How to Recruit Volunteers for Your Nonprofit in the COVID Era - Good360

How to Recruit Volunteers for Your Nonprofit in the COVID Era

For most nonprofits and charities, volunteers are a vital part of their operations, allowing many organizations to make a big impact even with lean budgets.

But the pandemic has created an epidemic of volunteer shortages—just as extra hands are needed more than ever. As a result, nonprofits everywhere are scrambling to make up for the lost assistance. It has forced some organizations to spend more on staffing or cut their services.

The volunteer shortfall was most severe during 2020, but the spread of Omicron and other COVID-19 variants has continued to keep many helpers at home and away from their favorite nonprofits. Social distancing regulations have also complicated volunteering efforts by making it harder for large groups of people to gather together. 

Two-thirds of all volunteers cut back their hours or stopped their activities altogether during the pandemic, according to a survey released in late 2020 by Fidelity Charitable. About 65% of volunteering activities shifted to virtual or remote work, compared to 81% of volunteering that was done in-person before the pandemic. Meals on Wheels, for example, lost half of its two million volunteers in 2020.

“With the value of a volunteer hour currently estimated to be $27.20, the sharp decrease in volunteerism caused by COVID-19 represents an impact of millions of dollars across the nonprofit community—a devastating blow for many organizations,” the Fidelity report said.

According to a Gallup poll released in early 2022, volunteering still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels yet, with 56% of Americans saying they have volunteered in the past year. 

The good news is that vaccinations and boosters are making more people feel more comfortable about returning to volunteering. Here are some great ways your nonprofit can keep attracting volunteers in the COVID era:

Communicate that health and safety is your top priority: Of course, it goes without saying that your organization should follow all state and local regulations on COVID safety. But you might consider going above and beyond these rules.

For example, you could make it mandatory for everyone to wear masks even if your state or county doesn’t require it. Or you could require volunteers and staff to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test before an event. Whatever you decide is right for your organization, clearly communicate your health and safety protocols.

Go contactless where you can: Many organizations have found creative ways to continue serving their communities even with social distancing in place. For example, Good360 partnered with Alianza de Futbol to turn their usual in-person soccer tournaments into drive-through donation events for Hispanic families in need. More than 48,000 people were given donations of food, clothing and other necessities while volunteers and staff were safely distanced.

Increase your virtual volunteering opportunities: It’s very likely that your volunteer force has people with valuable skills and experience, such as accounting, graphic design, writing, public relations, legal services, data processing, phone banking, etc. All of these volunteers can be put to use working on projects for your organization or helping constituents directly in some way.

Also consider taking your volunteer training program online, and adding any software that might help retain, train or manage your volunteer corps better, such as scheduling tools.

Create employee engagement programs: As CSR and ESG programs have become increasingly important for corporations, more companies are looking for volunteer opportunities to keep their employees engaged and feeling fulfilled in their jobs. Some are even offering what’s called VTO or volunteer time off as a benefit.

Good360 frequently invites employees from companies such as UPS and Mutual of Omaha to help sort shipments of donated products at our National Distribution Center in Omaha, Neb.

If you don’t already have a volunteer program geared for employees, consider creating one now. You might identify a handful of regional or local businesses that would be good partners for this program and reach out to them.

Focus on what matters most to volunteers: When nonprofits ask for volunteers, they are sometimes too focused on their own cause or needs. What gets lost are the needs, motivations and desires of your volunteers. As you recruit volunteers, make sure to identify how they can benefit from contributing their time, whether that’s learning valuable skills or building their network.

Often, it comes down to the opportunity to create more social connections—something that has become more difficult to do during the pandemic as people have become more isolated. You may find that many of your volunteers are desperate to get out and meet people again.

At Good360, we love our volunteers. We also know how important it is for you to keep your volunteers engaged and involved in the work of your organization. Nonprofits that are registered with Good360 can gain access to donated products that can help drive their volunteering efforts. Start here.

Shari Rudolph

Shari Rudolph is Chief Development Officer and Chief Marketing Officer at Good360. She is an accomplished retail, digital commerce hand media executive with a strong track record of building audiences, revenue, and brands. Shari’s previous experience includes management consulting as well as various executive and leadership roles at both start-ups and large media and retail e-commerce companies in Southern California, New York, and Silicon Valley. She is also an adjunct professor teaching marketing, advertising, and entrepreneurial studies classes. She earned her MBA from The Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA.