Expanding your Volunteer Pool

Expanding your volunteer poolRecent articles have focused on volunteers with a stress on board and leadership volunteers.  Nonprofits rely on a steady stream of these individuals – how do you make sure you have enough people feeding the organization’s needs?

Current Donors

The first place to start is always among your donors.  If they are already giving you money, asking for time should be easy.  Of course many will not be able to offer you hours on end, but you don’t need to ask them to start at 10 hours a week.

Assessing each individual is important, if joining a standing committee would be intimidating consider short-term options.  You will get the best results if you offer up to two to three time-bound (beginning, middle and end can range from one day to six months or less), volunteer opportunities so that they can tell you whether they would prefer mornings or evenings, direct service or behind the scenes work. A follow up phone call within a few days of the assignment is essential to know whether the experience was positive, whether it was what they expected and whether they would be interested in volunteering again.  Transitioning a donor into a volunteer will also establish a stronger connection between the donor and the organization translating into longer term funding and often increased donations.

Coordinating Volunteers Without Staff Involvement

In a small or mid-sized nonprofit, the biggest problem with organizing volunteers is often the time it takes to contact, train, track and coordinate.  And the smaller the nonprofit, the less likely there is a staff person dedicated to volunteer coordination.

What can you do? Think creatively about who can take on the responsibility for coordinating volunteers and recruiting new ones for unmet needs.  If there is no obvious person, consider how technology can help you ask more than one person to share the responsibility. Google docs (which can be found at gmail.com), among others, can help share files among multiple users allowing for coordination to be split between morning volunteers, afternoon or evening shifts, various events or weekly, monthly or one-time shifts.   The key to shared coordination is to know that the coordinator(s) will be around for at least a year.  Transitioning coordination can also be time-consuming and should be built into both the beginning and end of their commitment.

Getting More Volunteers

Invite volunteerism at every opportunity.  Every time a person fills out a form for your nonprofit (from donor forms to event check-in), include a sentence that asks if they would like to volunteer and if so, in what capacity.  The request can be open-ended, a check-list, or a list a specific upcoming opportunity, but continually reminding people that you are looking for volunteers will provide you with new names even if you only receive a small response rate.

If you have spent time building your social media connections – it is a great way to ask for volunteers.  Again, it is a targeted group of people who are already showing an interest in your organization.   They don’t want to be bombarded by requests – just as they shouldn’t be smothered in philanthropic requests – but advertising opportunities for new volunteers can attract them in a different way.

Don’t be afraid to ask.  In the same way you should never say no for a donor, never say no for a volunteer.

Let us know what worked well for you.