Volunteers are the heart and soul of nonprofits. Without volunteers, the vast majority of nonprofits wouldn’t be nearly as impactful… and most wouldn’t even be able to operate!
And a thriving volunteer program isn’t just essential to operating a nonprofit; it’s also hugely beneficial to the greater community as a way to bring people together to spark change. Unfortunately, the United States has been trending in the wrong direction when it comes to formal volunteering. AmeriCorps revealed in their recent Volunteering and Civic Life in America Research Report that only 23% of people formally volunteered between 2020-2021, a 7% drop since from 2019.
While COVID-19 certainly had a direct impact on volunteering, nonprofits have a huge opportunity to inspire support and create meaningful volunteering options, and there’s no better time to do so than now to have even more horsepower as you prepare for your year-end fundraising campaign.
Like fundraising, building a successful nonprofit volunteer program requires thoughtful planning, acquisition, and retention strategies, so we’ve outlined three key steps to help you get started.
Step 1: Prepare for volunteer opportunities
Before you start recruiting volunteers, start by identifying your needs. This is as simple as asking:
- What do we need help with?
- What roles do we need to fill?
- What will the volunteers be doing?
Volunteers want to serve a clear purpose and make a difference. Your nonprofit can give them that opportunity by assigning meaningful responsibilities.
For instance, you could make a direct community impact by having volunteers stock food bank shelves, provide tutoring, or offer mentorship. Alternatively, you could ask volunteers to assist with in-house needs like bookkeeping, scheduling events, or sending handwritten thank you notes to donors.
After defining your volunteers’ purpose, prepare by creating applications and arranging a background check system. Additionally, create an onboarding strategy that brings volunteers up to speed on your mission, values, and processes as well as instructions for their role.
Step 2: Recruit volunteers
Once you have a framework in place, it’s time to start recruiting. Reaching out to current donors and supporters via email, text message, or phone is the most pragmatic way to jumpstart your recruiting efforts. And be sure to create a dedicated section or landing page on your website that provides a clear overview of roles and tackles any FAQs you can get ahead of.
If your nonprofit has a strong social media presence, showcase your volunteer opportunities there as well. When composing your social media posts, convey your passion for your cause and remain on-brand. Carefully composed content will inspire prospective volunteers to take action, join your cause, and share opportunities with their own networks.
Additionally, consider posting on volunteer networks like VolunteerMatch. There are thousands of passionate and hardworking individuals across the nation just waiting for the right cause to support, so use established volunteer networks to connect with these people and rapidly scale your volunteer team.
Step 3: Make your volunteers feel valued
Remember, volunteers are there because they want to be. As such, making your volunteers feel valued is critical to effective volunteer management. Everyone who donates their time and talents to your cause should know that they’re valued and welcome.
One great way to demonstrate your appreciation is to start a volunteer acknowledgment or thank you campaign. You can send volunteers thank you messages via email or text message following each event and simply remind them that you’re grateful for their support.
Additionally, you could provide volunteers with fresh coffee, water, or snacks when they staff events. These small acts of kindness demonstrate that your organization cares about its volunteers.
Sharing snippets of volunteers in action or sharing stories about their impact on social media can also help you make your volunteers feel valued while simultaneously showcasing your volunteer opportunities.
Ready to learn more to boost your year-end fundraising?
By leveraging these strategies, you can elevate your volunteer management capabilities and mobilize your supporters more effectively. However, building a dedicated team of volunteers is only part of the equation. For your nonprofit to make a true impact, you need both volunteers and sufficient funding.