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Volunteer Recruitment and Retention for Non-Profits

Skill Development

Non-profit organizations, from churches to citizen watchdog groups, frequently rely on volunteer participation. Even large non-profit organizations like hospitals frequently utilize volunteers for auxiliary functions. Volunteers are an integral part of the operations of many non-profits, and these organizations could not achieve their missions without the assistance of volunteers. Volunteer recruitment and retention is a high priority for these non-profits.

More than 61 million Americans volunteer their time with an organization at least once per year according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number, equal to approximately 26 percent of the US population, has been in decline since 2002 when the agency first began tracking these statistics. British surveys report that around 20 million citizens volunteer their time in that country. These volunteer surveys suggest that volunteerism may actually be on the rise in Britain. While worldwide statistics are difficult to obtain it is obvious that many millions of people around the world volunteer their time for causes that are important to them. These volunteers represent millions of hours worth of volunteer effort and labor each year.

Recruiting volunteers is a constant challenge for non-profit organizations. Most non-profits find it necessary to develop some type of formal recruitment program to maintain a constant influx of new volunteers. Recruitment efforts often start in-house with current volunteers. Current volunteers can be a great source of new volunteers. Many non-profits already maintain a list of supporters and interested individuals. Contacting these supporters through either a direct mail campaign or advertisements placed in a newsletter is a great way to further involve people who are already committed to the organizations mission.

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Recruitment effort may be more successful when they are targeted and specific. Advertising the volunteer needs to committed supporters will likely be more effective than advertising the needs to the general population. Likewise, advertising the needs through a related organization will likely yield better results than advertising to the general public. Specific advertising is also likely to return a better yield than general advertising. A general appeal for volunteers may reach many people who would be interested but perhaps do not think the organization needs their skills. Advertising specific volunteer needs allows potential volunteers to understand the organizations needs and to assess where they may fit into the organization.

Retaining volunteers often proves to be just as challenging as recruiting them in the first place. Attrition affects volunteer operations just like any other type of operation. Volunteers typically last as long as their objectives are achieved and satisfied. Volunteer managers do not have the leverage of a paycheck and benefits package to assist with retention. Volunteer who do not feel appreciated or valued will simply not come back.

Volunteer managers must understand why people choose to volunteer with their organization. It is important to recognize that their reasons for volunteering may be very different from the organizations mission or objective. Discover why people volunteer with the organization and then do whatever is necessary to satisfy their objectives. If your volunteers find the social interaction to be a significant benefit of volunteering then implement social opportunities for the volunteers. These volunteer social events can then help to keep volunteers connected and satisfied. Other volunteers may not be motivated by social interaction but drawn by the opportunity to learn new skills. Failing to provide these volunteers with skill development opportunities will probably result in the volunteer moving on. Providing opportunities for skill development will keep these volunteers satisfied. Satisfied volunteers are likely to be long-term volunteers.

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Use surveys or informal conversations to discover why people are volunteering. Once you understand what motivates volunteers in the organization then you can implement measures to satisfy their objectives with the organization.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of many non-profit organizations. Actively recruiting new volunteers, along with actively retaining active volunteers, are mission critical activities for any volunteer-based organization. Volunteer recruitment and retention needs to be intentional and ongoing. What are your suggestions for recruiting and retaining volunteers? What steps can non-profits take to recruit and retain their volunteers? Should non-profits use a formal recruitment and retention process or should they rely on an informal process?