Secrets to Finding and Keeping Your Very Best Volunteers - Good360

Secrets to Finding and Keeping Your Very Best Volunteers

For most nonprofits, budgets are perpetually tight. That makes one of your least costly and most accessible assets — your volunteers — also one of your most valuable.

But getting the most out of your volunteer force requires some serious management. The best nonprofits know to nurture these good-hearted people with as much care as their donors and train them as well as their paid staff.

Based on the experience of some of the most active nonprofit partners in the Good360 network, here are some top tips for recruiting, engaging and recognizing your volunteers.

Where to find enthusiastic, able bodies

High schools and colleges are excellent places to find willing volunteers from groups, such as interest-based clubs, fraternities and sororities, eager to contribute to their local community in some way.

“An easy way to get volunteers in every community is to call the school, get a hold of the coach, and you’ll have an entire team there that weekend,” says Pastor John Geisler, CEO of Apape Distribution in Sidney, Ohio, a Good360 Community Redistribution Partner (CRP) that we profiled earlier in this blog. “Groups that are always looking for opportunities to volunteer are sports teams, Boy Scouts, church groups, senior centers give them the opportunity to come sort a mixed truckload and they’ll go nuts.”

Bill Fletcher, founder of The Goodness Project, another Good360 CRP, recommends finding volunteers through the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), which provides job training for low-income, unemployed people age 55 and older.

SCSEP participants can get work experience in a variety of community service activities at nonprofit agencies. They work an average of 20 hours a week and are paid the highest of the federal, state or local minimum wage.

“This is a resource to tap into senior, full-time volunteers that the government will pay for,” Fletcher says. “They can work for 30 hours per week. You can have them up to 3-4 months at a time. Their salary is paid for you. It’s a great asset to have.”

Create relationships with for-profit partners

At Good360, we’re well aware of the value of collaborating with corporations. After all, it forms the foundation of our unique philanthropic model.

The private sector is a great place to find awesome volunteers. Many companies are looking for ways to engage their employees and give them opportunities to serve their community. Not only that, but many firms will even encourage their workers to volunteer on company time.

“We have no problem recruiting volunteers,” says Mark Stump, director of direct services at United Way of the Plains, based in Wichita, Kansas. “Corporate volunteering is on the rise. Companies reach out to us to find opportunities to volunteer. Volunteers feel like they need a golden invitation. Let them know there is a need, show them a picture of that need, and give a glimpse on social media.”

The key is creating opportunities for companies to go beyond “checkbook charity.” Find ways to allow companies to tap their employees’ skills, passion and time to uniquely help your nonprofit fulfill its mission.

For example, Good360 has a well-established working relationship with UPS and its philanthropic arm, the UPS Foundation. The company describes its community involvement as “UPSers coming together as one to make a difference around the world through volunteerism and giving.” Every year, we invite a large contingent from UPS to do just that by helping us sort pallets of donations at our national warehouse in Omaha, Nebraska.

Understand what motivates your volunteers

Some volunteers seek out nonprofit opportunities so they can contribute their unique skills, say, in graphic design or accounting. Others get out and volunteer for a few hours on the weekend precisely because they want to get away from their jobs and do something else.

As a nonprofit, you should have opportunities for both types of volunteers: the present able bodies who can unload pallets and stuff envelopes, and the skilled worker who can do a very specific job. And it’s crucial to segment your volunteer force by ability and motivation so you can engage them accordingly.

Other volunteers may be looking to learn something new. They’re motivated by personal growth. All of these different sorts of volunteers point to the importance of having a defined process for volunteer intake and learning

Inspire your volunteers with a great story

Here’s an important distinction for nonprofits to understand: Rather than asking your volunteers to help your organization, ask them to help the cause. Inspire them with stories of real people whose lives you’re changing.

It’s crucial for all nonprofits to learn the art of storytelling, and why it’s important to make your cause and the people you’re helping the heroes of your story — not your organization.

Lastly, remember to recognize your volunteers

We all want to be recognized for our contributions, even (or maybe especially) when we’re “giving away” our labor.

There are many ways to say “thank you for your service.” This might be a “Volunteer of the Week or Month” award, a gift card, or an all-out appreciation dinner. However you choose to recognize your volunteers, be sure to tie their contributions back to the mission of your nonprofit. The key to keeping volunteers engaged is making them an integral part of your cause and your organization.


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.