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Volunteer recruitment guide: 13 strategies to secure support

March 25, 2024
This image shows three business professionals of varying ethnicities standing together smiling while discussing volunteer recruitment.

Quality volunteers are often the bricks that hold nonprofit organizations together. They can be significant contributors to your fundraising campaigns, program delivery, and even donor stewardship. Because of their value to your organization, it’s worth investing in a robust volunteer program — starting with recruitment.

If you’re not sure where to begin or have had limited success recruiting volunteers in the past, don’t worry. This guide will cover everything you need to know about the volunteer recruitment process, including tips to effectively recruit loyal volunteers.

What is volunteer recruitment?

Volunteer recruitment is the process of promoting your organization’s volunteer program and securing new volunteers for your cause. The goal of recruitment is to find and attain volunteers who care about your nonprofit’s purpose and want to devote their time to your cause long term.

Successful volunteer recruitment typically involves identifying potential volunteers, suggesting the right opportunities, and communicating your cause effectively. Ideally, you should balance recruitment with retention efforts to maintain a healthy volunteer program.

Why is volunteer recruitment important?

Recruitment is essential for building a strong volunteer force and filling the gaps that lapsed volunteers leave behind. These volunteers help your nonprofit raise funds, run events, staff programs, advocate for your cause, and more.

To truly understand the importance of volunteer recruitment for nonprofits, take a look at these statistics from AmeriCorps and the Council of Nonprofits:

Four statistics about the importance of volunteer recruitment, also listed in the text below

  • One-third of the nonprofit workforce is made up of volunteers.
  • Two out of three nonprofits said demand for their services increased in 2022.
  • About 28.7% of nonprofits have less funding and staff than they used to.
  • Volunteering rates dropped by 7% in recent years.

Nonprofits everywhere are seeing increased community needs and fewer resources to fulfill those needs. For organizations with limited staff capacity, volunteers are the answer. But since volunteering rates are dropping, it’s more essential than ever to prioritize volunteer recruitment and provide meaningful experiences for volunteers.

Basic steps for how to recruit volunteers

The volunteer recruitment process can be boiled down to five key steps:

Five steps for how to recruit volunteers, listed in the sections below

Identify your volunteer needs and improvement opportunities

First, take a look at your existing volunteer program to discover opportunities for improvement and clarify your most pressing needs. Explore volunteer information in your database, and ask questions like:

  • What aspects of our volunteer program are working well?
  • Which programs and initiatives do we need the most help with?
  • How many new volunteers do we need?
  • Which volunteer opportunities get the most sign-ups? Which ones get the least?
  • What have our biggest recruitment challenges been in the past?

Additionally, analyze any feedback you’ve gotten from past volunteers. For instance, if multiple lapsed volunteers said they stopped volunteering because they didn’t hear about opportunities, you’ll know that you need to ramp up your marketing efforts.

Solidify your messaging

Once you have a better understanding of your needs, draft the messaging you’ll use to recruit volunteers. Use multiple communication channels to get potential volunteers’ attention, but be sure to ground all of your outreach in one core message that explains why supporters should volunteer.

Emphasize the benefits of volunteering: Volunteers make more of an impact on your cause, get to connect with like-minded individuals, develop skills, and more. Keep your messaging volunteer-centric, focusing on how they can help instead of how your organization will benefit.

Create role descriptions

You’ll get the right people for the positions you’re looking to fill if you have clear, specific volunteer role descriptions. Make sure to include:

  • A title that describes the role, such as “Tree Planting Volunteer” or “Auction Volunteer”
  • Core responsibilities in a list format that describe exactly what the volunteer will do
  • Dates, times, and locations for the volunteering opportunity
  • Calls to action (CTAs) with short, impactful language that inspires volunteers to sign up

You can also attract potential volunteers with fun job titles and unique descriptions of the activities they’ll participate in. For instance, if you’re looking for someone to help with graphic design, you could say you’re looking for a “digital artist extraordinaire.” 

Optimize your registration form

Your online registration form is an essential volunteer recruitment tool. Since every interested volunteer will visit this page, it needs to provide a good user experience for them to follow through and sign up.

Take the following steps now to optimize the form so you won’t have to make changes midway through your recruitment efforts:

  • Simplify the form by removing any unnecessary questions and fields
  • Make sure all language is clear and straightforward
  • Update the form to align with any changes you’ve made to your volunteer program
  • Test the page on mobile devices to ensure everything works seamlessly on volunteers’ phones

To improve accessibility and cater to more diverse potential volunteers, consider offering translations of your registration form in other languages, too. 

Choose volunteer recruitment strategies

Once you have the infrastructure in place, determine exactly what tactics you’ll use to recruit volunteers. Will you focus on social media recruitment or run multiple email campaigns? Will you ask existing volunteers to vouch for your nonprofit’s program and recruit their friends? 

Explore the top volunteer recruitment ideas listed below and choose the strategies that best align with your resources and goals.

13 volunteer recruitment ideas and strategies

1. Leverage volunteer management software

Specialized platforms like Bonterra Volunteer Management can help you streamline and optimize the volunteer recruitment process. With this software, you can access impactful features like:

  • Centralized, automated email and mobile messaging: Make reaching out to prospective volunteers easier and more efficient with automation. You’ll save your team valuable time and reach more interested supporters with personalized messages.
  • Social sharing features: Encourage volunteers to share opportunities with their friends and families with integrated social sharing.
  • Volunteer management dashboard: Track volunteer hours, events, and outreach from a centralized, easy-to-use dashboard.
  • Volunteer engagement features: Once you’ve recruited a new volunteer, keep them engaged with personalized feeds, newsletters, and suggestions for upcoming opportunities that may interest them.

These features can help you leverage whichever volunteer recruitment ideas you choose with ease and efficiency — all from one centralized platform.

Looking for a full-suite solution where you can house volunteer data and meet all of your donor management and fundraising needs in one place? Explore Bonterra Fundraising & Engagement, our comprehensive donor management software solution.

2. Use multiple channels for volunteer recruitment

Share your volunteer opportunities through a variety of public channels. Use this widespread messaging to garner interest and find individual prospects to reach out to on a more personal level. Spread the word about your opportunities via:

  • Email
  • Multiple social media platforms
  • Direct mail
  • Text
  • Your website

Also, consider directly asking key prospects to volunteer by inviting them out for a coffee chat or another special event. This shows you’re invested in their continued involvement and strengthens their relationship with your nonprofit. During your conversation, let them know that you think they would do a great job and that you’d be honored to have them as a part of your team.

3. Establish relationships with corporate sponsors

Corporate sponsorships provide plenty of benefits for both your nonprofit and the sponsoring business. One key benefit for you is the wider access you get by putting your organization in front of the sponsor’s audience. Lean into this benefit and leverage it for volunteer recruitment by developing stronger relationships with corporate sponsors and asking them to promote your volunteer opportunities to their audiences.

4. Simplify participation

Make it easy for anyone to volunteer by offering a variety of simple ways to participate. For instance, short-term projects are less intimidating and easier for new volunteers to join. With short projects, potential supporters will be able to manage their workloads themselves, which helps motivate them to do their best work. 

Allow new volunteers to explore multiple short-term projects and choose one that suits their interests and availability. This way, they’ll feel more excited to work and be comfortable with the tasks.

5. Ask existing volunteers to help with recruitment

Loyal, passionate volunteers who understand the ins and outs of your cause often make the best recruiters. 

Send personalized invitations to current volunteers asking them to speak at a recruitment event, or simply ask them to share your marketing materials on their personal social media accounts. Additionally, remind your existing volunteers to spread the word about your program and invite friends to volunteer with them.

6. Create incentives for volunteering

Make your opportunities as much about your volunteers as possible, and inspire extra interest by providing and highlighting specific incentives. Your cause may be what attracts these potential supporters, but how your nonprofit rewards them and shows appreciation for their hard work is what will cement their loyalty. You might offer:

Six ideas for incentives to offer in the volunteer recruitment process, listed below

  • Small gifts like branded merchandise
  • Free food and beverages
  • Personal shout-outs on social media
  • Leadership opportunities
  • Professional networking opportunities
  • Recognition awards, like a volunteer of the month

If nothing else, these incentives will inspire potential volunteers to learn more about your opportunities and encourage existing volunteers to keep coming back.

7. Revamp your onboarding process.

Successful volunteer recruitment means that new volunteers show up to shifts and devote their time to your cause, not just sign up. 

If your organization sees high registration numbers but lower attendance rates, it may be a sign that you need to improve your onboarding process. You might do this by:

  • Creating a welcome email series for new volunteers
  • Establishing a more formal training process
  • Hosting a virtual or in-person onboarding session
  • Mailing or handing out physical copies of a welcome packet

When you have a new and improved onboarding experience, you can highlight it in conversations with prospective volunteers and prove to them that you take volunteers seriously. These efforts can also boost volunteer recruitment by showing prospects that you’ll provide plenty of support for them if they sign up.

8. Reach out to lapsed volunteers

As the name suggests, volunteering is voluntary, but you can still ask former volunteers if they’d be interested in filling a specific role for your organization. Many people who show interest in a cause actually prefer to be approached and asked directly, especially if they’re not sure how to get started or whether they’re the right fit for an open role.

9. Get help from your board

Your board of directors is the authority on your nonprofit’s needs and can provide valuable insight into your volunteer program. Get together with key members of your staff and board to create a well-informed volunteer recruitment team.

Meet with this recruitment team at least once a month to discuss any open volunteer positions, what types of people you’d like to fill them, and if any board members have existing connections who would be a good fit. This will keep your team on the same page and streamline the recruitment process.

10. Host informational sessions

Quick sessions that provide basic information about your volunteer program can help you boost recruitment success and get to know prospective volunteers at the same time. Plus, virtual information sessions are easy for anyone to attend. 

Give interested individuals a quick presentation about what your organization does, how volunteers help further your purpose, and why volunteering with your nonprofit is such a rewarding experience. Set aside time to answer questions, and consider bringing in a current volunteer to give their perspective and vouch for your program.

11. Design a volunteer recruitment page on your website

Create a new page on your nonprofit’s website that’s designed to recruit volunteers and provide them with information about your opportunities. A compelling volunteer recruitment page should include:

A list of elements to include on a volunteer recruitment page, also listed in the text below

  • Information about your volunteer program
  • Upcoming volunteer opportunities
  • Stand-out CTA buttons
  • Photos of real volunteers at work
  • Testimonials from current volunteers
  • Links to your volunteer registration page

You might also include a quick form prospective volunteers can fill out to express their interest and learn more about opportunities. For instance, a simple questionnaire can help them learn something about themselves by answering questions about their strengths, weaknesses, skills, and volunteer preferences while also providing you with important information about them. This then allows you to better match incoming volunteers to tasks that align with their interests.

12. Create opportunities for leadership development

A key benefit of volunteering is the opportunity to learn and develop new skills that volunteers can use in their personal and professional lives. In particular, many of your volunteers will be interested in developing their leadership skills. Provide opportunities to do so upfront, and you’ll inspire more aspiring leaders to volunteer.

You might offer new volunteers the chance to help manage an event, speak at an advocacy rally, mentor a group of local students, or lead a Giving Day team. If you’re unsure what kind of leadership opportunities to offer, survey current and potential volunteers to ask what they would be interested in directly.

Don’t know what kind of questions to ask volunteers? Check out our video below to learn the best survey techniques. 

Watch Ep. 9: Surveys for supporter engagement on YouTube.

13. Use online volunteer networks

Volunteer sites like Bonterra’s Mobilize solution are hubs for volunteers to find opportunities that interest them. Anyone can visit these websites and scroll through hundreds of volunteer opportunities near them, making these networks a powerful recruitment tool. Advertise your opportunities on these sites, and you’ll get access to large networks of interested, passionate volunteers.

Go beyond volunteer recruitment with Bonterra

Successful volunteer recruitment will inspire supporters to donate an important part of their lives to you — their time. Give them as many reasons to remain with your nonprofit as possible by building personal connections and showing them that you value their efforts. 

With Bonterra Volunteer Management, recruiting and managing volunteers has never been easier. Learn how our intuitive platform can help your organization streamline volunteer management processes and ultimately recruit more volunteers for your cause.

Ready to supercharge your volunteer recruitment strategies?

    Volunteer Management
  • Volunteerism
  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing