Cultivating active, involved volunteers is the critical first step towards building commitment to your cause. Entice more people to donate their time at your activities and events with these best practices and tips for boosting volunteer participation!
Pro Tip: There is no one-size-fits-all strategy – please consider your organization’s or group’s unique and diverse community when planning your approach.
Communicate Your Mission Clearly
What is your nonprofit or group all about? What are the primary goals for the year, and why are they important to your cause? What is the impact you have in your community? All organizational and volunteer leaders should be well-versed in your mission and impact and be able to talk it up to potential volunteers. Pro Tip: Hang posters with key mission statements and impact statistics in volunteer orientation and work spaces.
Create a Welcoming Environment
Work to make every volunteer feel welcomed and invited to participate.
Send friendly welcome letters introducing yourself and your group’s mission – let volunteers know that your group welcomes ALL kinds of participation.
Post signs in your lobby and work areas inviting volunteers to follow and tag your organization in their Social Media channels. Include QR codes, hashtags and any guidelines of what images are and are not allowed. (For example, images of work areas and volunteers allowed, not of clients). When they post and tag the organization, be sure to thank them for their participation and contributions.
Encourage volunteer leaders to wear “Ask Me” badges (in second languages as appropriate) at activities and events.
Create volunteer jobs to fit a variety of schedules so more people can participate (seniors, students, working folks with a free lunch hour, families, etc.): Thinks weekly, monthly, one-time special events, even at-home opportunities.
Recruit a social media “buzz” team to encourage volunteers to engage online and share with others.
Make it EASY to say YES to Volunteering
Be flexible and accommodating to your volunteers by creating opportunities that work for everyone – those with crazy work schedules may only be able to pitch in on weekends, someone with children may need assigned tasks that allow him/her to take the kids along or that they can do from home, etc.
Especially for reluctant participants, emphasize short-term tasks that allow them to help out without a huge obligation – it gets their foot in the volunteering door and may encourage them to take on more in the future.
Use SignUp to coordinate all of your cause-related activities – from the weekly volunteer schedule to fundraising events to quarterly appreciation initiatives. Volunteers can sign up right from their smartphones and choose the specific tasks they are interested in (no registration required!), plus they can swap spots with other volunteers if something comes up, and automated reminders will keep everyone on track!
Schedule opportunities where groups can come in together and support the organization's mission. This could include several group shifts each week that businesses, school and university service groups, Scouts, and even special events and functions appropriate parent/child groups can sign up for. Pro Tip: Be sure to capture contact information for everyone so you can thank them for their participation and invite them to future events and fundraising campaigns – you may find that a few want to continue volunteering independent of their original group.
Use a buddy system for newbies – ask returning volunteers to pair up with new volunteers to welcome them and teach them the ropes.
Encourage co-chairing, where big volunteer jobs are shared to ease the time commitment and provide a safety net if someone’s availability changes.
Create an optional take-home opportunity kit with materials and instructions for hosting a workplace, neighborhood, or school food-drive.
Social media is an easy and effective way to spread the word about upcoming volunteer opportunities and special events (including SignUp invitation links). Ask active volunteers to share, like, and repost invitations in their feeds.
Give Your Volunteers a Voice
Request feedback from your volunteers after every activity or event. What ideas do they have for improving the volunteer experience? (And be open to trying them.) For example:
Does moving shift time or length make it easier for volunteers to participate?
Do volunteers have easy access to parking?
Are there group babysitting options for volunteers with small kids or after-school sitter needs?
Do volunteers have easy access to needed supplies, instructions, and guidance on who to call for help?
Find out what your volunteers do professionally and what their hobbies and other interests are – this can help spark new ideas for activities, events, and fundraising support. For example:
Artistic volunteers can help with making signs, social graphics, and other marketing materials.
Volunteer accountants or bookkeepers can help with fundraiser money management.
People with digital skills can help with your website and social media posts.
Don’t micromanage your volunteers – offer guidance but then let them manage their tasks as they see fit. This is a great tactic for building confidence and encouraging future participation.
Be Positive (It’s Contagious)
Keep an optimistic outlook and spread that positivity! Even when things don’t go as smoothly as planned, smile, keep your cool, and remember that everyone is doing their best — for your cause.
Thank volunteers at the end of every shift and be sure you let them go on time! Your appreciation and punctuality will keep them coming back.
Offer patience and grace — volunteers have different seasons of availability as job demands and other life circumstances change. Just because a volunteer doesn’t show up once or can’t participate this month, that doesn’t mean that they will be on the sidelines forever. Keep the invitation to participate wide open.
Make having FUN a top priority so more volunteers want to be involved.
Actually Have FUN
Volunteering doesn’t have to be boring – mix it up!
Ask a volunteer to DJ, playing fun music at the start and end of the volunteer shift. Invite volunteers to stand up and have a 30-second flash dance a few times during the shift.
Host a potluck dinner or a dessert-tasting contest once a quarter.
Play a cause-related trivia game at the beginning of the shift and offer a prize to the winner.
Request small door prize donations from local businesses and host a monthly raffle for volunteers.
TALK to Potential Volunteers
Getting up close and personal is still one of the most effective ways to get folks involved in your volunteer efforts.
When meeting a potentially new volunteer, start by getting to know the person – don’t just jump in with a pushy request to volunteer for your group.
Consider inviting one or two people (think neighbors, church members, parents at your child’s school, etc.) for a power walk, coffee, or lunch – and don’t talk about your cause unless someone brings it up. Even if you never discuss their interest in volunteering, they are more likely to open a SignUp invitation from you when you’re asking for helpers later, at any given event.
When appropriate, any chance you get – at work, at church, in the school pickup line, at the weekly football game – talk up your organization and share all the fun you have and the difference you make for your cause.
Talk to people online too! Ask current volunteers to encourage others to follow your social media channels and keep them updated about the Good work you do in your community, as well as upcoming activities and events.
Keep It Up All Year
Recruiting volunteers is an ongoing task – be sure to keep your efforts up throughout the year.
Boost visibility by asking volunteers to post their participation and activities in their social media feeds and tag your group’s page. Publicly thank them online when they do!
Invite volunteers to help you with these recruiting strategies and to help you think of others specific to supporting your individual community’s needs.