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How to Attract and Recruit Volunteers for Your Nonprofit Organization

Practical advice for recruiting and onboarding volunteers to work for your non-profit organization.

Maneesh Sharma
Digital Marketing Professional at Donorbox
Contributing Experts
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Recruiting volunteers is a fundamental aspect of sustaining and expanding the impactful work carried out by nonprofit organizations. These individuals can contribute a lot of value including their precious time, skills, and passion to support a noble mission.

However, finding and retaining volunteers is not as easy as it sounds. You have to carefully plan and implement some effective strategies while carrying out the recruitment practice.

In this article, we explore the best practices for recruiting and retaining volunteers, using strategies that can empower nonprofit organizations to attract enthusiastic individuals who fit into their mission and help create lasting change.

In This Article

How Recruiting Volunteers Differs from Recruiting Employees


The main difference between recruiting volunteers and recruiting employees is how they relate to their organization and their motivation to work. Basically, employees are hired to perform specific tasks that they are experienced and trained on in exchange for compensation (in monetary value) and other employee benefits. They are motivated by factors such as salaries, career advancements, and job security.

Volunteer recruitment efforts and outreach don’t require that you offer a contract or compensation. Prospective volunteers willingly offer their time and skills, without any expectations in return (except for their own satisfaction after helping). Their motivations include personal values, a desire to be a part of initiatives they align with or a certain cause. Volunteer opportunities can offer valuable experiences which may benefit their career, or the person is just eager to make a difference in their community.

It is important for organizations to understand these motivations, especially when recruiting future volunteers, to ensure their commitment and personal interests align with the organization’s mission and cause.

The Selection Process

Employees have to go through rigorous screening and job interviews to assess their skills, experiences, education, qualifications, and even their cultural fit.

The process of recruiting volunteers is more flexible and mainly focuses on assessing an individual’s personal interests. Make sure their interests and values align with the mission. A recruitment plan for volunteers also needs to confirm a person’s availability and commitment and their volunteer job.

When it comes to commitment and retention, employees are expected to commit for a longer time, depending on their signed contract. Nonprofits do not have the same expectations of volunteer work, as they tend to have more flexible commitments. They can choose to commit to the organization only for a short term.


While employment contracts, taxations, and other labor laws apply for employees, volunteers may only be subjected to some insurance coverages and volunteer waivers.

What Volunteers Value in Recruitment Marketing

When recruiting volunteers, there are certain things that community members consider when deciding if they want to join your organization’s mission or not.

Here are the key aspects you should highlight in your recruitment marketing to attract potential volunteers;

Your Mission and Purpose

When marketing your volunteer program, it is important to clearly and concisely state your organization’s mission and purpose. A well-defined mission helps them understand what they are connecting with, as well as the commitment they’re making. A specific message in this regard will also help you reach the right volunteers who will bring optimal value to your organization.

You can do this by crafting a clear mission statement, highlighting specific goals and objectives, showcasing your success stories and impact, using visual storytelling, and being authentic and passionate when communicating your mission and purpose.

Impact and Meaningful Work

Volunteers want to be a part of a mission that will impact and change their communities and society at large in a positive way. It is therefore important to highlight the potential impact they can make when they join your cause.

You can share some examples of success that past volunteers had and the impact they made. Use a narrative or create a visual that shows a before and after scenario, and incorporate some feedback and testimonials from previous volunteers.

Volunteer Appreciation and Recognition

Everyone loves to be recognized and appreciated for their hard work and efforts— so are volunteers. You can show your appreciation in various ways such as expressing sincere gratitude and words of appreciation to volunteers for their time, dedication, and contributions. Habitually recognize and celebrate volunteer achievements, and provide certificates or badges that volunteers can display on their profiles.

Through word-of-mouth, the efforts you make to recognize and reward your current volunteers will support your efforts in recruiting new ones.

Training and Support

As much as volunteers have an interest in your mission, they also want to feel prepared and well-equipped to perform the responsibilities required of them, or they’re not going to sign up or stick around. Highlight how you will support your volunteers in your recruitment marketing by talking about your onboarding and training efforts.

You can conduct comprehensive orientation and onboarding sessions to welcome new volunteers, provide training for specific roles, and provide opportunities for continuous learning. As established groups of volunteers get to know the ropes, you can use their experience to provide mentorship programs.

Using online tools and software for knowledge transfer can be an immense help to ensure your volunteers have a positive onboarding and training experience. As nonprofit organizations rarely have large budgets for software, we recommend looking at free onboarding tools and free learning management systems that offer high-quality, consistent learning journeys you can leverage at no cost.

Opportunities for Personal Growth

Regardless of how interested potential volunteers are in your cause, it is always a plus if they can also get something out of it.

Often, volunteers seek opportunities to develop new skills and enhance their existing ones. By offering opportunities for skill development and personal growth you are more likely to attract good volunteers.

These opportunities may include training and workshops, mentorship programs, access to various resources such as online courses and e-books, and empowerment in decision-making.

A non-profit organization using an event to increase awareness of volunteer opportunities.

Ideas And Strategies for Recruiting Volunteers

Define Your Volunteer Needs

What exactly are you looking for?

Recognize the roles and responsibilities you need the volunteers to fill before you even start your recruitment marketing. Identify the specific skills, experience, knowledge, time commitment, and qualifications for each role.

  • Assess and evaluate our organization’s needs and where volunteers can make the most impact.
  • Create job descriptions for volunteers.
  • Determine and identify the necessary skills, knowledge, and qualification for each volunteer position.
  • Determine and specify the time commitment you need for each volunteer position.
  • Determine whether you need your volunteers to report in person for all their work, or whether there is opportunity for virtual volunteer work that they can do at home.

Leverage Social Media

We are living in a digital era. Capitalize on the networking opportunities this offers via social media.

  • Identify and choose a social media platform where your target audience hangs out and focus your efforts there.
  • Develop content and messages that outline your mission and goals. Use this to plan out your content themes and posting schedules. A social media plan and posting schedule will help you maintain consistency and maximize your reach
  • Share impactful stories and feature your current volunteers as much as possible.
  • Use visual content such as images and videos to capture the attention of your target audience.
  • Create engaging and interactive content like asking questions, running polls, and hosting contests

Community Events and Fairs

Attend your local community events and fairs so that you can display information about your organization’s mission and volunteer opportunities. Engage visitors by sharing impactful success stories and collect contact details from interested individuals.

Keep these pointers in mind;

  • Select events that align with your mission and target audience.
  • Ensure your booth table is equipped with learning and information materials to train and empower your potential volunteers.
  • Take the opportunity to network, connect, and build relationships with other organizations and community leaders.
  • After the event, ensure to follow up with the individuals who left their contact details and showed interest.

Develop A Volunteer Referral Program

Volunteer referral programs encourage your existing volunteers to invite their friends, family, and colleagues to participate in your organization. You can offer incentives such as recognition or a small reward for successful referrals.

  • Set clear goals for the program and determine the specific objective you want to achieve with it.
  • Clearly define the referral process by providing a referral form or digital platforms. Make sure to clearly outline the information needed such as contact information and their relationship with the existing volunteer.
  • Track and acknowledge referrals from volunteers so that you can recognize their recruitment efforts.
  • Provide your volunteers with resources they can use to effectively advocate for your organization and volunteer opportunities.
  • Always show appreciation to both referring volunteers and the referred individuals

Host Information Sessions and Workshops

Information sessions are a great way to engage with interested individuals and provide them with in-depth details about your organizations and volunteer opportunities. To make the most out of these sessions and workshops:

  • Plan ahead and determine the relevant topics to cover that also aligns with your audience’s interest and needs.
  • Based on your goals and the content, choose the right format for your sessions. This may be a panel discussion, presentation, etc.
  • Use various channels and platforms to promote your sessions and workshops. Email newsletters, a page on your website, your social media platforms, etc.
  • Communicate the next steps at the end of the sessions and follow up with attendees who expressed interest in volunteering.
A woman raises her hand to ask a question during a training and orientation session for newly recruited volunteers

Onboarding And Training Volunteers

Getting new volunteers for nonprofits doesn’t end with recruiting. There is still the onboarding and training process, as well as continuous volunteer management.

Volunteers are usually trained to ensure they are fully prepared and equipped with the skills, knowledge, and resources to fulfill their responsibilities in the mission.

Here are some essential steps for onboarding and training volunteers;

Volunteer Orientation

The very first step to onboarding volunteers is to conduct a comprehensive orientation session to familiarize them with your organization. Begin your orientation by giving them a warm welcome and introducing yourself and other staff members to create a friendly and inclusive atmosphere.

You can then provide an overview of your organization’s history, and explain your mission and objectives. This will help the new volunteers understand what your organization’s purpose is and the cause you are working towards.

In your orientation, make sure to also explain your organization’s structure and key personnel, volunteer roles and expectations, safety policies, and communication channels.

Remember, the purpose of volunteer orientation is to welcome and inform the new volunteers. Try to make it as interactive and engaging as possible.

Role-Specific Training

Assign volunteers tasks that align with their skills, interests, and roles. Provide hands-on demonstrations whenever necessary to show them how to perform their tasks correctly.

Make sure to develop training formats that are most appropriate for the nature of the different roles, based on the available resources. Create training materials like manuals, handbooks, or online resources to explain the duties and required skills for each role. You can also incorporate practical exercises to reinforce learning.

Working collaboratively with staff members or experienced volunteers is also an easy way for new volunteers to ask questions, seek clarification, request feedback, and learn.

Shadowing and Mentorship

Shadowing and mentorship mean giving experienced volunteers a chance to train and mentor new volunteers in their specific interests and roles. This way, they can observe and learn from the more experienced staff.

Select experienced volunteers who have demonstrated proficiency in their roles and pair them with the new volunteers to work together. Arrange shadowing opportunities for new volunteers to observe their mentors in action and encourage active learning.

Slowly and gradually, as new volunteers gain familiarity and confidence, provide them with opportunities to take on more responsibility within their roles.

Safety and Procedures Training

Safety training is a critical aspect of volunteer training, especially if the volunteers will be working in a potentially risky environment.

Create clear and concise safety protocols and procedures that address any identified risks and hazards, and provide safety training materials, such as manuals, handouts, or online resources, that cover the safety protocols and procedures.

Volunteers distributing goods in their community.

Best Practices for Retaining Volunteers

For any nonprofit organization, long-term volunteers create a sense of continuity and consistency. These individuals develop invaluable institutional knowledge about your organization.

Since they are more experienced and proficient in their roles, their efficiency and productivity lead to improved outcomes of the organization’s goals and make more significant impacts on the mission.

However, to retain your volunteers you have to foster a good relationship with them and increase volunteer satisfaction and engagement.

  • Ensure each volunteer clearly understands their role, responsibilities, and expectations. Check in often to ascertain whether they are still engaged and confident in their contributions.
  • Provide volunteers with challenging and meaningful work that makes them feel valuable and impactful. As long as there is tangible evidence of their effort, it will be easier to keep them committed.
  • Effective communication, transparency, and authenticity are important aspects of volunteer work. Maintain open lines of communication about their experience at the organization. Keep your volunteers informed of all events and update them of any changes.
  • Create a welcoming and inclusive environment that provides volunteers with a sense of community and belonging.
  • Provide opportunities for volunteers to acquire new skills and knowledge, and grow professionally.
  • Continuously recognize their efforts and communicate the impact of their work and the difference they are making in the community or the organization.

Dos And Don’t of Recruiting and Engaging Volunteers

To ensure success in recruiting and engaging volunteers for your nonprofit organization, you should know what to do and not to do.

  • Do ensure you provide a clear and concise description of each volunteer’s roles, responsibilities, and position.
  • Do provide a comprehensive volunteer orientation and training program.
  • Do acknowledge their efforts and show your genuine appreciation through recognition and non-monetary rewards.
  • Do engage each volunteer with tasks that align with their interests and skills.
  • Do provide room for their personal and professional growth and development.
  • Don’t assume everyone is familiar with your organization – You could have a big name in the community but you still need to take the time to explain your organization’s values, mission, and goals to any interested volunteers.
  • Don’t micromanage! Volunteer management is a big part of the whole process. However, excessive controlling and micromanaging only suggest that you don’t trust your volunteers to efficiently perform their duties. Only provide guidance and support when necessary.
  • Don’t take your volunteers for granted. Volunteers selflessly offer their precious time, energy, skills, and knowledge for free to contribute to your organization’s cause and mission. Make sure to always appreciate all their contributions and let them know they are highly valued.


Volunteers play a pivotal role in the success and sustainability of nonprofit organizations, and implementing effective strategies is crucial to attract and maintain a dedicated and passionate volunteer base.

Implementing the volunteer retention and recruitment strategies discussed here will help you make the most of the valuable gift of their time.

Maneesh Sharma
Digital Marketing Professional at Donorbox
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Maneesh Sharma is the Digital Marketing Professional at Donorbox, a US-based technology company that offers online fundraising software which allows individuals and nonprofit organizations to receive donations over the Internet. He is also an expert in sourcing, retaining, and onboarding good volunteers at non-profit organizations.

Maneesh has been previously interviewed and featured on TDWI and contributed to HuffPost & several popular blogs.

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