Recruiting volunteers through nonprofit marketing

Recruiting volunteers can be a challenge. But we’re giving you ways to create buzz around what your nonprofit is doing to help draw in new volunteers and advocates for your cause.

Volunteers make success possible

In the nonprofit world, we all know the importance of volunteers. But did you know that the current estimated value of each volunteer hour conducted in the United States is $29.95? This statistic points to an essential truth: Success truly is a team effort. And for your organization to make the biggest impact possible, it takes recruiting – and retaining – a committed team of volunteers.

Why do volunteers start volunteering?

From social needs to professional development to emotional connection, there are a number of different motivations for people to volunteer their time.

  • Feeling a sense of belonging. Volunteering is a way to connect with other like-minded, cause-driven people. And in becoming a part of such a group, volunteers create bonds that foster a sense of belonging.
  • Giving back to an organization that means a lot to them. Whether they were personally impacted by the nonprofit’s work or simply have a passion for the cause, people often get involved with nonprofits that are doing something that resonates with them personally.
  • Gaining new skills. Since volunteering is typically an “extra-curricular” activity – no matter the cause – it creates abundant opportunities for learning new skills.
  • Building a resume. Including volunteer positions to flesh out your resume might seem selfish at first, but volunteer experience can actually be the game-changer for landing a job where you can do a lot of good.
  • Helping others. There are certainly many reasons to volunteer, but the most basic is a desire to lend a hand where it’s needed.

Why don’t people volunteer?

There are a myriad of reasons to volunteer, but there are also a number of reasons why people don’t volunteer. 

  • Unrealistic expectations of what it takes to volunteer. Some feel inferior to those they see volunteering or think they’re too busy to give their time. Your job, then, is to show that anyone can make a difference and that doing so doesn’t have to be an inconvenience.
  • Not enough information is provided upfront. If you’re asking someone to give up their free time to help you, they deserve as much information as possible – about the time commitment, expectations, and other requirements. The last thing you want is a new volunteer showing up at the wrong time, location, or without required identification because of your poor communication. That’s a near guarantee they won’t be back or give a glowing review.

And possibly the most important to consider:

  • No one asked them. While it might be difficult to believe, people truly want to be asked to help. Not only does it give people a chance to do something they’ll feel good about, it also makes them feel wanted. Plus, asking for help with a specific task or event helps eliminate decision paralysis. This will happen if you simply send people to your website to sort through all of this year’s volunteer opportunities.

Recruiting volunteers made easy – well, easier

The choice to freely give your time away isn’t one people typically make flippantly, so make your nonprofit somewhere people want to be. This doesn’t require showy social media posts or over-the-top parties, though. As with anything else you do, the best policy is to keep it authentic.

Food pantries: After a food giveaway day, send out a social media post and newsletter with some clear photos of volunteers interacting with beneficiaries and other volunteers.

Animal shelters: You can’t go wrong with puppies and kittens! Grab some great shots of your volunteers snuggled up with the fluffy friends you care for.

Art centers: Draw (no pun intended) people into your event. Show how much fun people – including your volunteers – had at your latest gallery opening, art class, etc.

No matter your organization’s focus, show LOTS of smiles. And emphasize how important volunteers are to accomplishing the mission of [ending hunger in your area, giving every animal a loving home, spreading creativity etc.]. Note: It’s important to avoid making your organization the hero. Instead, clearly communicate that volunteers are what drive your organization’s work and that you truly couldn’t do it without them.

Lastly, remind volunteers of the truth about their time and efforts

It’s essential to show AND tell volunteers that they’re needed, why they’re needed, and what kind of difference their volunteerism makes. But here are a few tips to truly make your nonprofit stand out as THE place to volunteer:

  • Make your volunteer asks as personal as possible. Maybe a lot of your volunteers are from word-of-mouth referrals. That’s great! But maybe they aren’t yet. Make it easy for current volunteers and staff members to recruit new people by creating easy-to-access volunteer pages, forms, etc. 
  • Give regular volunteer shoutouts on social media. This can be done after a big event that required lots of help or on just a regular day. When possible, include a quote from a volunteer that encourages others to get involved. This shows why real people love helping and why others should, too.
  • Hold volunteer-only events. Making memorable experiences does NOT require totally blowing your budget! Get creative and host fun events for just your volunteers, and make it a time to remember!
  • Don’t overlook the value of a thank you note (bonus points if it’s sent by snail mail). It’s always valuable to thank those who help you, and a physical letter is a unique way to show your volunteers you know who they are and appreciate them. (Bonus: have an visible volunteer point-of-contact or high-ranking organization member hand sign it.)