Volunteer recruitment is the essential first step in building your organization's base of on-the-ground (or virtual) support.
Organizations of all shapes and sizes rely on volunteers to turn their missions into concrete action. No matter what your organization's volunteers and supporters do to further your mission, you have to provide them with solid management strategies and the right tools. But first, you have to recruit them to join your cause!
For mission-based organizations that are new to volunteer management or working with volunteers at all, it can be difficult to know where to start.
At Mobilize, we've facilitated more than 10 million volunteer actions by over 3.5 million supporters for organizations of all sizes, so we want to share a few tips and strategies we've learned along the way.
This guide will give you a crash course in how to recruit volunteers for your cause. Here's what we'll cover:
- Volunteer recruitment FAQ
- Creating a volunteer recruitment program
- Top volunteer recruitment strategies
- Getting started with volunteer recruitment
Ready to start finding the passionate supporters who'll drive your mission forward? Let's dive in.
Volunteer recruitment FAQ
Before jumping into specifics around recruiting supporters and building long-term strategies, it might be helpful to get your bearings. These are a few of the most common questions that growing organizations have about volunteer recruitment:
What types of organizations recruit volunteers?
All types of mission-based organizations recruit volunteers. These range from national-level nonprofits, political campaigns, unions, and advocacy groups down to the smallest local schools and committees. Any organization that could use extra support for campaigns, events (in-person or virtual), and other internal tasks or projects can benefit from attracting supporters willing to donate their time and skills.
When should an organization recruit volunteers?
Most organizations devote extra attention to volunteer recruitment leading up to major campaigns and events. Staffing changes or increased demand on your team might also be good reasons to seek out additional volunteers to help fill the gaps.
As your organization grows, however, it's a good idea to continually recruit volunteers and empower them with opportunities to stay involved. Keeping volunteers engaged with your mission makes it easier to retain their support over time, meaning you'll be less likely to find yourself short-staffed and can instead focus on actively growing your base of support.
How do you recruit volunteers?
Organizations typically recruit volunteers through a combination of word-of-mouth and outreach efforts, both in-person and online.
In recent years, however, digital tactics have become increasingly effective for reaching new audiences of supporters. As with online fundraising, digital marketing is essential for spreading the word and boosting the visibility of your campaigns and projects. Volunteer recruitment platforms have also been game-changing 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. 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 successful volunteer program. 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. We'll walk through the basic steps of developing a volunteer recruitment strategy below.
Creating a volunteer recruitment program
Before diving headfirst into posting opportunity listings and reaching out to your base of support, it helps to understand the core steps of building a recruitment strategy. Follow these steps for creating a solid volunteer recruitment program:
1. Set a few volunteer recruitment guidelines.
To build a recruitment strategy, you'll need to fully understand your organization's needs and how you'll maintain your efforts. Gather your team and answer these questions:
- What will our first volunteers do, and what skills are we looking for? 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? Looking at your upcoming events, campaigns, or tasks in need of support, try to gauge 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, recruitment can easily fall by the wayside or become logistically overwhelming. For large organizations, you might appoint or hire a dedicated volunteer manager. Smaller organizations wishing 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. 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 engage potential supporters. These are the most common channels organizations use to recruit new volunteers:
- Volunteer recruitment platforms that allow you to post new opportunities
- Word-of-mouth 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 at 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.
If your organization is new to digital marketing, this guide to creating a strategy that ties together your goals, audience, and technology can help you learn the basics.
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 registration features to make signing up easy. You might also want to create a dedicated volunteer registration form for your website.
3. Identify potential volunteers.
Who is your ideal volunteer for your next event, campaign, or project? 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, especially if you only need a relatively small number of volunteers for your upcoming opportunity.
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 specifics 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. Your current community of donors will likely be the first place you'll look for new volunteers to recruit, so understand what draws them to your mission in order to more effectively target them. Who is your average donor, and what motivates them to support your work? 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, it's time to get started recruiting!
If you're starting small, personally reaching out to individuals in your current base of support is a smart strategy. 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 refine your strategy and invest in retention.
As new volunteers begin flowing in and supporting your mission, take time to check in on your efforts. Review your strategy and ask questions like these:
- How effective was our strategy?
- 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?
Reviewing your strategy's performance during and after each new recruitment push is invaluable for strengthening your efforts over time. This is one of the major benefits of using dedicated volunteer management software that provides concrete data to analyze.
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.
Retention and engagement are critical parts of effective volunteer management. Check out our complete guide to volunteer management for tips on growing your relationships with volunteers and retaining their long-term support.
Top volunteer recruitment strategies
Once your organization has the core elements of a volunteer recruitment program in place, you'll want to keep strengthening your approach over time. Let's walk through some of the most reliable strategies for boosting the results of your recruitment efforts:
Offer a range of volunteering opportunities.
As your organization and base of volunteers grows, 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. Event support, virtual opportunities, phone banking, skills-based internal tasks, and more can give everyone a way to support your mission.
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 what kind of 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 donors into volunteers.
Create “job descriptions” for opportunities.
Describe each volunteer opportunity and your mission in detail and outline any specific skills and time commitments needed. This description will be useful whenever you're promoting your opportunities, and it gives potential volunteers a clear picture of the role and whether they'd be a good fit. This ultimately results in more sign-ups from qualified volunteers and less time needed from your team to sort through registrants and match them with appropriate roles.
Get the word out with direct mailings.
Direct mail is an excellent marketing avenue for getting the word out about volunteer opportunities with your organization. After all, it can be difficult to grab your audience’s attention and stand out in supporters’ minds among the constantly increasing digital clutter. And if your team lacks the capacity to print, stuff, and send mailings on your own, working with a nonprofit-specific direct mail platform like GivingMail is an excellent solution.
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 2 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 game-changing for your organization.
Optimize your social media strategies.
Social media is an incredible tool for reaching new audiences and engaging supporters. Develop concrete social media strategies to maximize the effectiveness of these platforms for your organization. Create exciting, shareable content and encourage volunteers to post about their own experiences, too. Peer-to-peer recruiting is a great way to boost sign-ups and visibility for your cause, too. In fact, 14% of all RSVPs on our own platform come from automated bring-a-friend prompts! Use volunteer management 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 volunteered hours goals or volunteer grants.
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.
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. Make a great first impression with a streamlined, intuitive, and mobile-friendly sign-up process, and then keep supporters in the loop on new opportunities via email and social media. Communication is easily the most important part of volunteer retention.
Ask for feedback from volunteers to improve your 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 and feedback forms on your website. The most effective tactic is to automate the process with post-event surveys sent directly to supporters via email or text.
Use clear and compelling calls to action.
The calls to action (CTAs) in your appeals for volunteer support play an important role in generating registrations. Use clear and exciting language to motivate potential supporters to commit to your cause. 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 be effective, but think of additional exclusive experiences you might offer, as well. Training opportunities and volunteer-only virtual events like roundtable discussions or town halls with your organization's leadership are popular examples.
Invest in volunteer retention to boost word of mouth.
An engaged and dedicated base of repeat volunteers is one of the most valuable recruitment assets your organization has! Invest time, attention, and resources into retaining the support of your supporters from one event or campaign to the next. Potential supporters 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.
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.
Then, take some time to think about volunteer management, 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.
Getting started with volunteer recruitment
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 access to our growing network of volunteers (2.2 million and counting!) and a complete toolkit of features to handle recruitment, management, and communication, your organization can start building stronger relationships with more volunteers in no time.
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! And to keep the ball rolling with your volunteer recruitment research, check out the following additional resources:
- Virtual Labor Organizing: The Ultimate Guide for 2020. If your labor union wants to recruit and mobilize more supporters for your outreach and advocacy projects, use this guide to review the essentials you'll need to know.
- Virtual Volunteer Strategies in a Time of Social Distancing. The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed how all types of organizations interact with their supporters. Check out our tips for keeping volunteers engaged while also keeping your distance.
- How to Recruit Volunteers for Political Campaigns: 10 Steps. Want to build more grassroots support for your campaign? We break down the 10 core steps to keep in mind from launch day to election day.