How To Ensure Effective and Engaged Volunteers – Part One – Finding Good Volunteers

Photo by WA State Library via Flickr

It’s National Volunteer Week. Many nonprofit organizations rely on volunteers. Some provide services such as tutoring or mentoring and others help out with publicity and administrative tasks.

Taking on volunteers can be very rewarding for an organization, as well the volunteer, but it can also be frustrating for both parties. Two problem areas are finding the right people and keeping your volunteers engaged. In this post, I’m going to write about finding good volunteers.   

If I can offer one piece of advice it would be – Don’t take on volunteers if you can’t support them.  People may contact you seeking a volunteer opportunity.  If you don’t have something concrete for the person to do on a regular basis, don’t take someone on at this time, even if you think you can’t turn away a potential volunteer. Volunteers require effort and engagement from the staff.

What is your need?
If you do have a need for volunteers, take the process seriously and go about it the same way you would if you were hiring a staff member.

First, put together a position description. This will help you assess your needs and what the person will do. Then you can post it when you recruit. The position description can also be transformed into the volunteer’s work plan.  I will go into more detail about that in my next post.

Here are some sample volunteer position descriptions.

Training vs. Experience
Decide how much training you want to provide. If you are recruiting tutors, they will probably need to go through a training. However, if you are looking for an administrative person, you will most likely want someone with experience.

Finding someone with experience may take longer, but it will be worth it. Yes, people with experience will be looking for paid positions, but you might be able to find someone who is between jobs, a stay-at-home parent with relevant experience, or a retired professional. Don’t be afraid to be picky about choosing volunteers.

If you do bring on volunteers without experience, make sure you give them a good training and are available for guidance and support.

Finding the right people
Your best bet is to ask people close to you, such as board members, staff, and other volunteers. You would want a personal recommendation like this for higher level work and any type of work done on your website. 

Otherwise, you can post announcements on sites such as Idealist or Volunteer Match, on your website and social media, and on community list serves. 

Ask for a resume, writing or design samples, and references. Do a background check if the person will be working with children.

When you interview potential volunteers, besides assessing whether they have the right skills and experience for the position, see if they are willing to commit to a set schedule. This is often one of the biggest problems with volunteers. Of course, they should also be passionate about your work and fit in with your organizational culture.

I really recommend taking the time to screen your candidates. Any investment you make up front will pay off in the end for both your organization and the volunteer.

In Part Two, I will write about keeping your volunteers motivated and supported.

Additional Information

One thought on “How To Ensure Effective and Engaged Volunteers – Part One – Finding Good Volunteers

  1. I disagree that volunteers should be required to have a set schedule–that would be a turnoff for me if an organization made me schedule in, unless it was something formal like an internship.
    One of my favorite things about volunteering with the nonprofit I volunteer with is that I can make my own schedule and come in on my own time–it lets me know that they are super flexible and that I can help out when I can help out.
    That organization also has over 200 volunteers, so I suppose we can afford to do that. For a smaller organization, I can see how an hourly commitment would be essential.

    Other than that, really fantastic article! I'd love to read more about how to recruit and maintain volunteers via social media, especially Facebook and Twitter.


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