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Building a Strong Nonprofit Volunteer Force

From Recruitment to Retention

It's important for nonprofits to focus on volunteer management and building a sustainable program. We consulted two experts for advice on building a team that will continue to pay dividends!

Building a Strong Nonprofit Volunteer Force

Most nonprofits rely on an army of volunteers to help increase their impact and strengthen their mission. Whether you’re counting on help with events, your board, in-office needs such as IT or legal help, or team leads and members for peer-to-peer and advocacy efforts, these staunch supporters are integral to your nonprofit’s success.

And you’re not alone. According to the Philanthropy Roundtable, volunteers comprise one-third of the nonprofit workforce. Leveraging this fact and focusing on building—and maintaining—a solid volunteer force is a smart strategic move that can strengthen almost everything your nonprofit does.

We asked two nonprofit-volunteer-team-building veterans (who now work for CharityEngine) to share their best tips in a webinar. If you missed it, we’ve included most of their thoughts here.

The Four Rs of Building a Volunteer Force

Our experts recommend structuring a program around the four Rs: Research, Recruit, Retain, and Review. Let’s look at each of these a little more closely.


In this step, you’re defining your organization’s strategic purpose. You’re asking yourself:

  • What are our strategic priorities?
  • What volunteer positions can advance those priorities?
  • What’s our internal capacity to build and manage a volunteer program?
  • Which staff member will manage the process?
  • How much time and budget will we need to allocate?
  • Will focusing on this advance or distract us from our mission?
  • What does success look like?

By discussing these questions with your team, you’ll identify whether or not you need volunteers, the roles they could fill, and how embarking on volunteer recruitment will affect your organization internally. It’s a crucial first step.


Recruiting the right volunteers is the key to retention. How can you tell the right volunteer from one who might not work out? Understand their motivation! For example, a college student might be trying to build a resume. You’ll want to give her leadership opportunities and the chance to manage projects. A retiree might be interested in working at an event where she will meet people or perhaps use her years of experience and wisdom to mentor younger volunteers.

If that’s the magic behind who you recruit, how should you try to find these volunteers?

Our webinar presenters had a few tips:

  • Post your volunteer sign-up form and open position descriptions on your website.
  • Drive traffic to the site by posting photos of volunteers on social media and reinforcing their impact on your mission.
  • Use your nonprofit’s email newsletter to promote volunteer opportunities.
  • Target groups of people: students, employees, members of churches, synagogues, or other religious organizations, service groups like the Junior League or Scouts.

Understanding the "why"—the motivation of volunteers—can help you recruit the right people for your organization and its needs. If you can offer anything in return, like official volunteer hours for school or a project, ensure you’re publicizing that as you promote the opportunities.


Congratulations! You’ve got a strong team of volunteers. They’re committed to your cause, and their skills align with what you need. But now…how do you keep them?

Remember, one out of every three volunteers will leave. While that might not be turnover that will ruin your nonprofit, it’s easier to just hang on to volunteers than to find new ones.

There are quite a few ways you can work to retain these valuable supporters:

  • Create a positive experience. Craft detailed position descriptions, keep intake and onboarding smooth and efficient, and clearly state the expectations in each position.
  • Engage your team! Use team-building activities, offer collaborative communication, and provide plenty of training resources to engage your volunteers.
  • Steward your volunteers. They’re donors; they donate time, which is often a more precious resource than dollars. Communicate intentionally, recognize individuals who shine, and always express gratitude. When volunteers feel a sense of ownership and know their feedback is welcome, they’ll be loyal to your nonprofit.


Periodically review your efforts. Go back to the Research step and check in on your goals, resource expenditure, and success with your volunteer program.

When you build and steward your volunteer force, you’ll reap more rewards than you likely expect. From increased volunteer satisfaction and engagement to higher retention rates, from positive word-of-mouth referrals to more successful recruitment efforts, from happy volunteers to lifelong advocates for your mission, it’s worth the time and attention to create a strong program.

It is also worth noting that up to 85% of volunteers become financial donors to the nonprofit they volunteer for. If you expand the donor journey and consider volunteering the first step, you will see that stewarding volunteers is the first step that can ultimately result in sustainer and major-gift donors.

Finally, happy and engaged volunteers contribute to a positive culture. This is necessary for any nonprofit wishing to have a sustainable volunteer program.

Volunteer Management: Invest in the Future

Whether or not you can dedicate extensive resources to managing your volunteer program, there are a few final takeaways that apply to (and are easy for) any nonprofit organization:

  • Create volunteer roles based on current resources and strategic priorities.
  • Understand why your volunteers are providing time to your organization.
  • Set clear expectations and provide guidance.
  • Support and respect your volunteers’ time and effort.

And always remember that volunteers are donors! They’re just at a different spot on the donor journey.

Volunteer management software can help any nonprofit streamline this process. If you’re in the market for fundraising software, give us a call. We would love to share how our unified data can power up your fundraising!

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