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3 steps to attracting—and keeping—volunteers for your nonprofit

By Latasha Doyle
December 9, 2019

Photo by ray sangga kusuma on Unsplash

When people hear the word volunteering, they might picture crowds of people attending day-long events on the weekend—volunteers helping organize and run community cleanups, marathons, collection drives, or fundraisers. Many volunteer opportunities are structured in this traditional way because they’re easy to plan and host. Plus, that’s likely the way most nonprofits and volunteers are used to doing things.

And there’s nothing wrong with that! There are, however, lots of other creative ways a volunteer can get involved with a nonprofit. It’s up to you to make those opportunities happen. If your nonprofit isn’t taking advantage of different volunteer opportunities, you’re missing out on attracting new volunteers, keeping volunteers coming back, and getting the help that your nonprofit needs. Here’s a three-step action plan for expanding your volunteer opportunities—and your volunteer corps.

1. Figure out volunteers’ preferences

One of the toughest problems nonprofits face is finding new volunteers. Another is keeping them. That’s where offering a variety of volunteer opportunities can give your nonprofit a boost. Understanding what volunteers are looking for in volunteer work can help you meet their needs and start reeling them in.

For example, volunteering is a top priority for Millennials. Unlike other generations who are motivated to donate or volunteer through work-based giving, Millennials look to their peers for influence. Instead of agreeing to have a donation deducted from their paychecks periodically, which is often a standard way of giving back, Millennials seek out causes they care about to support. And they’re not just making monetary donations. Millennials support causes by voicing their opinions, signing petitions, networking with others, joining marches and protests, and volunteering their time or skills.

Figuring out how certain groups of people prefer to give back or volunteer is crucial to getting those volunteers to your nonprofit. When you have a variety of volunteer opportunities, you’re sure to attract people who aren’t afraid to think outside the box when it comes to volunteer work.

2. Make it easy to start volunteering

Generational differences aside, some people are held back from volunteering simply because it doesn’t work for their lifestyles or schedules. Consider someone who wants to start volunteering, but they have an unconventional work schedule and can’t attend weekend events. Or perhaps someone has a typical 9-to-5 workweek, but they don’t have enough free time to work a full volunteer shift. How can you work around these obstacles and make it easier for your potential volunteers?

Get creative with your volunteer opportunities. Cut your volunteer shifts in half so you can take advantage of part-time helpers. Plan smaller volunteer events on weeknights, weekday mornings, or even short tasks that can be finished during the lunch hour. You might even come up with microvolunteering opportunities that don’t require volunteers to give up large blocks of their time. They can complete these volunteering tasks from home or while on breaks at their jobs.

Think of common reasons why people can’t get involved: their work schedules, proximity to event locations, skills, and so on. Once you figure out solutions for those issues, you’ll make it easier for them to get involved.

3. Get creative with volunteer tasks

Many people think of volunteering as providing the person power to accomplish low-skilled tasks that otherwise would go undone—stuffing envelopes, recording RSVPs, photocopying mountains of paperwork, data entry, registering people at an event, and so on. There is another type of volunteering, however, that can benefit both your organization and your volunteers.

Skills-based volunteering, or pro bono volunteering, is growing more and more popular today. Your nonprofit probably focuses most of its energy on your mission, your long-term goals, funding, and the community you serve. Meanwhile, departments such as human resources, bookkeeping, or digital marketing fall by the wayside. That’s where skilled volunteers can lend a hand. Skilled volunteers can fill in the gaps by providing legal work, IT services, marketing advice, and so much more. 

Skills-based volunteering often requires more time for staff to set up and supervise these activities. It can be well worth the investment. When you create opportunities for skills-based volunteering, you get help where your organization could use improvement. Plus you give volunteers a chance to derive greater satisfaction from their volunteering. You offer them the chance to give back by doing something they’re already good at. 

The bottom line

Nonprofits are dedicated to creating social change that will, in turn, change the world for the better. In order to do that, nonprofits have to be flexible. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon the traditional volunteer opportunity format completely.

It’s important, however, to understand how volunteer needs and habits change over time, so you can adapt to meet those preferences. When you do, you’re clearing the way for volunteers who were previously unable to get involved with your organization. You’re showing volunteers that you understand their needs and that you’re agile enough to meet them. Plus, opening up new kinds of volunteering opportunities benefits your nonprofit, too! Microvolunteering, volunteering events during the week, and skills-based volunteering can give back to your nonprofit in ways you might not have thought of before.

Tags: Volunteers