“I always wondered why somebody didn't do something about that.
Then I realized I was somebody.”
- Lily Tomlin
We love the work of organizations like World Literacy Foundation, whose quest is to bring books and literacy support to children in need. This is just one of the many deserving charitable organizations that relies on the kindness of strangers (otherwise known as dedicated volunteers) to help meet its goals.
That got us thinking – just where do all those nonprofit organizations find such incredible supporters? How do they get potential volunteers interested in their mission, and bring them onboard? Once they start donating time to a cause or charitable event, how do organizations keep their current volunteers coming back to contribute?
You might think that finding potential volunteers to support a cause would be easy. Volunteering is rewarding in and of itself - a volunteer’s skills and time go to helping people, promoting change, or making the world a better place.
It can, however, be a huge commitment of physical, mental and emotional currency, so recruiting and retaining a strong core of committed volunteers has indeed become a challenge facing every single nonprofit organization.
If your nonprofit wants to attract more geese to the flock, these tips can help you not just find and recruit more volunteers, but also keep them engaged and committed to your cause...
Why Are Volunteers So Vital For a Nonprofit Organization?
Active volunteers are the lifeblood of successful nonprofit organizations. In the United States, it is estimated that over 63 million Americans volunteer annually, averaging about 50 hours per year. Pre-pandemic, four in five Canadians aged 15 and older reported that they volunteered, either as part of an organization or on their own without the involvement of a group. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians were most likely to dedicate their volunteer hours to hospitals and religious organizations, sports and recreation, and arts and culture - over 100 hours per year, on average.
Although more difficult to measure on a worldwide basis, in 2018 the United Nations Volunteer (UNV) programme estimated that one billion people chose to provide unpaid help to others. Their combined efforts equaled the work of 109 million full-time workers annually. And what do these volunteers contribute that is so vital for a nonprofit organization? Let’s count just some of the ways:
- Time, time, and more time: Think of all the support tasks volunteers are asked to perform – social media exposure, manning phones, spreading the word to others, and all the day-to-day activities that put some goose grease on the wheels of the organization. Whether it’s spreading the news about literacy, helping disadvantaged populations, or serving warm meals to hungry families, dedicated volunteers are at the front of the formation, happily and willingly donating their time to every incredible volunteer opportunity. Even if your organization had the best grant writers in the world, you would never find enough money to pay them for all that time.
- Expertise you couldn’t afford: Speaking of things you couldn’t afford otherwise, look at all the experts who volunteer their time and expertise for fundraising, marketing, business, and administrative tasks. You couldn’t afford the six-figure salary of a CPA, but nonetheless, your organization can get the benefit of that experience without paying anything if you get one to volunteer for you – quite the lucky bargain!
- Support for fundraising events: Community fundraising events can raise huge amounts of money, but they can cost a lot of money, too. You can lower your out-of-pocket costs by relying on a multitude of eager volunteer supporters to do everything from cook and serve food, set up chairs, organize fun activities, drive all over town, sell tickets, donate items, and on and on…
- And, yes, money, too: The vast majority of nonprofit volunteers don’t just support you with time; they support you with money, too. They’re the ones who will spend all day volunteering at your fundraising opportunity, and still buy tickets for themselves and their friends! (We love, love, love our volunteers!)
Ways To Boost Volunteer Recruitment
With all those pluses, it’s easy to see why filling volunteer positions with great people is the key to the success of so many nonprofit organizations. But one of the biggest challenges nonprofits typically face is building a reliable force of volunteers, and then getting those volunteers to stay engaged year after year. To help sweeten your volunteer opportunity, here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind when building your volunteer recruitment strategy:
- What Should be Included in a Volunteer Recruitment Message? Here’s where you get to think like a marketer. You’ve got a “product” to sell – a volunteer opportunity with your nonprofit organization – and you need to convince prospective volunteers to “buy” it by signing up to help. To communicate to your target audience, build a volunteer recruitment message that covers these components:
- Build Awareness: Clearly define the need your organization is addressing. Let them know who needs help, and why.
- Create Interest: Explain what your nonprofit organization is doing to address this crucial need. Create an emotional attachment by sharing stories of your impact.
- Instill Desire: Tell your prospects just what makes volunteering with your organization so fulfilling, and motivate them to want to realize the same benefits for themselves. Show lots of pictures or videos of your most active volunteers, and include some testimonials where they speak right from the heart. It’s not just about making people feel good about themselves - it’s about connecting with like-minded people who have the same hopes for the world that you do!
- Ask for Action: Every good marketing message has a Call To Action, or CTA, and your volunteer recruitment message should have one, too. Just what do you want your audience to do next – act, call, write, sign up to help, send money, join you on social media, or attend an event? Be very specific and give them clear direction on what to do.
- Have A Volunteer Onboarding Process: We could go on and on about this one - and we have! Your volunteer recruitment efforts actually worked, and you’ve got people ready and eager to help – now what? You’ve got to have a plan in place to get them up and flying, so they’ll want to stick around. Make it easy to sign-up, provide training to help them get to know more about your organization, and give them the opportunity to make meaningful connections with current volunteers or members of the community your organization is helping. Not only can you build excitement, you can also improve volunteer retention with thoughtful interactive experiences for onboarding. Here's a simple Goosechase Experience template you can customize for your own needs. It includes Missions for volunteers to get to know each other and your organization, while collecting some important data in the process.
- Offer A Range of Volunteer Opportunities: Some people are better at taking on certain responsibilities than others. If you stick an introvert at the door to a community event, or an extrovert in the office, it’s going to be a bad experience all around, and you’re going to turn them both off from volunteering at your next event. Have a range of volunteer opportunities available, and find the best fit for each position.
- Make Sure You Have a Volunteer Job Description: To help in matching supporters to your volunteer positions, have job descriptions available (not necessarily for helping at one-off events, but for your long-term support activities). Clearly identify the skills needed for the volunteer opportunity, and explain the tasks they will need to perform.
- What is Micro Volunteering? Are you getting a lot of “I don’t have time” pushback to your volunteering requests? Micro volunteering might be a solution. This is volunteering that can be done in small bursts or short periods of time. Potential volunteers may be more likely to respond if they know they won’t have to make a big time commitment.
How Do Nonprofits Retain Volunteers?
Once you’ve got your supporters up and running with your nonprofit organization, you’ve got to do the work to keep them around. Here are some ideas you can use to help retain active volunteers for your organization:
- Make Volunteering Fun: Your organization is serious about making change, but volunteering with it doesn’t have to be dull or daunting. Surprise your volunteers with little tokens of appreciation, or gift cards to local merchants or team snacks (coffee and cookies do wonders!). Create an atmosphere of fun with an event that is just for current volunteers – one where they don’t have to do all the work! Include fun activities and serve good food (not just the leftovers they get after helping out at one of your fundraisers!) Adapt our Goosechase Community Shenanigans template to help your supporters get to know your local community a little better. Spend some time having fun together as friends more than anything!
- Training: Just like in the business world, ongoing training is an important component of volunteer retention. Some organizations even have a volunteer portal on their website to provide current data and showcase volunteer opportunities. An added benefit is that volunteer training results in better volunteer performance and increased volunteer retention. Volunteer training should:
- Instill a deeper understanding of your organization’s mission
- Outline volunteer opportunity expectations and responsibilities
- Provide access to background information and educational resources
- Give volunteers an opportunity to practice any needed skills - not just for the opportunity at hand, but for other aspects of their life
- Recognize Volunteers: Although they volunteer for a bigger purpose, volunteers still like to know they are appreciated. Recognize your current volunteers with tokens of appreciation, “Volunteer of the Month” awards, “thank you” notes from community members who benefit from their generosity, or host an appreciation event full of fun activities at a local eatery or community space.
- Communicate Expectations: Tell volunteers what you expect, ask whether they understand, and check on whether they are meeting those expectations. Clarity in these areas keeps them committed to your organization, and helps with volunteer retention.
- Ask for Feedback: Current volunteers are excellent resources for information about what your organization does well, but you’ll also want to talk to some of the volunteers you’ve lost. Ask about the type of experience they had as volunteers, find out why they lost interest, and inquire if there is anything you need to change to increase volunteer appreciation.
To paraphrase Lily Tomlin, your volunteers are somebody. They want to be empowered by you to support your organization, and help change the world. Be the wind beneath their wings with recruiting, onboarding, and training strategies to help them reach their fullest potential for the greater good.
What is Goosechase?
At Goosechase, experience is everything. Originally inspired by scavenger hunts, Goosechase is an online platform that enables organizations and schools to engage, activate, and educate their communities through delightful interactive experiences. Sign up and try creating a free recreational game, or contact us to learn more about our enterprise solutions!