The backbone of most non-profits is their Volunteer Force. Be it behind the scenes or client/front facing, this group of non-paid team members are giving their time, their skills and often their dollars to help make their chosen non-profit successful. They are invaluable to carrying out the mission and objectives of the non-profit and can also help build a connection with your community.
Recruiting and retaining top volunteer talent is no different than acquiring top paid talent – here are some tips to help you get the best of the best:
Put it on paper. What does being a volunteer look like. Are there age limits, any physical requirements, certain hours they need to be available, etc? Determine what each level of volunteer should look like so you can share the description with potential volunteers. Be crystal clear on any training that is involved.
Ask. People like to feel needed so if you want volunteers, just ask. Show them what being a volunteer looks like and share the “job descriptions” with them. The answer is always “no” if you don’t ask.
Use your team. Talk to your employees and board members to see if they know any individuals who would enjoy volunteering. Many times friends and family will volunteer for organizations they have a connection to vs. just picking a random organization.
Create a relationship. Make your volunteers feel appreciated. Whether new or old, make them want to come back. If you treat them like they are a vital part of your staff – which they are – they will have a much more rewarding experience that will make them want to keep donating their time and resources. Just like your employees need encouragement and a pat on the back for a job well done, so do your volunteers.
Not now isn’t final. If someone says, “not now”, that doesn’t mean not ever. People may be dealing with a lot of other issues or commitments that don’t allow them the time to volunteer at this time. They may only be able to volunteer seasonally due to other obligations or life circumstances. A “not now” isn’t a rejection, it just doesn’t fit in to their schedule right now. The secret is to keep in touch with them, include them in your email or print newsletters, invite them to events etc.
Interview them. Just because someone wants to volunteer, doesn’t mean they are a good fit for your organization. Screen your volunteers to make sure it’s a mutual fit. Your volunteers represent your non-profit so they should be chosen carefully.
Use social media. One of the best ways to get new volunteers is by using your social channels to put the word out. Ask your current employees and volunteers to share your request with their own network. It’s a super easy way to reach thousands of people.
Offer different levels of commitment. Not everyone can offer the same level of volunteerism. Offering different options to your volunteers lets them still be a part of the organization without feeling like they are overwhelmed. Consider levels such as just volunteering for annual events, being on a monthly committee, or being involved in weekly meetings. Each level is just as important as the next, so make sure your volunteers know they have options.
Make it fun. There is nothing worse than volunteering somewhere and feeling like it’s a chore. Your volunteers should feel like they are part of the team, and they should enjoy doing what they are doing. Ask them what they’d like to do and try to play to their skills or passion. Be positive, encouraging, and make sure you always thank them for their involvement.
A volunteer network is indeed critical to an organization’s overall success. Volunteers keep your nonprofit’s mission alive in their communities. You don’t have to stick to the usual methods for recruiting volunteers. Get creative with your strategies so you stand out from the crowd, get your name out there and make people want to volunteer with your organization.
Litchfield Branch Manager, Vice President