; you have to think about how you will keep them there as well. This is where many organizations struggle, as volunteers often become disengaged or burnt out.

Often, due to lack of guidance, volunteers may feel ineffective or undervalued. Volunteers want their time to be used effectively and want to know their work is making a difference in some way. Such barriers have led to some organizations hiring a paid volunteer coordinator who can engage and coordinate with all issues related to volunteering. However, in many cases, volunteer activities are voluntarily led by individuals who are working in another capacity. Therefore, finding ways to share responsibilities and support volunteers and their work is vital to retainment.

Five ways to retain your volunteers:

  • Interview and select your volunteers
    • Conduct informal interviews to ensure the person is a good fit for your organization. This will also help you place volunteers in the right position.
    • Only select people who you believe will make a great volunteer. Just like a potential employee, not every potential volunteer is the right fit for your organization.
  • On-board and train
    • Create a specific and easy on-boarding process for volunteers so that they are immediately engaged.
    • Delegate a contact person who will communicate directly with all volunteers.
    • Train your volunteers to ensure they understand your organization, their responsibilities, volunteer guidelines, and overall expectations.
    • Create a volunteer schedule so individuals are aware of their assignments and upcoming opportunities.
  • Create and share success stories
    • Celebrate your volunteers’ great work by sharing their accomplishments through regular newsletters, social media posts, and website features.
    • Consider creating and sharing a volunteer spotlight to highlight a volunteer each month.
  • Reward your volunteers
    • Your volunteers want to feel appreciated. You can express your gratitude by providing a volunteer appreciation event.
    • Recognize your volunteers for their hours accomplished. This can be done by providing certificates. You can also create a point system to rank hours and honor those who meet milestones, such as number of years served, most hours served, etc.
    • Provide volunteers with tangible gifts for their service. Organizational swag is one of the best gifts! Consider customizing different swag items for your volunteers. Other great ideas include lapel pins, keychains, and even plants.
  • Provide perks
    • Your volunteers are members of your team, so it’s important to provide opportunities for different levels of engagement. Consider giving your volunteers more responsibility such as providing leadership opportunities or inviting them to serve on committees.
    • You can support them by providing free professional development, trainings, and leadership opportunities that support their interests.

As you can see, there is a lot of work that goes into recruiting and retaining volunteers. Volunteers help expand on the great work your organizations accomplish. They are an integral part of the success and sustainability of many programs. Therefore, it’s important to focus on recruiting volunteers who are a good fit for your organization. Be purposeful when recruiting your volunteers. And be even more purposeful in keeping your volunteers engaged with the great work you are doing.

Today, I challenge you to evaluate your current level of volunteer engagement. What’s one strategy you can implement to improve volunteer recruitment and retention?

Until next time!

Do you have any tips to share about recruiting and retaining volunteers? Please share below!

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Grant Readiness

April 16, 2019

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