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How to Source and Retain Consistent Volunteers

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By Korrin Bishop

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Published February 11, 2022 Reading Time: 4 minutes

Volunteers help nonprofits in a variety of ways. Sometimes you need them for short-term help like a weekend cleanup event or managing your 5k run.

However, you might also need their support for longer-term projects or tasks that require training. Sourcing and retaining long-term volunteers takes some work, but you can find consistent volunteers to support your mission with the right strategies.

Get ready to learn:

  • Six ways to identify volunteers who are eager for a long-term commitment
  • Where to look for these volunteers
  • How to communicate role details to prospective volunteers

1. Tap Into Local Universities or Community Colleges

Some nonprofits find that university and college students tend to be more committed to long-term volunteer opportunities. Volunteer opportunities often align with their educational and professional goals. It’s also easier for a nonprofit to ask for a full semester commitment that already matches a student’s schedule.

Volunteering can offer students a good way to gain “real world” experience to highlight on future job applications. When looking for volunteers through your local universities and community colleges, consider how you frame each position. You’ll want to be sure to highlight specific skills students will acquire and aspects of a role that connects them with your cause.

You can even target your outreach to specific education departments. For example, if you need volunteers who speak Spanish, focus your recruitment efforts within the Spanish department. You can do so by reaching out to advisors or career centers within the department to share the opportunity with students. If you need help with marketing, partner with the school of journalism or business by seeing if you can give a guest presentation to a class or post flyers within the department’s building.

Be sure to inquire about internship credits or volunteer requirements schools have for specific majors, as well.

2. Use an Outside Volunteer Matching Service

One way to find people who are looking for more consistent volunteer roles is to meet them where they are. There are a variety of online platforms where people can actively search for long-term volunteer opportunities.

Consider posting the roles you need on one of these platforms:

Pro Tip: Make sure your listings are detailed in terms of expected tasks and express the time commitment the role requires.

3. Peruse LinkedIn

People who take pride in volunteering or who have done long-term volunteer work in the past will be more likely to list the experience on their LinkedIn profiles. Look for people in your network or donor database on LinkedIn to see if they have prior volunteer experience.

If you find a potential volunteer match, reach out to them personally via the site or through the contact information you have on file for them to see if they’d like to learn more about your opportunity.

You can also use LinkedIn for Nonprofits to build brand awareness for your nonprofit and get your message in front of the right people. LinkedIn for Nonprofits allows for things like sponsored messaging and content, as well as dynamic advertising. Use those features to promote long-term volunteer opportunities.

4. Treat Onboarding Like an Interview

When new volunteers get started with your nonprofit, treat their first few weeks like a job interview.

If you present the onboarding process as an opportunity to volunteer whenever it’s convenient, your volunteers may not be inclined to prioritize scheduling the time on their calendars. They could also feel like they’re lacking the support needed to make a bigger impact, which can increase the risk of volunteer turnover.

However, if you ask volunteers meaningful interview questions after they initially sign up, host a volunteer orientation, and create a consistent volunteer schedule, you can establish a greater sense of commitment upfront.

The onboarding process is an opportunity for you to see how volunteers can best integrate with your nonprofit. Ask questions about why they want to help out and if they can commit to a certain amount of time. See if they’re willing to complete training prior to starting their volunteer position.

If you get the sense that a new volunteer can’t meet the longer-term commitments you’re looking for, be able to redirect them to other shorter-term opportunities to keep them engaged with your nonprofit.

5. Offer Incentives and Opportunities for Ownership

Offering incentives can encourage some volunteers to commit to a larger role. For example, if you’re a membership organization, you could consider offering long-term volunteers a free membership.

Hosting an annual award ceremony to celebrate volunteers who put in extra, consistent time is another way to both show those individuals you appreciate and value them. It also helps you model what opportunities could look like for others.

If you have volunteers who commit to long-term projects, you can also help make them feel special and like they’re a part of your team by providing special swag or even volunteer uniforms. For example, many state and national parks have volunteers who help run their visitor centers. These volunteers have special uniforms that provide them a sense of ownership within their roles.

6. Survey Your Current and Past Volunteers

If you’re struggling to find and maintain long-term, consistent volunteers, it also helps to collect data from your current and past volunteers on how you might be able to change that.

Ask your current long-term volunteers questions like:

  • What makes you able to fill this role?
  • What do you appreciate about being involved in this way?
  • How can we improve your volunteer experience?

Ask past volunteers:

  • How could we have better supported you?
  • What long-term opportunities would you be interested in if we could provide them?
  • What main factors made you need to change your time commitment with our nonprofit?

Learning what drew volunteers to your nonprofit in the first place, as well as what made them leave, can be helpful information to improve your volunteer program.

Find Committed Volunteers to Offer Your Nonprofit Long-Term Support

Volunteers provide critical services to nonprofits. Long-term volunteers, in particular, can offer steady support over time. By looking in the right places, conducting thoughtful onboarding, providing incentives, and asking for feedback, nonprofits can grow their base of consistent volunteers.

If you’d like to learn even more ways to leverage volunteers, check out the Volunteer Engagement session recording from our 2021 Collaborative: Virtual Sessions, available now online.

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