4 Tips to Recruit Your First Nonprofit Volunteers

Starting a nonprofit is no easy task, and the same can be said for starting a volunteer program. As a nonprofit professional, you might have identified a need for greater hands-on support to help achieve your organization’s mission. But it can be challenging to get the word out and recruit your first volunteers to help get your program off the ground. 

Let’s review four steps to help recruit your first volunteers and build your program. 

1. Define volunteer roles and responsibilities

Clearly defined roles and responsibilities will make your volunteer efforts more organized and productive. Plus, volunteers will be able to easily choose roles that suit their skills and interests. This will help you start your volunteer program with a team of enthusiastic supporters.

To narrow down the scope of volunteers’ work, answer the following questions: 

  • What will volunteers do? Will volunteers help walk dogs and socialize with cats at your animal shelter? Will they transport animals to and from adoption events using their personal vehicles? Will they help manage pet adoptions? Decide if you will have multiple volunteer positions and roles or if volunteers will generally all do the same things. You can always start simple and add more roles as your program gets up and running. 
  • What level of access will you grant volunteers? Determine what volunteers will have access to and what areas or information they will not be able to access due to security or safety concerns. For example, you might not give volunteers access to sensitive donor or constituent information or allow them to complete certain high-risk tasks. Clearly defining your safety and security rules will keep your community members safe and make volunteers feel more comfortable. 
  • What skills should volunteers have? If you’re looking for skilled volunteers, narrow down the types of skills you need. You might also provide training for volunteers before they start their roles. 
  • Will volunteers need to bring any supplies or equipment with them? For example, if volunteers will work on a garden project, should they bring their own gloves, water bottles and sunscreen, or will you provide those items for them? Figure out if you’ll have to devote some funding to building up your supply closet or send out a message to your community asking for donations of supplies or equipment.

Once you’ve determined the parameters of your new volunteer program, you can start communicating with your community about your new opportunities.

👉 Read more about volunteer recruitment

2. Write engaging volunteer postings

Bloomerang’s donor management guide explains that the donor lifecycle begins with the awareness phase. This phase is “the stage where you’ll first make contact with individuals who may eventually become donors, meaning it’s crucial to make a positive first impression.” 

The volunteer management process also begins with an awareness phase. Specifically, your volunteer posting is your program’s first impression for new audience members. It’s your opportunity to speak to prospective volunteers and give them a sense of your program’s energy and whether it would be a good fit for them. 

Your volunteer postings should be designed so that even those who have never heard of your nonprofit before can understand your mission and your program’s purpose. A compelling volunteer posting contains these elements: 

  • Description of your nonprofit’s mission. Outline the problem your nonprofit is trying to solve and where your volunteer program fits into that solution. For example, “Interested in helping to keep our local waterways clean? Become a Water Warrior today and work with us as we collect trash from our community’s streams and rivers.” 
  • A list of volunteer responsibilities and qualifications. Be clear about what volunteers will be doing and the skills you’re looking for. For instance, “Our paddle team takes kayaks and canoes down our local waterways to pick up trash. Some paddling experience is helpful, but anyone with a passion for the environment is welcome to get involved.” 
  • Volunteer benefits. Most volunteers will get involved simply because of a passion for your mission, but it never hurts to provide a few additional perks. For example, you might offer volunteers social opportunities, free t-shirts or training and professional development opportunities. 

Share your volunteer postings on your nonprofit’s website, social media pages, email newsletters and on volunteer hubs like POINT.

3. Engage your nonprofit’s existing community

Your organization’s current supporters have an affinity for your mission and want to see you succeed. They may be able to help recruit volunteers or participate themselves.

Reach out to those already within your nonprofit’s community such as: 

  • Donors (including major gift donors, who may be well-connected within your community and able to reach a wide audience of prospective volunteers) 
  • Board members
  • Staff
  • Corporate sponsors
  • Former peer-to-peer fundraisers
  • Social media followers
  • Email subscribers

Use your donor management system to identify highly-engaged donors or peer-to-peer fundraisers who may be perfect candidates for spreading the word about your new program or who have expressed interest in volunteering in the past. Send them emails to personally invite them to share your volunteer postings or register. 

You can also ask for supporters’ input when crafting your program. For example, you might ask when they think is the best time to host volunteer opportunities or what kind of experiences they’d be interested in. This helps increase the likelihood that current supporters will get involved. 

4. Promote your opportunities on digital platforms

As mentioned above, after finalizing your volunteer postings, you must share them across your digital marketing platforms. Online marketing channels will give you the widest reach and allow you to build brand awareness for your new volunteer program. 

Share your volunteer postings, program information page and other volunteer details on platforms like: 

  • Social media. Create infographics and share your registration page link. After you host a few volunteer opportunities, ask new volunteers for testimonials that you can share on social media to recruit additional supporters. 
  • Google Ads. Thanks to the Google Ad Grants program, nonprofits can access $10,000 in free Google advertising to promote their websites. Promote your volunteer registration landing page to connect with a local audience of people who are searching for terms relevant to your program. For example, you might choose the keyword “volunteer with animals in [your city’s name]” to help promote your animal rescue volunteer opportunities. 
  • Email. Share upcoming volunteer events using your nonprofit’s email newsletter. Include a quick summary of your volunteer posting, including event details, responsibilities and volunteer perks. 

Make sure your marketing materials are uniformly branded and include your program’s unique logo. This way, you can promote brand recognition and differentiate your volunteer program from your nonprofit’s other activities. 

Recruiting your first volunteers is an exciting time for any nonprofit. It’s your opportunity to connect with your local community on a deeper level and make greater strides toward achieving your mission. 

By following these tips, you can connect with prospective volunteers who have the skills and passion necessary to become long-term supporters. 

Want to level up your volunteer management? Get started with POINT here.

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About the Author: Ann Fellman

As the Chief Marketing Officer at Bloomerang, Ann is responsible for the company’s overall thought leadership, brand, marketing, and community outreach programs that work to strengthen relationships with customers and the broader nonprofit community. Ann brings with her more than 24 years of experience in business-to-business (B2B) marketing in the technology industry, including time spent working at a nonprofit organization.

Photo Lindsey Schad
Lindsey Schad
Head of Communication Team

No guilt trips, no sad stories. Just a chance to do something good.