5 Tips to Building a Strong Volunteer Base

Volunteer Management / Friday, March 9th, 2018

Millions of individuals in the United States choose to give their talent, time and skills to help causes they believe in, and most nonprofits’ ability to operate and grow depend on that free labor. But even when your labor comes from the heart, managing different personalities and schedules is challenging.  

Effective volunteer management is vital to an organization’s success, and while each organization has its own strengths and challenges, there are fundamental management strategies that greatly improve a nonprofits’ chance of recruiting, retaining and keeping their volunteer workforce happy and engaged.  

And while some challenges are unique to the nonprofit sector, most management issues are similar to those in the for-profit sector. People want to feel valued, respected, intellectually and emotionally engaged, and proud of their work. By providing your volunteers clear and direct communication, administrative consistency and genuine appreciation of their work, you’ll set a strong foundation for your organization.

This article provides five simple but essential tips to better manage and overcome those challenges and build a community of long-term volunteers for your organization. 

  1. Find and Keep Great People

Finding and keeping great volunteers isn’t easy. In rare cases, you’ll get a passionate and skilled volunteer who walks in off the street, and when that happens—celebrate!  But more often than not, recruiting and retaining dedicated people to meet all the needs of the organization depend on many complicated factors.

Attrition is natural, but smarter recruitment may help you build a better matched core of volunteers from the beginning. Developing a dynamic and clear internal communications plan is the first step.  

In your marketing materials, start by communicating the benefits new recruits will experience, such as:

  • Fulfillment of social and/or community obligations.
  • Becoming part of a like-minded social network.
  • Gaining new social perspectives.
  • Learning new skills.
  • Sharpening existing skills/talents.
  • Personal enjoyment/fulfillment.

While attracting and marketing to volunteers is one component of organizational success, retaining those hard-won volunteers is just as important. When key volunteers leave, it may signal a sign of a problem within the organization to others.

Making things easy and understandable for volunteers keeps them engaged and reduces frustration. Clear and accommodating scheduling is key, but trying to keep track of volunteer hours, schedules and changes manually is nearly impossible. Like everyone, volunteers have varying degrees of availability. The right management software platform can automate these tasks and give your volunteers autonomy and flexibility. By providing your volunteers with a choice of fixed and flexible positions as well as one-time events, you’ll be able to better cover your shift needs, and volunteers can quickly choose a position that works best with their own schedule, whether that means a regular reoccurring shift, like afternoon tutoring, or a one-time event, like handing out water during a 5k. And if a volunteer has to cancel unexpectedly, having an automated communication system to quickly cover those shifts helps ensure your event or program can continue to run smoothly.

2. Provide Good Volunteer Training and Skill Match

Passion about the cause is one of the most important traits you want in your volunteer. But even passionate volunteers need training, which can range from job-specific skills to cultural sensitivity.  One strategy is training volunteers on multiple jobs/duties. Volunteers with more than one skill can when an unexpected cancellation or no show occurs.

Another strategy is to best match volunteers with their unique skills and interests. While some volunteers may want to stretch outside their comfort zone and try a new skill, try to match people with the jobs and duties they signed up for or have expressed an interest in. Even if matching work does not exist in the moment, a volunteer’s abilities, education and skills should be acknowledged.

Time and effort are saved with the ability to filter results by keywords to quickly identify skills and/or causes. This should begin by enabling volunteers to establish skill sets and causal interests when creating their personal profiles. Additionally, this approach can help volunteers find the right organization while simultaneously allowing organizations to get an idea of what a volunteer’s strengths are before meeting them.

3.  Develop a Consistent Training and Onboarding Process

Volunteers join your organization because they are passionate about your cause. However, without an organized onboarding and training plan, even the most well-intentioned volunteers can become frustrated. Every successful onboarding plan meets the following criteria:

  • Defines the organizational mission.
  • Defines clear expectations of the role and/or job.
  • Provides clear and simple communication tools to reach leaders and peers.
  • Provides access to all the necessary tools to do the job well.
  • Provides access or links to educational literature.
  • Provides online access to organizational calendar of events and
  • Autonomy to sign up for events, fill out forms and provide feedback and/or concerns.

4. Keep the Volunteer Passion Burning Brightly

While volunteers’ motivations for giving their time to your organization varies, most stem from a genuine desire to help make the world a better place. Their reward comes from a sense of knowing they’re making a difference in the world. Even though many in the for-profit world also find joy and satisfaction in their jobs, let’s be honest—we put up with a lot because of the paycheck. Volunteer work, however, doesn’t have the same incentives—they know they’re valuable and in high demand and can walk away at any time. Your organization is one of many responsibilities in their lives, and demonstrating a respect of their time is key.  To keep volunteers happy and passionate about the mission, here some key questions to periodically ask, both through formal surveys and through your everyday conversations:

  • Do you enjoy your work?
  • Do you feel valued?
  • Do you feel you have access to all the tools necessary to do your job well?
  • Do you feel supported?
  • Do you receive timely and adequate information?
  • Do you feel that your work furthers the organizational goals/mission?
  • Do you feel the work you do is making a difference?

Ongoing communication is key to maintaining passion levels among volunteers and reminding them they aren’t alone. Management software must be able to support ongoing communication via multiple channels like group text messaging and/or targeted emails to individuals and groups that may be tagged according to skillsets, events, programs or departments. These and other tools will maintain high levels of interest and engagement and show volunteers your serious commitment to the cause.

5. Show Gratitude

Everyone wants to feel appreciated and valued. It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities and forget to say thanks or acknowledge how valued your volunteers are to the success of the mission. Volunteering is, at its roots, an emotional endeavor. Having a software program that gives quick access to see your volunteers’ hours, length of service and feedback allows you to communicate that thanks through multiple channels, from a quick text or email to a phone call. Dr. Laura Trice, in her 2008 Ted talk, explains the power of the words “thank you.” These small but appreciated words of gratitude not only let your volunteers know their indispensable contribution, but it builds loyalty too.  

Although we’re biased, VolunteerMark has all the necessary tools to effectively recruit, retain and keep volunteers happy and engaged. From quick and easy communication through multiple channels, simple and varied event set up and robust reporting tools, VolunteerMark allows nonprofit managers to automate many time-consuming tasks and focus on the bigger, more complex organizational challenges for sustainability and growth. Are you ready to take your organization to the next level? Sign up for a free trial here.



VolunteerMark is an online software application that helps nonprofit organizations and their volunteers maximize the volunteer experience through communication, scheduling, and reporting tools.