If you're a nonprofit organizer scrambling to raise money, promote your organization, and keep up with the piles of paperwork (all while trying to make a meaningful impact on your community), it's probably time to bring in the big guns. We're talking about volunteers.
Volunteers are the secret sauce in nonprofit success. They help you fill critical gaps so you can make real and meaningful progress on the task at hand — doing good in your community and the world.
If you're running a one-person operation, volunteers can lend their expertise to help you launch successful fundraising campaigns or special events. They can mobilize your community to raise widespread awareness for your cause. And they bring the passion, energy, and enthusiasm your nonprofit needs. Most importantly, volunteers can help you address the social challenges you set out to conquer — even when your resources are scarce.
Without a doubt, volunteers are one of the nonprofit world's most valuable resources. The 2018 Volunteering in America report found that almost 80 million Americans volunteered at an organization in that year alone, contributing 6.9 billion work hours worth an equivalent of $167 billion.
Still, finding the right volunteers isn't easy. The inability to pay your staff makes recruitment hard. Aligning the right skill-set with the right level of passion can sometimes feel like finding a diamond in the rough. And with 1.5 million nonprofit organizations throughout the United States, you're also up against a lot of competition.
As an entrepreneur who recently launched your own nonprofit, you might be ready to bring on a team of volunteers. So, where are these volunteers hiding? How can you convince them to donate their time and energy? And how can you ensure they're the right fit?
To help you build an army of rockstar volunteers, here are the top four must-follow steps your nonprofit can start taking today.
Before you start recruiting, it's important to first ask yourself a few questions. What do you want your volunteers to do? What will their days look like? How much of a time commitment are you looking for?
The answers to these questions are just the start of building a strong foundation that helps your volunteers and nonprofit thrive. This also gives you more clarity during the recruitment process, helping you and your volunteers zero in on the perfect match.
To map out your recruitment strategy and guidelines, start by answering these core questions:
Are there some areas where you feel like your nonprofit is lagging behind? Are there initiatives that would be better achieved with the support of 10 people versus one? What day-to-day tasks aren't meeting deadlines?
Or maybe you know you need to ramp up your community outreach and engagement, but you need extra support to get the job done the right way. Whatever it is you need, turn them into tangible roles and responsibilities. Identifying these gaps and underperforming areas is the first step in figuring out exactly what your volunteers can do.
Your volunteers will also benefit from a clear picture of the role, giving them a roadmap of what this opportunity entails and what's needed to be most effective. At the end of the day, that helps accelerate your nonprofit's mission.
While passion and enthusiasm are key characteristics of every successful volunteer, it's still helpful to bring someone on board who can execute their tasks with little to no hand-holding. If you're looking to ramp up your presence at community events, for example, consider adding public relations experience to your list of preferred skills. Or, if you're interested in launching a social presence or weekly newsletter, add marketing skills to the description.
Of course, none of these things are a must-have for volunteers, but they will help you reach your goals a little quicker.
You might not know the exact answer immediately, but start with this: What is the must-have number of people needed to help fill critical gaps? Look at any upcoming events, campaigns, or tasks, and estimate how many volunteers you might need to get the job done successfully.
Recruiting too few volunteers can stress out the people you do bring on and make it even harder to reach your goals. And while it might seem like the maximum number of volunteers is always better, bringing too many people on initially can overwhelm your operations. Whatever you decide, remember you can always scale up or down depending on your initiatives and as new opportunities pop up.
You've probably seen some of the Craigslist ads before. "Volunteers needed!" Then, within the description, you're left with vague indicators of what you'll actually do once you're brought on board. "We're in need of passionate volunteers who want to make a positive impact on the environment!" That's a surefire way to get minimal bites on your opportunity, or worse, someone who isn't the right fit.
Instead, ask for people to do the specific jobs you need volunteers for. Put out the call for reading buddies, mentors, dog walkers, party planners, or social media gurus. Prospective volunteers will know exactly what you're looking for, making it easier for them to envision themselves in that role.
Here are a few must-haves for your call-for-volunteers listing:
Looking for a social media volunteer or event planner? Use that exact description in the job title.
Make sure you clearly state where the volunteer will be working, whether it's at a particular site or can be done from home.
Volunteers want to know that their time is going to make a meaningful impact. Clearly state how their work will contribute to your nonprofit's mission. This helps them know they'll play an important role.
Clearly explain the volunteer's specific duties, tasks, and responsibilities.
Are there specific characteristics, education levels, skills, or experience you prefer for volunteers? Make sure it's stated in your description.
Set expectations upfront by including the length of service, like hours per work and hours per day. If it's a temporary role, state that here, too.
Your nonprofit needs some extra help to get the job done, but that isn't exactly the most compelling reason for someone to want to volunteer.
Instead of making the theme of your recruitment about your nonprofit's needs, help prospective volunteers see what they're going to get out of their volunteer experience with you and what they might gain. (Yes, volunteers want to feel valued and get rewarded, too!)
When you're actively recruiting volunteers, make sure you focus on things like how fun the experience might be, how they can play an essential role in bettering their community, or how it's an opportunity to network, meet new people, learn new skills, or support something they believe in. All of these incentives create an emotional connection to your nonprofit and the volunteer role, not to mention a compelling reason to donate their time.
Don't forget to highlight any perks, too. If your nonprofit has access to things like swag and free tickets, chances are one or all of these things can further incentivize your recruits to join your nonprofit.
The last step in your volunteer recruitment? Making sure word gets out that you're searching for help — and making sure it's done across the right platforms. Here are a few channels to consider:
There are two ways to recruit volunteers online. You can post available positions on your website or list them with third-party volunteer matching sites. You'll up your chances of getting volunteers if you do both.
We'll start with your own nonprofit site. Make sure you promote any available volunteer positions, just like you would any other job opportunity. If people hear you're looking for volunteers, your website will probably be the first place they go for more information. Make sure you have a clear and easy-to-find page dedicated to volunteer openings.
Secondly, you can use online volunteer matching sites to list your volunteer opportunity. This lets prospects find you based on their location, interests, and expertise. Sites like Idealist, Network for Good, VolunteerSolutions, and VolunteerMatch are all solid platforms to consider.
If you've already amassed a quality list of contacts, use it to your advantage, and issue a call-to-action asking for great volunteers. This tactic works in your favor. The recipients of your email already have an idea of who you are, what you do, and your reputation in the community. That makes the recruitment process a lot easier.
When it comes to nonprofit work, where passion, emotions, and personal connections are vital, sometimes face-to-face recruiting tactics are your best method.
Consider visiting college campuses and coming prepared with brochures. Research local civic groups and service clubs. Never miss an opportunity to attend volunteer fairs and other community events. These are all chances to strike real and meaningful conversations with prospects, making it easier to find the perfect match right off the bat.
Seriously. Reach out to your network of family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Ask them if they'd be interested in volunteering. People are always looking for ways to give back — and even if they aren't available at that moment, they may know someone who is.
If you're ready to start recruiting, remember that the key to a successful, symbiotic relationship is having a clear plan for your volunteers and a clear reward for their time.
But that's just the beginning of your journey. Like any other employee, your new volunteers are a vital resource to your organization, opening up new opportunities that can propel your nonprofit forward. After that, it's all about nurturing and effectively managing your volunteers so they can be at their very best, making your nonprofit its very best.
Take the time to welcome your new volunteers by taking them out to coffee. Ensure someone is appointed to check in with them regularly if you don't have the time to do so personally. And make sure you spend time training and providing the right resources so every volunteer is set up for success.
All of these things and more help you build and strengthen your army of volunteers, so they can not only grow with your organization but help your organization grow, too.
You're not only busy changing the world, but giving other people the opportunity to do good and feel good about it, too. No big deal. That's why managing the official paperwork to establish your nonprofit should be the least of your concerns. If you're ready to spend more time changing the world, Swyft Filings can take that busy work off your plate. Reach out to our experts to learn how to establish a nonprofit in as few as 10 minutes!
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