Volunteer Recruitment and Management



Volunteers can provide valuable support to a nonprofit organization. They assist paid staff, serve your clients, and are usually motivated by a simple desire to help your cause because they believe in it. Even though volunteers are unpaid, they still require careful and deliberate recruitment, interviewing, management, and encouragement. By the end of this lesson, you will be able to: Explain ways to publicize your organization and its needs; Implement strategies for recruiting appropriate volunteers; and Understand techniques for continually managing and engaging your volunteer base

This lesson will help you understand successful volunteer recruitment and management.

This e-learning lesson will give you the tools to be able to:

Resources and tools will guide you in your own recruitment process.

In addition to providing valuable contextual information, this lesson will point you toward additional resources to help you recruit volunteers for your organization. You’ll find a sample volunteer application, examples of recruitment posters and flyers, sample program manuals, and links to websites on which you can both find and post open volunteer positions.

CHAPTER 1: Defining Your Needs and Spreading the Word

Many people who volunteer want to offer their professional skills and talents to a cause they believe in. It’s important to know your organization’s needs so you can recruit qualified volunteers. Accurate position descriptions will help attract these people. Before you can successfully recruit volunteers, you need to understand what your needs are. Ask yourself the following questions:

Know who posesses the skill sets you need.

People who use the skills you are looking for in their everyday professional lives will have inherent expertise that can be put to work for you.  Examples of professional skills that may translate directly into helping your organization include:

Make sure you have the oversight and guidance available to manage and coordinate these volunteer roles, to get the right people in the right positions.

Craft a three-part recruitment message that briefly details and describes what your organization is looking for in a volunteer.

The recruitment message should be broken into three parts:  a statement of need, how the volunteer can help, and the benefit to the volunteer.

The statement of need should be drafted in two versions.  First, create a version that’s just for internal use; second, create a public version that’s more compelling and “dressed up” to attract potential volunteers.  You’ll use this version in advertising materials. 

The next part of the recruitment message explains how the volunteer can help.  What can he or she provide?  What hard skills and interpersonal qualities would make an individual a good fit for your organization?  Be brief but explicit in terms of the most important qualifications.

Finally, explain the benefit to the volunteer of working with your organization.  People don’t volunteer to get a paycheck.  Each person has his or her own reasons, which are usually intrinsic; in other words, the volunteer gets some kind of internal satisfaction or gratification from their task.  What might a person accomplish by helping your group?  It might be helping a child learn to read, serving meals to those who cannot afford to buy food for themselves, or simply easing the burden on an overworked staff by helping with administrative work.  A good way to think about the reward for a volunteer is by considering the reward for the person being served.  For example, if a senior citizen gets a lift in their day by spending time with a volunteer as an adopted grandchild, the volunteer may also feel the lift of having brightened someone’s day.

Publicize your volunteer opportunities.

Accurate, detailed position descriptions help attract the right people, which can save you the trouble of having to turn away applicants who don’t possess the relevant skills.  Of course, how detailed your position description is depends on the task for which you are recruiting volunteers. A project-based opportunity, such as building a house, may only require healthy bodies; creating a booklet for a literacy program, on the other hand, may require someone with marketing or design skills.

You can both passively and actively recruit for volunteers. Passive recruitment might involve putting up flyers or posting ads online.  Active recruitment could include visiting a local company to talk to their staff, or speaking to a professor or class at a local university who possesses skills you need.  Here are some other ways to reach potential volunteers:

CHAPTER 2: Interviewing to Find a Match

Remember: A volunteer and organization partnership needs to be a match on both sides. Just because your volunteer position is not a paying job, doesn’t mean just anyone can do it. At the same time, you don’t want to give off an air of exclusivity during an interview such that the applicant feels he or she isn’t needed or wanted. Implementing a thorough application and interview process will give structure to the next stage of recruitment. These tools can make the difference between having a great volunteer in the wrong position, and a great volunteer who is maximizing his or her skills for your organization.

The process of taking on a volunteer should involve both an application and an interview.

The application should include the following: demographic info, past volunteer experience, computer knowledge, and potentially a matrix of skills that are relevant to your organization (e.g., bookkeeping or accounting skills, First Aid certifications, marketing experience, experience working with youth).

Additionally, decide who internally will manage the applicants. Organizations that don’t have a designated volunteer coordinator should assign a specific staff person to oversee the volunteer management and recruitment process. It’s critical that this process gets the oversight it requires, or you could end up with volunteers who just walk through the door, and who may or may not be a match with your group.

Interviews help determine the suitability of applicants for a particular job at your organization, and sell your organization’s mission to potential volunteers wanting to gain satisfaction from helping others.

Prior to conducting an interview, have the person’s application and background materials in hand. You should also have a list of your openings, with descriptions of duties and qualifications, questions related to job skills, open-ended discussion points, and info about the organization. Also, remember that the atmosphere and location of the interview are important. The volunteer is scoping out your work space and the office “vibe,” and what they see and hear during the interview will shape their feelings toward your organization.

During the interview, explore applicant’s interests, abilities, and situation. What kind of commitment can they give, what skills do they offer, and what are their preferences in a work environment and team structure? Where might they be a good fit? Too often agencies have the perfect volunteer in the wrong position. Discuss the job possibilities you have, and include information on time commitments and training.

In closing the interview, it’s a good idea to tell the applicant that you’d like to allow 24 hours for both the agency and the applicant to think things over and see if it’s a match. This will ensure neither side makes a commitment before thoroughly considering what’s involved. Be sure to explain what will happen next. Will you conduct background or reference checks? Contact the applicant about a second interview? Schedule training? What is the time frame?

CHAPTER 3: Managing Volunteers

Having supports in place for your volunteers is critical. The job description and upfront “fit” is important, but so is helping people adjust once they join the organization. Decide who within your agency is going to manage the volunteers, and make sure they are warmly welcomed. Careful management will ensure you retain the volunteers you’ve recruited and utilize them to their potential. By ensuring your volunteers feel supported and guided, especially in the beginning, you can boost retention rates. Additionally, if your volunteers feel well cared for, they may recommend your group to their friends, generating an even larger volunteer pool from which you can recruit.

Plan to conduct an orientation once a volunteer has signed on, and assign a staff contact person to oversee the development of each new volunteer.

Orientation allows the new volunteer to meet the team and learn more about the agency and its work. Orientation is also a good time to explain the expectations, policies, and procedures of the program. The appointed staff contact person can make sure the new volunteer has enough to do, adequate supervision, and enough support to understand both what to do and how to do it. Ideally, staff contacts should have training in best practices of volunteer management.

Draft a written manual on the programs and policies of your agency.

Some important areas you may want to address include:

CHAPTER 4: Keeping Volunteers Engaged

Over time, showing your appreciation for your volunteers will help them stay engaged with your program. Continually strive to seek out ways to show your volunteers how valuable they are. Illustrate how their specific contributions have made a difference to the people you serve. Volunteers can be an enormous help in running a program. It’s essential to employ various methods to motivate, incentivize, recognize, and reward them.

Keep volunteers engaged by utilizing and building on their skills.

Just as paying companies provide training, supervision, feedback, and opportunities for professional development to its employee, so too should your organization to its volunteers. By assigning tasks that build on volunteers’ skills, you are recognizing and acknowledging the value of the talents they bring to the table. Someone tasked with filing papers every time they come in may not last long, and you could potentially lose a wealth of knowledge they possess in other areas.

Instead, offer additional tasks or opportunities based on areas in which your volunteers want to grow. If you have a person, for example, who is interested in design, ask them to create a flyer or brochure for an upcoming event. If the budget allows, look for professional development opportunities, such as community center classes, to help volunteers expand their skill sets.

Thank-you notes, personalized certificates, and simple words of appreciation can really make your volunteers feel valued.

Get creative! Organizations should provide volunteers with the same opportunities as employees, including training, supervision, feedback, and opportunities for professional development. The more specific you can be toward each individual, the better. Volunteers generally do not want you to spend a lot of money to appreciate them. (If they did, they’d likely spend their time at a part-time job earning wages, not volunteering.) Meaningful rewards are often small but personalized. Many volunteers value a homemade card, framed kids crafts, gift cards in small amounts (to a local coffee shop, for example), or photos of the organization in action. Additionally, don’t underestimate the effectiveness of simply telling a person, face-to-face, that you value what they do and would love to have them continue to offer their services.

Remember some volunteers are more visible than others, and more easily make strong impressions. Be watchful and fair. Recognize all contributions, not just those on the “front lines.” Timeliness is also important. Recognition doesn’t matter as much if it comes six months after a successful event. Finally, recognize volunteers publicly, whether at a formal event or just in the office break room. Celebrations deserve to be shared.


If you pay the same attention and care to volunteers as you would to paid staff, your efforts will pay off. You are far more likely to retain volunteers with both “hard” skills and strong interpersonal skills when you support and continually engage them. The resources and websites listed below will offer you additional supports and tools for recruiting volunteers. Thank you for taking the time to view this e-learning lesson on volunteer recruitment and management.

These resources will help you with volunteer recruitment and management.

Please see the following resources for additional information:

Volunteer Management Resources (from the United Way of the Greater Seacoast) http://volunteer.united-e-way.org/uwgs/volunteer/news/resources

Points of Light Institute

Points of Light Institute “embraces service and civic engagement as fundamental to a purposeful life and essential to a healthy world.”

Volunteer Match

Volunteer Match allows people to find volunteering opportunities with nonprofit organizations by location and interest area.


Idealist is “an interactive site where people and organizations can exchange resources and ideas, locate opportunities and supporters, and take steps toward building a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives.”

Thank you.

Now that you’ve completed this lesson, you should be able to start the process of publicizing your organization and its needs, implement strategies for recruiting volunteers, and practice techniques for managing and engaging your volunteer base. Thank you for taking the time to learn about volunteer recruitment and management.