If you find yourself asking this question regularly, you are not alone! Now, more than ever, communities rely heavily on a variety of nonprofit services for support and, in turn, the organizations that provide these services rely heavily on volunteer labor and donations. We touched briefly on the upcoming changes to nonprofit funding last week; these will help alleviate some of the financial struggles faced by nonprofits, but the reality remains that the need for services is too great for the number of volunteers out there.  Volunteer support is an ongoing struggle for many organizations – both on the recruitment and retention fronts.

Why is it so hard to recruit volunteers these days?

There are many reasons why recruiting volunteers can be difficult, but a significant reason is that the landscape of the nonprofit world has changed. Volunteers are a little more discriminating when it comes to the types of organizations they want to be involved with. Organizations are seeking particular skillsets from the individuals that volunteer with them.

In Before you Recruit Volunteers, a “how-to” article written by knowhownonprofit.org, it’s noted that the immense need for nonprofit programs in every community means that organizations are now competing for volunteers. Rather than popping around the corner to their local community center to volunteer their time, individuals seek out opportunities that they find engaging and rewarding, regardless of their location. 

On the organization side, many tasks handled by volunteers would benefit greatly from a more advanced skillset. For example, a volunteer responsible for nonprofit marketing should know how to do more than put up flyers in grocery stores and on telephone poles. An individual tasked with this responsibility must be computer savvy and should understand and be familiar with social media and blogging. These skillsets can be difficult to find – and they take much more strategy to recruit for. In too many cases, we get desperate to get a body to fill the position that we forget to evaluate whether the individual is the right fit.

Why is it so hard to retain volunteers?

Retention and recruitment strategies are linked in several ways. Just as a sturdy house depends heavily on a solid foundation, the likelihood of attracting invested, long-term volunteers depends on the steps taken to recruit them.

Volunteer Power recently published “The Seven Deadly Sins of Recruiting Volunteers". They cover seven key mistakes organizations make when approaching their recruitment strategy. While all of these “sins” are worthy of review and reflection, one that stuck out was that most organizations tend to recruit for life-time members instead of folks looking to contribute to short term projects. In an ideal world, your best volunteers will stay for life and help contribute to the culture and overall health of your organization. But in many cases, individuals feel more motivated and confident volunteering for a specific project with clearly outlined objectives, and both a start and finish date. That isn’t to say that they won’t continue volunteering once the project is done, but it does give them the ability to coordinate their schedules and commit to a specific goal. Retention must be earned, not expected.

If you haven’t already, take a look at the six other sins that impact both recruitment and retention. Which of these have you committed – or are you currently committing?

What can you do?

If revamping your recruiting and retention strategy is on the agenda for 2015, there are many steps you can take to ensure you are recruiting the right individuals for your volunteer roles, and helping to set them up for long-term success. Val Howard, a volunteer and manager with 20 years of experience, shared some key insights into effective volunteer management.

  • Define volunteer roles and responsibilities – This should be a part of all recruitment efforts. In order to walk away satisfied with the work they’ve done for your organization, a volunteer should have a clear understanding of the tasks they are responsible for and the goals they should aspire to.
  • Listen to and communicate with your volunteers – As your organization grows, it can be difficult to maintain two-way communication with your volunteers. A group email is neither engaging nor effective in soliciting input from front-line members. Allow time for more personalized contact and forums where feedback can be shared.
  • Get to know your volunteers – Regardless of the size of your organization, make an effort to understand what each of them is hoping to gain from volunteering their time. If they truly want to give back to their community, ensure they have the opportunity to see the impact of your organization’s work. If they are looking to learn a new skill or utilize a unique skill they have, try to allow for that opportunity. These are all strategies that help to develop engagement and build loyalty.


Want to learn more? Watch a free webinar, 5 Secrets to Volunteer Recruitment Success. Hear from Gyasi Parker-Ross, Director of Programs at L.A. Works, how you can step up your recruiting efforts.

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