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Best Practices

Volunteer recruitment: the complete guide to power your work

Effective volunteer recruitment is vital for building a solid base of grassroots support. Enhance your efforts with this crash course.
Power your volunteer recruitment efforts with Mobilize.

Organizations of all shapes and sizes rely on volunteers to turn their missions into concrete action. No matter what cause you’re pursuing, your volunteers provide the on-the-ground support needed to bring your vision to fruition, whether they’re planting trees to rebuild the environment, building shelters for the homeless, or simply helping you run a fundraising event.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a volunteer coordinator for 5 minutes or 50 years — you know that volunteer recruitment is the essential first step in building your organization's base of support. Not to mention, you have to connect with and inspire the right people to join your team.

At Mobilize, we've facilitated more than 14 million volunteer actions by more than 4 million supporters for organizations of all sizes — and that number keeps growing each day. We want to share a few tips and strategies we've learned along the way so you can get the most out of your volunteer recruitment efforts.

This guide will give you a crash course on how to recruit volunteers for your cause and make sure your organization is backed by a motivated team that believes in your mission. Here's what we'll cover:

  1. Volunteer recruitment FAQ
  2. Creating a volunteer recruitment strategy
  3. 12 top volunteer recruitment strategies
  4. Leveraging software to power your volunteer recruitment efforts
  5. Getting started with volunteer recruitment

Ready to find the most passionate supporters who'll drive your mission forward? Let's dive in.

Let's review the fundamentals of recruiting volunteers.

Volunteer recruitment FAQ

Before jumping into specifics around recruiting volunteers and building long-term strategies to continuously engage them, you should take time to understand the basic building blocks of the process. Let’s review a few of the most common questions that growing organizations have:

What is volunteer recruitment?

Volunteer recruitment is the process of attracting prospective volunteers to your cause and screening them to ensure they meet the necessary requirements. You might recruit volunteers to complete a specific job or simply to join your pool of on-hand volunteers that your organization can regularly call on for miscellaneous tasks.

To simplify this process, many organizations turn to powerful organizing tools like Mobilize to connect with prospects who are actively searching for open opportunities. Mobilize gives you a central location to post upcoming volunteer events and allows you to tap into a network of more than 4.3 million volunteers.

Why is volunteer recruitment important?

Volunteers are an incredible resource for nonprofits. Connecting with motivated individuals and inspiring them to sign up to help out is what enables you to continue fulfilling your mission. They complete tasks that your staff can’t handle alone and act as advocates for your cause out in the community. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to raise as much money, conduct your programs, or serve your clients.

The immense power that a successful volunteer program holds is demonstrated by many of the studies done on nonprofits. For example, volunteers contribute billions to the United States economy through their time, talent, and effort free of charge, and the monetary value of volunteer time is estimated to be about $28.54 per hour. Overall, they help drastically reduce operating costs thanks to their free contributions.

What types of organizations recruit volunteers?

All types of mission-based organizations recruit volunteers. These range from national-level nonprofits, political campaign groups, unions, and advocacy groups down to the smallest local schools and committees. Any organization that could use extra support for campaigns, events (including in-person, virtual, and hybrid events), and other internal tasks or projects can benefit from attracting supporters willing to donate their time and skills.

When should an organization recruit volunteers?

Organizations should devote extra attention to volunteer recruitment leading up to major campaigns and events. You might also seek out volunteers when your organization undergoes staffing changes or sees an increased demand for your services.

As your organization grows, it's a good idea to continually recruit volunteers that your organization can call on at any point. Between events and big tasks, you should empower them with opportunities to stay involved in your mission, making it easier to retain their support over time. Doing so means you'll be less likely to find yourself short-staffed during unforeseen circumstances and can instead focus on delivering your programs and services, actively fundraising, and growing your base of support.

How do you spread the word about volunteer activities?

Organizations typically recruit volunteers through a combination of promotional efforts, including online outreach like email in addition to offline efforts like word-of-mouth marketing. 

Both types of marketing are essential for spreading the word and boosting the visibility of your campaigns and projects. However, in recent years, digital tactics have become increasingly vital for reaching new audiences of supporters. Volunteer recruitment and organizing platforms like Mobilize have been a game-changer for mission-based organizations. By listing your volunteer opportunities online and offering easy ways to get involved, you can tap into existing networks of supporters looking for their next cause to rally behind.

Why do you need a concrete volunteer recruitment strategy?

A volunteer recruitment strategy plays the crucial role of tying together all of your outreach and marketing efforts for upcoming projects. With a top-down plan for attracting and securing the support of volunteers, you'll save your team's time and ultimately build a more impactful program. At any given point, you’ll have a reliable team of volunteers to call on. Plus, a comprehensive strategy creates a more engaging and focused experience for volunteers, making it easier to retain their support and grow your relationships.

Without a concrete strategy in place, it becomes difficult to check in on your recruitment efforts and improve your tactics over time. The lack of a coherent strategy also breeds disorganization at volunteer events, frustrates volunteers, and often results in lower turnout at future events. To help, we'll walk through the basic steps of developing a volunteer recruitment strategy.

Here are some easy steps to take when developing your volunteer recruitment strategy.

Creating a volunteer recruitment strategy

It can be tempting to dive headfirst into posting opportunities online and reaching out to supporters for your next big event. However, you should take some time to walk through the core steps of building your volunteer recruitment strategy to make sure you aren’t skipping anything.

These core steps will help you create a volunteer recruitment strategy for your organization.

1. Set a few volunteer recruitment guidelines.

While your cause may be similar to another nonprofit, no two organizations are exactly alike. The types of initiatives you undertake and the clients you serve differ from every other organization out there. Your unique needs call for an equally unique set of guidelines that your team must follow.

Prior to your next big volunteer event, sit down with your team and answer these questions:

  • What tasks will we assign our volunteers, and what skills will help them successfully complete those tasks? Understanding where volunteer support is needed beforehand will help ensure that no new recruits feel underutilized or unappreciated. If you have a specific campaign or event coming up that needs volunteers, start there. Consider any aspects of your day-to-day operations that would benefit from extra support, as well. With a clear picture of where volunteers are needed, you'll drastically simplify the recruitment and management process.

  • How many volunteers do we need right now? Look at your upcoming events, campaigns, and tasks that your team needs help tackling. Estimate how many volunteers you'll need to get the job done. Recruiting too few supporters will make it difficult to reach your goals, while too many initial volunteers might feel that their efforts aren't making as much of an impact as they'd like. Both cases will create a less positive or engaging experience for volunteers, so determine a recruitment goal in advance. You can easily scale up your goals and strategies in the future as new opportunities arise.

  • Who will handle volunteer recruitment? Assigning a specific team member or two at your organization to oversee volunteer recruitment is essential. Without a clear decision-maker leading the charge, this process can easily fall by the wayside or become logistically overwhelming. For large organizations, you might appoint or hire a dedicated volunteer manager. Smaller organizations that wish to take a more strategic approach might build recruitment into the responsibilities of committee chairs for each campaign or event that needs volunteer support.

Take some time early in the process to outline guidelines like these. It’s better to estimate the number of volunteers and types of skills you’ll need than to blindly enter the process without any concrete guidance. Your team and your future volunteers will thank you!

2. Determine how you'll recruit volunteers.

At this stage, think about the specific tactics you'll use to reach and inspire potential supporters to sign up for available opportunities. While we touched on a few channels earlier, let’s take a look at specific outreach tactics your team should consider. These are the most common channels organizations use to recruit new volunteers:

These outlets will help you connect with and recruit volunteers.
  • Volunteer recruitment platforms that allow you to post new opportunities and tap into a network of supporters ready to serve
  • Word-of-mouth outreach from staff members, board members, and current volunteers
  • Digital marketing, including mass appeals and more targeted campaigns through social media or email
  • In-person outreach at community events or in spots where your target supporters might be, like college campuses
  • Print marketing, like postings on community bulletin boards or in your monthly newsletters

Most organizations use a combination of these tactics to reach new volunteers. You can continually update your outreach strategies over time, but it's a good idea to determine the specific methods you'll use for your next opportunity or event in advance. This will help keep your efforts focused and save your team's time.

Additionally, if you're recruiting volunteers online or for virtual opportunities, make sure you've got easy-to-use registration tools in place. An effective volunteer recruitment platform will include plenty of intuitive features to make signing up easy. You might also want to create a dedicated volunteer registration form for your website that you can easily direct supporters to across your digital outreach.

3. Identify potential volunteers to recruit.

While mass appeals to your entire community can be effective for some projects and organizations, a more targeted approach is often more effective and saves time. This is especially true if you only need a relatively small number of volunteers for your upcoming opportunity. 

At this stage, you’ll want to identify your ideal volunteer for your next event, campaign, or project. To do this, take a look at the guidelines you determined earlier. What are your next volunteer opportunities, and what skills would be most useful? How long is your upcoming project or campaign? Use these specific details to develop a clearer picture of your ideal volunteer with the skills, time, and motivation to get involved.

If you're a fundraising organization, take a look at your current base of support for more insights into who might be interested in volunteering. Your current community of donors will likely be the first place you'll look for new volunteers since they clearly already have a connection to the cause, so understand what draws them to your mission in order to effectively target them. Feedback and data from past campaigns and events can reveal the elements that are most exciting and motivating for your audience.

4. Begin recruiting volunteers for your project.

Once you've got a solid understanding of your organization's needs, the methods you'll use to reach supporters, and what you're looking for in an ideal volunteer, you can start pushing forward with your recruitment efforts.

If you're starting small, personally reaching out to individuals in your current base of support is a smart approach. Then, broaden your outreach as needed with the different methods and digital marketing outlets listed in Step 2. Target your appeals to tap into what you know draws supporters to your mission and give potential volunteers a clear idea of what the role entails.

We'll cover some of the most effective volunteer recruitment strategies in the next section.

5. Continually revisit your volunteer recruitment strategy and invest in retention.

As new volunteers begin flowing in and signing up for your opportunities, take time to check in on your efforts. Reviewing your strategy's performance after each new recruitment push is invaluable for pinpointing gaps and strengthening your efforts over time. After you wrap up an event or campaign that required help from volunteers, sit down with your team and ask questions like these:

  • How effective was our strategy overall?
  • Did we meet our recruitment goals?
  • How long did it take to recruit our volunteers?
  • What were our most effective outreach tactics?
  • How many supporters did we turn away because we couldn't currently use their help or because they didn't fit our job description?
  • Are there other areas of our work that need volunteer support for similar projects in the future?

Being able to check in on specific statistics regarding your efforts is one of the major benefits of using dedicated volunteer management software that provides concrete data to analyze. You can reference specific details like no-shows as well as the events and types of roles people are volunteering for. Knowing this information will allow you to spend your time focusing on the right areas in the future, such as amplifying specific positions that tend to be less popular with supporters.

Remember to invest energy into retaining your new volunteers, as well! Once a supporter volunteers for an event, campaign, or other opportunity, they're much more likely to lend their help again in the future. A strong community of excited volunteers will make staffing your future opportunities much easier.

Try out these strategies to recruit volunteers that are motivated to pursue your mission.u

12 top volunteer recruitment strategies

Once your organization has the core elements of volunteer recruitment in place, you'll want to keep strengthening your approach over time. While each organization will find success in its own unique combination of strategies, let's walk through some of the most common and most reliable methods for boosting the results of your recruitment efforts:

Offer a range of volunteering opportunities.

As your organization and base of volunteers grow, make sure to offer a range of ways to get involved. Dedicated supporters will appreciate more options, and offering more types of opportunities will help ensure potential volunteers find a role that suits their interests, abilities, and skills. Some roles you might consider offering include:

  • Event support, including everything from marketing and lining up sponsors to setting up the venue and checking guests in
  • Virtual opportunities like phone and text banking so volunteers can engage remotely
  • Skills-based internal tasks for administrative purposes, such as data entry or reception to streamline office operations
  • Committee or board service to provide more strategic guidance

This is just a peek into the types of roles you might consider offering. Continuously expanding the opportunities you offer can give everyone a way to support your mission while leveraging their unique skills and interests.

Target specific segments of your supporter base.

Targeting groups of your supporters for specific volunteer opportunities can help boost the effectiveness of your recruitment strategies overall. Think about different segments of your base, like donors, one-time volunteers, repeat volunteers, or specific age brackets. What types of opportunities and messages will be most engaging for them? 

This strategy is useful for boosting engagement, especially if you have a specific goal in mind, like turning more volunteers into donors or vice versa. It enables you to present enticing opportunities to the groups that are most likely to sign up to participate in that specific opportunity, whether it’s a specific type of event or role.

Create “job descriptions” for opportunities when recruiting volunteers.

For someone to know if a particular role is right for them, they need a clear understanding of what will be expected. Whenever you post about an upcoming opportunity, be sure to share a detailed role description alongside it. Each volunteer opportunity should include:

  • Information regarding your mission
  • Logistical details like the date and time commitment needed
  • Tasks that the volunteers will be expected to complete
  • Specific skills that are necessary to complete the tasks at hand

This description will be useful whenever you're promoting your opportunities, and it will give potential volunteers a clear picture of the role and whether they'd be a good fit. Getting into the habit of writing effective role descriptions will result in more sign-ups from qualified volunteers and less time needed from your team to sort through registrants and match them to the appropriate roles.

Tap into existing networks of passionate volunteers.

For many volunteer opportunities, casting a wider net is the right move. Volunteer recruitment platforms like Mobilize allow you to post new opportunities, tap into existing networks of supporters, and offer a streamlined sign-up process all at once. Our growing network of over 4.3 million users is full of individuals looking for their next cause to support. Reaching those new supporters and retaining their support over time can be a real game-changer for your organization.

Volunteer recruitment platforms like Mobilize allow you to tap into existing networks of supporters looking for volunteer opportunities.f

Optimize your social media strategies to help recruit volunteers.

With 4.2 billion active users worldwide, social media is an incredible tool for reaching new audiences and engaging supporters. Chances are, your organization already has its own social media profiles to share exciting project updates. Why not leverage that existing network of followers to promote your volunteer opportunities?

Create exciting, shareable content that features images of past volunteers who are clearly engaged in and enjoying their time with your organization. Be sure to share links to your relevant sign-up forms so followers know exactly where to go to get involved. 

Then, encourage volunteers to post about their own experiences, too. Peer-to-peer recruiting is a powerful way to boost sign-ups and visibility for your cause. When your current volunteers invite their friends to register for an upcoming activity, that automatically connects you with like-minded individuals who share the same values and are likely just as motivated to further your mission. Simplify this process by using volunteer recruitment software that empowers supporters to easily post about their next opportunity and share custom sign-up links with their friends and family.

Connect with corporate and community partners.

Working with your partners and sponsors is another way to tap into existing audiences that will be responsive to your appeals for support. Corporate volunteer programs are a great example! Work with your partners to develop a program that encourages their employees to get involved with your cause, like with team volunteer hours goals or volunteer grants. This will enable you to develop a pipeline of consistent support and will be a go-to resource when your next big volunteer project needs a few extra helping hands.

Keep your messaging supporter- and mission-centric.

When promoting your volunteer opportunities, make sure your messaging focuses heavily on your volunteers' impact and your core mission rather than on your organization alone. After all, your organization's mission is the primary motivator for supporters, and they want to know how their help will get you closer to your goals. 

Highlight the specific ways in which volunteer power makes an impact whenever possible by using volunteer-centric language. What that means is that you should present your organization’s accomplishments in a way that shows your supporters taking the action. For instance, if you work at an animal rights organization, explain that your volunteers saved the lives of thousands of animals by fighting against animal cruelty, not how they helped your organization save thousands of animals. 

Show that your mission is possible because of all their hard work, and that’ll go a long way in helping them see their impact.

Make it easy to get involved and stay involved.

A volunteer's initial interaction with your organization through the registration process sets the tone for their future engagement. First impressions matter, so make it count with a streamlined, intuitive, and mobile-friendly sign-up process. 

Then, keep supporters in the loop on new opportunities via email and social media. Communication is easily the most important part of retention, so make sure you have a system in place to share upcoming projects with past volunteers. That way, you don’t have to start from scratch with your volunteer recruitment efforts.

Streamlined registration features are essential for recruiting volunteers and making it easy for them to stay involved.

Ask for feedback to improve your volunteer recruitment strategies.

Feedback is extremely valuable for improving your volunteer recruitment and management strategies over time. There are a number of ways to field feedback from volunteers, including:

  • One-on-one conversations between internal team members and individual volunteers
  • Feedback forms on your website
  • Automated post-event surveys sent directly to supporters via email or text

Make sure your internal team makes note of any preferences that come up. Once you gather feedback, don’t just let it sit there. Put it to use. Maybe people have ideas for new roles you can offer, maybe they think you should increase the frequency of communication, or maybe they’d like to see more training opportunities. You’ll never know if you don’t ask. Not only will you tap into a range of perspectives and insightful ideas, but acting on the information you gather will also show volunteers that you value their feedback.

Use clear and compelling calls to action in your recruitment appeals.

Let’s say you spend time crafting the perfect announcement for an upcoming volunteer opportunity. It concisely explains your mission, summarizes the project’s purpose, and calls on supporters to sign up to help out. How will people know where to go to sign up or see specific role descriptions? That’s where well-written and well-placed calls to action (CTAs) come into play.

The CTAs in your appeals for volunteer support should drive readers to register. Use clear and exciting language to motivate potential supporters to commit to your cause, such as “Sign up to make an impact now” or “Join the fight!” Then, link them directly to the form they need to get started. An impactful and emotionally-compelling message, coupled with a seamless registration process, can go a very long way to increase sign-ups for your opportunities.

Offer unique perks and opportunities to volunteers.

A little extra incentive might be the perfect final push that compels a potential supporter to sign up to volunteer for your events, campaigns, and other opportunities. Perks like free merchandise and discounted memberships can certainly be effective, but think of additional exclusive experiences you might offer beyond this. 

Training opportunities and volunteer-only virtual events like roundtable discussions or town halls with your organization's leadership are popular examples. After all, many volunteers get involved with organizations to rally behind a cause with like-minded individuals and develop their skills.

Invest in volunteer retention to boost word-of-mouth marketing.

An engaged and dedicated base of repeat supporters is one of the most valuable volunteer recruitment assets your organization has! 

Invest time, attention, and resources into retaining current supporters from one event or campaign to the next. Prospective volunteers are much more likely to get involved if they hear about your organization from a loved one. Encourage supporters to tell their friends about your upcoming opportunities, and empower them with peer-to-peer recruiting tools to take their messages online.

Peer-to-peer volunteer recruitment and word of mouth are extremely effective for reaching wider audiences for your campaigns and events.

With a concrete volunteer recruitment strategy in place, your organization can reach wider audiences of potential supporters and convert more of them into active volunteers for your cause.

From here, take some time to think about volunteer management as a whole, including how you'll keep supporters engaged for the long run. A comprehensive strategy for attracting, mobilizing, and retaining volunteers delivers much more long-term value for your organization than a scattered or disorganized approach.

Recruiting volunteers is much simpler with dedicated technology.

Leveraging software to power your volunteer recruitment efforts

To put your volunteer recruitment strategy into action, you'll need the right tools to back it up.

Volunteer recruitment platforms and management software are essential for organizations that want to take a strategic approach and continually improve their strategies over time. This is especially true today as organizations of all sizes rely more than ever on online recruitment and virtual engagement.

The Mobilize platform is the leading choice for mission-based organizations, including nonprofits, political campaigns and committees, labor unions, and advocacy organizations. With a complete toolkit of features to handle volunteer recruitment and ongoing management, your organization can start building stronger relationships with more volunteers in no time.

Tap into powerful benefits like:

  • Peer-to-peer recruitment tools. Enable your supporters to invite their friends to participate in your volunteer opportunities.
  • Inclusion in the Mobilize.us feed. Access our growing network of volunteers, which is 4.3 million and counting!
  • Automated communications. Minimize no-shows with automated email and text messages to supporters who sign up.
  • Widespread visibility and simple registration. Leverage our optimized event search and discovery alongside a streamlined signup process.
  • Volunteer-led events. Give your committed volunteers the power to host events on your behalf and naturally connect you with new supporters.
Mobilize empowers nonprofits to enhance their volunteer recruitment efforts.

Organizations using Mobilize have doubled their signup rates for volunteer opportunities and increased event attendance from online signups by 30% or more. Saving your team's time, reaching wider audiences, and empowering more of them to take action for your cause translates into significant growth for your organization.

Get started with a free Mobilize starter account or a demo from our team to see our platform in action and post your own in-person or virtual volunteer opportunities! 

Start improving your volunteer recruitment strategy with the tips we've covered.

Getting started with volunteer recruitment

Recruiting volunteers and inspiring them to stick around is easier said than done. However, it’s a vital part of the volunteer management process. Spending time connecting with new supporters in genuine ways will ultimately help develop a committed base of people who want to see your organization succeed.

As you get started with developing your recruitment strategy, bear in mind that your organization has a unique set of needs and will therefore need an equally unique approach to attracting and retaining supporters. What works for one organization might not work for you — it might take a bit of trial and error. As you continue collecting feedback and experimenting with new strategies, your program will evolve, and you’ll soon have a powerful base of support that you can call on at any given time.

To keep the ball rolling with your volunteer recruitment research, check out the following additional resources:

Explore the Mobilize platform to recruit volunteers and keep them engaged in your cause.

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