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Expand and deepen the resource pool: Tips for recruiting, retaining and developing volunteersWhen times are tight, the demand for many nonprofit services spikes.  Where do you turn for help?  You may have already guessed the answer: your enthusiastic volunteer base!If you’re looking to grow your volunteer corps in one way or another, we’ve pulled together a few ideas to help you convince new volunteers to come on board and persuade existing volunteers to allocate additional time and resources.

Showcase the unique benefits
Volunteering offers many benefits that current or potential volunteers may not know. Share these interesting tidbits with them to boost involvement:

  • Allan Luks, author of The Healing Power of Doing Good, documents many cases in which individuals gained strength after performing a good deed. He describes a phenomenon called the “helper’s high” that is similar to the good feeling you get after exercising. This flood of endorphins has provided relief from insomnia, boosted immune system strength and even aided recovery after surgery!
  • Volunteering lets participants see and feel the immediate impact of their donation – a benefit that may not come from donating cash alone. Other rewards reaped from volunteering? Building friendships/meeting new people, building interpersonal and communication skills, and even gaining experience toward a future job application.

Give prospective volunteers the opportunity to see the impact they can have by inviting them to a one-night- or day-only volunteer extravaganza.  Put them to work with hands-on, meaningful projects and let them experience the warm glow of the “helper’s high.”

Make it a public affair
Volunteers may believe their contribution of time pales in comparison to large cash donations, scholarship awards or endowment gifts.  Encourage their involvement by showing how a volunteer’s donation of time can reap benefits equal or greater than that of a monetary gift:

  • Publishing a case study of a volunteer event and its success in your nonprofit’s monthly print or e-mail newsletter. Interview volunteers who participated in the event and include their quotes in the story to beef up the human-interest angle. Consider publishing the story on your website, too, for even more exposure!
  • Drawing community attention. In the week leading up to a volunteer recruitment event, outfit your staff and volunteers with bright-colored T-shirts screened with the event’s name, date and slogan. Arm them with plenty of informational fliers to spread the word, and consider having the event’s leaders carry a sign-up sheet for new recruit information. Then, after the potential volunteers fill out their information, let them keep their writing utensil—a logo’d pen or schnazzy Mood Pencil—as a reminder of their commitment.
  • Acknowledging star volunteers at annual award ceremonies. Your top-notch volunteers will be honored to have their donation of time recognized with the likes of those setting up impactful scholarships or planned gifts. Give them a specially engraved Plato, Awareness Ribbon or Stella I Star Award to really highlight your gratuitous message!

Relay the going exchange rate
In January 2009, coffee chain Starbucks® gave all patrons a free tall (small) coffee if they pledged to do an hour of community service. Similarly, Boost Mobile’s RockCorps program gives away one concert ticket to youth who donate four hours or more to scheduled community service events.

Follow suit of these successful reward plans by tailoring your volunteer thank-you prizes to the audience at hand. If you’re targeting older adults, try giving out certificates to restaurants with great breakfast, set inside a logo’d mug. For a younger crowd reward, consider movie passes tucked into an imprinted picture frame.

By showing your current and potential audiences the value of their time donation, you’ll be well on your way to securing future gifts of volunteerism. Even when we may not have enough money to go around, many of us can still spare a bit of their time for a good cause.


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