How to Recruit and Retain Volunteers

Updated on June 22, 2020
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Scientist and author, Beth enjoys living life in the slow lane. She takes time to enjoy the little things in life.

The publicity from this anti-G8 demo in France raised awareness of the cause, and so attracted more volunteers.
The publicity from this anti-G8 demo in France raised awareness of the cause, and so attracted more volunteers. | Source

6 Steps to Recruit and Retain Volunteers

  1. Aim high. Don't just use volunteers for low-skilled roles; they often have more professional skills they can offer. Some of them may be ideal as charitable trustees.

  2. Motivation is individual. Most volunteers give their time because they want to help others, but many also want something else. This could be skills development, or the opportunity to make new friends.

  3. Word of mouth works. Personal recommendation is still a good way to get people involved. Use social media to recruit; be clear about the role on offer, the skills needed, and what the charity can offer in return.

  4. Reply promptly. People appreciate a quick response. If someone offers to donate their time, don't delay. A slow or no response creates a bad first impression.

  5. Welcome new recruits. Have an induction session for new starters. Welcomed and busy volunteers are happy team members.

  6. Say thank you. Make sure volunteers know they're appreciated. It'll make all the difference, and will encourage them to recommend you to their friends.

Raise the Visibility of Your Cause

Anyone can be a volunteer. There are roles within the charity sector for people of all ages and abilities. However, every volunteer is an individual and each one comes with a varying level of commitment and motivation. There’s no such thing as a “standard” volunteer.

To recruit the best person for your volunteering vacancy, you need to get out there and sell the merits of your organization. A nonprofits recruitment poster or YouTube video for volunteers must capture the public’s attention, and clearly deliver your message.

The publicity doesn’t need to be complicated. A simple slogan like the protest strip banners in the photo above can be effective. Through the use of bold colors and clear wording, the banners raised awareness of an issue and helped recruit volunteers to that cause. The video below shows the wide range of people that volunteer and some of their reasons for doing so.

The Power of Volunteering

How to Create an Engaging Recruitment Campaign

A volunteer recruitment campaign must be both informative and eye-catching. The info given should be a teaser that encourages someone to want to volunteer for your organization.

You should indicate the type of help you are looking for, and describe the impact their contribution will make. Make sure you include the name and contact details of the nonprofit organization in your ad.

  1. Make sure you know WHAT you need volunteers for.
  2. Design your marketing campaign based on the kind of volunteers you need.
  3. Recruit them by making your program sound exciting and fun. Offering food and swag also helps.
  4. Allow your volunteers to grow by offering skill-building opportunities.
  5. Show them their impact of their help. Let your volunteers know that they are making a difference.
  6. Don’t forget to show your thanks as often as possible.

An example of a clear, concise volunteer recruitment poster.
An example of a clear, concise volunteer recruitment poster. | Source

What and Where Are the Vacancies?

Volunteers want to know what they will be expected to do, and when and where the volunteering will take place. Be clear about the reasons why you are looking for volunteers. For example, you may want volunteers to help in a caring and befriending role, or you may be looking for fundraisers. Each role requires different skills and varying time commitments.

The video below shows the huge variety of projects that welcome volunteers. From an animal shelter to a soup kitchen, Lucie Fink, a blogger, samples the highs and lows of community involvement. There are similar charitable and nonprofit organizations almost everywhere. This free volunteering app is a good way to find out what’s happening near you.

5 Days Of Volunteering With Lucie Fink

Reasons Why People Volunteer

There are many reasons people choose to volunteer. They may want to

  • give something back to an organization that’s helped them
  • help the environment
  • help others less fortunate or without a voice
  • feel valued and part of a team
  • gain confidence and self-esteem
  • gain new skills, knowledge and experience
  • enhance their CV and improve their employment prospects
  • gain an accreditation
  • use their professional skills and knowledge to benefit others
  • meet new people and make new friends
  • get to know the local community.

Who Are Your Potential Volunteers?

Some people know exactly which cause they want to give their time and effort to. They’ve already decided when and where they want to volunteer. They have useful skills to offer and are focused on one particular nonprofit organization. This type of volunteer is easy to recruit because they’re already on the lookout for a volunteering opportunity.

However, most people have only a vague idea about volunteering. They want to help society in general, but don’t really know how charitable organizations operate. These would-be volunteers don’t know which, if any, of their skills will be useful to nonprofits. They may be unaware which ones operate locally, or what opportunities there can be for volunteering elsewhere or even overseas. This type of person is part of a large untapped pool of potential volunteers. A good awareness raising campaign aimed at these novice volunteers has the potential to yield excellent results.

Volunteers build raised beds for kids to plant their gardens.
Volunteers build raised beds for kids to plant their gardens. | Source

My Experience of Volunteering

I have moved around a lot with my career. Volunteering is a good way to get to know people in a new place and to make friends outside the workplace. Most of the experiences have been very positive and I have gained new skills and had fun. The few that did not work out were a disappointment to both me and the charity that enlisted my help. If this happens to you, just put it down to experience, and move on to a vacancy better suited to you. The following are some of the volunteering roles I have held over the years.

Volunteer Hospital Radio Presenter

I visited patients on the wards and gathered requests for music tracks. Later, I would play these requests in my radio show, and pass on get well messages from family and friends. I gained technical skills and learned what goes on in a broadcasting studio.

School Reading Helper

This is a great role if you love children. It involves listening to children read and encouraging them to become confident readers. Many schools like parents to take an active interest in their children and this is a good way to involve yourself in furthering their education.


I’ve held a bucket for many charities; along the route of marathon runs, going house-to-house, and workplace collections. It’s a handy way to interact with the public and promote the aims of a nonprofit whose aims you support, but can’t give a regular time commitment to.

Museum Craft Volunteer

My local museum is concerned that traditional crafts like knitting, crochet, patchwork, and embroidery, are in danger of dying out. Volunteers meet once a month and demonstrate and teach these skills to interested members of the public. It’s a kind of “knit ‘n natter” with purpose!

These are just a few examples, but it gives you a flavor of the wide choice of skills and environments that provide volunteering opportunities.

Who Will Apply for the Role?

Volunteers are motivated to give their time to charity for many reasons. Some people volunteer for religious or political reasons. Others want to learn a new skill, or to meet new people and make new friends. Sometimes people use volunteering as a way to gain work experience to help them get paid work. The recruitment campaign therefore needs to focus not only on what the organization is looking for, but also on the benefits of volunteering for an individual.

Although many nonprofits are looking for long-term volunteers, you may be recruiting volunteers for one specific project. Some people are only able to offer a few hours and see the chance to give a short period of their time as an easy way to help their community. If they have fun and enjoy the experience, they may get involved with the organization in other ways, for example through fundraising or by donating money.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Submit a Comment
  • Coffeequeeen profile image

    Louise Powles 

    4 months ago from Norfolk, England

    This is a really interesting and useful post. I volunteer in a charity shop on Saturday mornings. I've been there about 4 years now. I really enjoy it, I've made lots of new friends and picked up a few skills too.


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