20 Ways to Recruit Volunteers for Your Nonprofit

photo of lead volunteer holding a clipboard and talking to group

Recruiting a strong group of volunteers for your nonprofit is truly a marathon, not a sprint. You find a great volunteer, but then for various reasons, they have to step back. Don't get discouraged, and focus on engaging more people ready to get on board with your mission. Here are 20 fresh and encouraging ideas to help you achieve success in your recruiting efforts.

  1. Healthy Serving Culture - Before you even start to invite new folks into your organization, take time to look (and even ask current volunteers) how things are running and where improvements can be made. Your current volunteers can be some of your best recruiters, inspiring others with their positive experiences.
  2. Become (or find!) A People Person - What if your passion for your nonprofit is off the charts, but your ability to communicate that passion finds you tongue-tied? Let me first suggest that practice makes perfect — get outside your comfort zone and start talking! If you're not quite there, find others in your organization with the gift of gab and ask them to staff your booth at volunteer fairs, ask questions of potential volunteers, and share the vision with potential recruits.
  3. Always be Recruit Ready - Here's the scene: you are hosting an event unrelated to recruitment and someone asks about volunteering. Don't get caught without a way to get their information and follow up! Remember to always have a clear plan to share volunteer opportunities. Create recruitment kits with information about your nonprofit (and maybe a bumper sticker or pencil) and be sure to collect their contact information.
  4. Create an Elevator Speech - Part of being recruit-ready is creating a quick 30-second explanation of the vision and mission of your nonprofit. Teach it to your other staff and volunteers so they can share this mission statement along with their personal experience when they meet those who might want to help.

  1. Be a Joiner - Start investing in community relationships that are already within your organization and look for opportunities to collaborate with other like-minded nonprofits. Those relationships will likely grow more connections. Or, if your nonprofit is new, start joining meetings and conferences with other nonprofits, and ask about best practices for volunteer recruiting. Don't be a loner, be a joiner!
  2. Ask Questions - Kimberly Gatchell, founder of the nonprofit RISE Dance, shared that she doesn't just need dance instructors. It takes a village to run a nonprofit! She asks lots of questions to build relationships with potential volunteers:
    • What do you have a passion for?
    • What makes you excited to help?
    • Do you love social media?
    • Do you feel most alive when you are behind the scenes or working with people?
  3. Be Willing to Share - Kimberly went on to say that if after asking these questions, it doesn't seem like a fit, she isn't afraid to recommend other nonprofits. Once you begin to "be a joiner," you will become aware of the bigger nonprofit community's needs. You might find that you start a trend of nonprofits recommending other nonprofits to people looking to serve in different capacities.

  1. Sleuth Your Social Media - If you have social media accounts, look at your comment section and note the people who frequently like or comment on your posts. Don't be afraid to reach out to them individually, thank them for their interest, invite them to an upcoming event, or just ask directly about their interest in hearing more about volunteer opportunities.
  2. Recruitment Business Cards - Consider ordering business cards with your nonprofit's contact information and a brief description that your team can hand out if an interested potential volunteer comes along. Use these as part of your recruitment readiness kit!
  3. Giving Tuesday/National Nonprofit Day - Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving) and National Nonprofit Day (August 17th) are two "holidays" which can be utilized to encourage folks not just to give financially, but challenge people to give their time.
  4. Maximize Special Event Opportunities - Make use of a one-time event for your nonprofit (think fun runs, pancake breakfasts and other fundraisers) to reach out to a wide audience and those on the fringe of saying yes to a one-time volunteer opportunity. If you host a volunteer fair, make it fun by including games or challenges between volunteers to grab attention and laughs.
  5. Bring A Friend - Everything's better with a friend (or family member)! Challenge your volunteers to bring along a friend or family member as they serve and offer your nonprofit’s bumper sticker or another small gift for their time. Collect their contact information so you can share more about ways to help at future events.
  6. Celebrate and Recruit - Organize a volunteer celebration where current and former volunteers are welcome to bring guests who share their passion for your nonprofit's mission. Use SignUpGenius to coordinate your food needs or organize a potluck, and you have a win/win appreciation and recruitment all in one!

  1. Circle Back to Volunteers - It never hurts to keep in touch with past volunteers and reach out again to share new opportunities or positions that are needed. It may be a better season of life to serve and they are ready to again give their time.
  2. Recruiting with a Title - In your recruitment efforts, it may benefit you to give needed positions a more specific title so potential volunteers will be able to match their skills with your needs. For example, if you need a "one-time event logistics coordinator" this could be appealing to those who can only volunteer on a limited basis.
  3. Find the Balance - It's wise to communicate that you immediately need to find volunteers, but also give people the opportunity to say no if it's not a good time or fit. Communicating that balance seems less manipulative and is a healthy way to approach recruiting. Desperation is not effective when it comes to engaging long-term volunteers.
  4. Look for Out-of-the-Box Opportunities to Recruit - Use festivals, conferences, college fairs, women’s organizations, church missions-emphasis Sundays, and other community-organized gatherings to promote your nonprofit. The United Way offers a service called "Get Connected" to connect volunteers with nonprofits and may be available in your area. Look for virtual opportunities to connect and recruit.

  1. Be Resilient - Take a no as a "not now" instead of as a "not ever." Don't be afraid to circle back, send invitations to events to keep them interested and stay in contact to see if their schedule might be opening up.
  2. Offer Flexible Opportunities - To encourage recruits that they aren't committing for life, consider offering a set time frame to start with (6 months or a year), after which you can both evaluate the serving experience and make decisions about future volunteering.
  3. Encourage Growth - You may encounter a volunteer who is willing but lacking a necessary skill to really maximize their time with your nonprofit. Don't be afraid to suggest developing needed skills (like counselor training, musical training, or computer skills) before joining you. 
Investing in your nonprofit’s culture and relationships will work wonders to build your volunteer force. By engaging others in your mission and utilizing some of these ideas, you can grow an amazing team of volunteers.

Julie David is a freelance writer, educator, and worship pastor's wife from the Midwest who likes warm hugs.