One of the smartest steps you can take as a Founder is to find volunteers who are committed to helping you grow your nonprofit.
There are so many things to do and you can’t possibly do them all yourself. You need help to make your dream a reality.
Many hands make light work (I’m sure you’ve heard that before!) and it’s true.
But not all help is created equally.
Some volunteers require a lot of hand-holding and others can be a pain in the neck.
You need the RIGHT people volunteering to help you so that things get done smoothly and efficiently, making the work fun.
You need responsible people to delegate to – people who will do what they say they will do, getting tasks done and meeting deadlines so that the organization moves forward.
Good volunteers don’t grow on trees, that’s for sure. But there ARE people out there who will make wonderful members of your team.
Your job is to find them and plug them into the right spots on your team.
So, where can you find volunteers to help grow your nonprofit?
Why You Need to Find Volunteers
I can hear you: “I got this! Nobody understands or loves the cause as much as me!”
I get it.
But wait – You don’t think you’re going to do this alone, do you?
If you think you’re going to be an effective and happy Lone Ranger, PLEASE think again.
Nonprofit work is exciting, impactful, important, and beautiful.
But it’s also emotionally draining, time-sucking, exhausting, and, at times, thankless.
I’m not trying to be a negative Nelly here. I LOVE that you care enough about your cause to put yourself out there.
And I want to help you succeed so that you can TRULY make a difference in the world, making all the blood, sweat, and tears worth it.
The key to success and longevity in nonprofit management is BALANCE.
Find it early and check it often.
Don’t let your passion lead you to burnout.
Even Superman took breaks from the cape.
That’s why you need to find volunteers who are a good fit for you and your nonprofit’s mission.
When you’re just starting out, it’s hard to really determine exactly what you need.
Hopefully, by the time you’ve finished this article, you’ll have a better idea of what volunteers you need, where to find them, and how to keep them!
Who Do You Need?
Before you start your quest to find volunteers, get clear about what kind of help you need.
Who DO you need? What skills? What connections?
These are questions that only you can answer.
It’s a good idea to find volunteers with skills that you don’t have so they can get done what you can’t (and without you having to pay for it). Think about things like:
- Office systems setup
- Graphic design
- Web development
- Social media setup/management
- Event Planning
And of course, you likely need volunteers to help with day-to-day operations, especially things that you don’t need to be doing in the first place.
Every task that you can get off your plate frees you up to work on those things only YOU can do. Think about getting help with things like:
- Data Entry
- Supply ordering
- Writing/Addressing thank-you cards
- Helping with other mailings
I’m sure there’s more. Did anything else come to mind for you?
Get yourself into the habit of looking strategically at what you do during the day and find someone else to do the stuff that is repetitive or doesn’t need you specifically to get it done.
Before You Go Out to Find Volunteers
Once you’ve had a chance to really sit and think about what volunteers your nonprofit needs, flesh out those roles and responsibilities and create job descriptions.
Yes, job descriptions!
Your volunteer job descriptions don’t need to be all inclusive, but they should be a pretty thorough description of the responsibilities and requirements of the role they’ll be filling.
Think about it. You wouldn’t accept a job if you didn’t know what all you’d have to do, would you? I wouldn’t!
Be sure to outline things like days of the week and number of hours they’ll be needed, tasks and activities to be completed, any skills that are required, any safety considerations (i.e. activities take place outdoors, you must be able to lift at least 20 pounds, etc.), and what tools and supplies will be provided.
It’s far better to provide a lot of details now than to find out your volunteers aren’t a good fit later on — and that you have to “correct” or remove them.
Where to Find Volunteers
You can find great volunteers in lots of ways.
First, simply ask friends and family who they know that matches the skill set you need. A friend of a friend is always better than someone you don’t know.
Use your social media channels to post your volunteer needs. Someone who is already following you online is clearly interested in what you’re doing and may make a good addition to your team. These posts are effective because they can be shared.
See if there’s a volunteer resource center in your community that matches up potential volunteers with nonprofits. These are often run by United Way or a Center for Nonprofits. In my area, Volunteer East Tennessee offers this service.
Consider reaching out to local Rotary clubs, professional organizations, or other groups that may have good potential volunteers for you. If they can’t publicize your volunteer needs in their group, they may know of places where you CAN share your volunteer openings.
Talk to career counselors at high schools, local community colleges, and trade schools to see if you can find someone with the skills you’re looking for. Often, students are hungry for practical experience they can use for their resume and portfolio.
Depending on your project, you may find a corporate team or a scout troop that will pitch in to help. By asking around, you might find a local company or two that regularly sends teams out to help nonprofits in their area.
Volunteer recruitment sites like VolunteerMatch or Create the Good, which is AARP’s volunteer arm, can help you find volunteers with specific skills and experience. (I’ve had good luck with VolunteerMatch).
Choose Wisely When Looking For Volunteers
Many nonprofit leaders fall into the trap of being grateful for any warm body that shows up.
Acting from desperation might be easier in the moment, but failing to properly screen your volunteers can definitely come back to haunt you.
A key person in your nonprofit should meet volunteer applicants to help determine if their values are aligned with its mission and vision.
It’s important to work with volunteers who are not only like-minded, but who will also represent your nonprofit in the way you’d like it to be represented.
It’s also important to make sure that volunteers are compatible with one another. Nobody has to be best friends, but they do need to get along.
Volunteers will walk away very easily if they feel they are not being respected or if they have to deal with bickering.
If you interview someone and decide against bringing them on board, email them anyway to thank them for their interest and let them know if you’re ever in need of their skills, you’ll reach out.
Creating a positive experience – even if you don’t end up working together – will set the stage for great community relations and word-of-mouth.
Help for Control Freaks
I know you may be thinking it’s a good idea to get help…and simultaneously worried that the work won’t get done the way you want it done.
I get it. I like control, too.
Actually, I like quality control. I like knowing things are getting done to my minimum standards and expectations.
You CAN get people to do things your way if you set up systems and expectations up front.
Here are some other things you need to keep in mind so you can keep your Control Freak side in check.
A Myth Busting Chart for the Control Freak in All of Us
|I’m just starting out. I don’t need help now.
||FALSE! You need help NOW. Building a good organizational structure from the start will prevent so much work later on. Many nonprofit leaders look back and say they wish they’d had more help from the beginning so they didn’t have to work so hard. Be prepared for volunteers before you think you need them. You may grow faster than you expect and need help sooner than you think.
|If I want something done right, I better do it myself.
||FALSE! If you want something done YOUR WAY, you have to do it yourself or teach others your way. But your way may not be the only right way. Give others a chance, and be open to their ideas for improvement.
|NOBODY will do the work the way I would.
||TRUE! But is it worth the micromanaging? Do the thank-you letters REALLY need to be written only in blue ink?
|This will just take me 5 minutes. I can do it.
||FALSE. Minutes grow into hours! Everything you can get off your plate frees you up to do the things that ONLY you can do. If you do everything yourself, you’re setting yourself up for burnout.
|I need to know everything that is going on in my nonprofit all the time.
||FALSE. You need to be updated regularly, and you need to know anything urgent. But you do not need to know everything, every day. Decide what info you’d like, and ask your team to provide you with reports or updates when you need them.
Tips for Keeping Great Volunteers
You’ve created a volunteer program: you have your roles, you’ve interviewed, and chosen your volunteers.
How are you going to make sure they are happy so they stick with you?
Volunteer turnover can be a real problem if you’re not prepared to give people a good experience.
Here are 7 ways to get off on the right foot and lay the groundwork for long and successful relationships with your volunteers.
Be prepared for them. Have you ever started at a new job and showed up ready to work, only to find out there’s no desk for you? No company email set up? These things are hurtful and frustrating, and they give a horrible first impression of your nonprofit.
Being ‘prepared’ is not just about preparing a workspace and having their supplies ready — which you should most certainly do. It’s also about being emotionally and professionally prepared as well. Be ready to spend some time with your new volunteer and have some clear direction to provide to help them get started. Make sure any other staff or volunteers are aware that your newbie is starting and welcome them with excitement and warmth.
Be honest. If you don’t have a lot to do yet, tell them. If you’re a little overwhelmed and don’t know how to start, tell them. You may have a volunteer on your hands with a multitude of skills, so let them help!
Be flexible. Although you may have brought a volunteer on to do your bookkeeping, you may discover that they have strengths in video editing that you could really put to use. You may have a volunteer that doesn’t know what they want to do, but they want to help. Be open to this! Ask questions, and you might discover a gem that you’ve been looking for.
Be understanding and compassionate. Remember that volunteers are not paid employees, and when something pops up, they may cancel on you. Volunteerism sadly falls to the back burner when there’s a family emergency or vacation and is usually the last priority — even if commitments were made. Do your best to accommodate these issues without making a big deal out of it. Yes, there are times when it IS a big deal. Just choose your battles carefully.
Keep them fulfilled. Nobody likes to do tedious stuff they don’t enjoy. We all do it, but if your volunteers are relegated to only the boring or mundane tasks, you will lose them. It’s so important to ask them what they want to do that’s meaningful! If you can’t meet their needs, maybe you’ll have ideas of other ways to keep them stimulated.
RECOGNIZE them. This can be a simple thank-you, a greeting card, a box of candy, or a volunteer appreciation party. It doesn’t matter WHAT you do. It only matters that you do something to properly thank them for their service. When you thank, be specific. “Thanks for all your hard work” or “Thank you for all you do for our community” are shallow and generic. Be very specific in your thanks. “Thank you for helping us set up the summer BBQ last week. You are truly amazing, and we appreciate you!” Now doesn’t that sound nicer?
Make a Team. Whether you have a team of 2 or 200, your volunteers want to feel like they are a part of something. People volunteer because they want to make a difference, meet fun people, and do something rewarding. You’ve got two of the three covered, so make sure you make it fun too!
The Bottom Line
A new or young nonprofit is only as strong as its team of volunteers.
Invest in the success of your team, make the work rewarding and fun, and form a strong team culture.
Together you can do so much more and change the world.
And isn’t that what you signed up for?