Four Strategies for Effective Nonprofit Volunteer Engagement and Programs

Fundraising Practices

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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

– Margaret Mead

Working with volunteers and including them in your nonprofit’s strategy can be meaningful, challenging, and rewarding, all at the same time. As with gift acceptance policies for in-kind and monetary gifts, creating parameters for volunteer engagement that align with your mission, values, and needs can fill gaps for your nonprofit while providing worthwhile opportunities for your community members.  

Darryl Moser and Emily Lefferts from DonorPerfect recently sat down with Jocelyn Charles, Executive Director, and Jess Ridgway, Volunteer Coordinator, of Boyertown Area Multi-Service, Inc. (scroll down to learn more about them!) to learn their most effective tips and techniques for creating, managing, and sustaining a volunteer program that’s equally meaningful for their nonprofit and participating volunteers. 

  1. Take advantage of established volunteer recruitment platforms
  2. Offer opportunities with different time commitments
  3. Celebrate your volunteers like you celebrate your donors
  4. Build a network of other nonprofits for referrals
  5. Bonus: pro tips and final thoughts from Jocelyn and Jess

1. Take advantage of established volunteer recruitment platforms

If you’re building a volunteer program from scratch, or if you could use some more hands on deck, there are plenty of organizations and online platforms you can turn to for recruitment. The United Way and VolunteerMatch have volunteer portals where nonprofits can post opportunities based on their location, what they need, the required skills, and who might be a good fit. 

These platforms allow volunteers to filter by cause, in-person or remote opportunities, whether a job is better suited for kids, young adults, or seniors, and more. The range of skills is also wide enough that nonprofits can recruit volunteers for tasks ranging from yard work to legal counsel. 

If you’re interested in more concentrated, local volunteer recruitment, Jocelyn and Jess recommend connecting with organizations that are known for gathering service-minded people together. Religious organizations, senior centers, and high schools are great places to start and are often full of people looking to fulfill their volunteer requirements or get out and make a difference in their communities. 

Hear it from a volunteer!

“Volunteering is doing the work you love and find meaningful. It helps us get outside ourselves, see others, and be willing servants which is a great gift to give.” 

– Aaron Gannon, Technical Support Manager at DonorPerfect 

2. Offer opportunities with different time commitments 

For Jocelyn and Jess, most of the volunteers they rely on for tasks that require a more serious time commitment are retired or work part-time at most. While it would be nice to welcome every interested volunteer, regardless of their availability, it’s often in nonprofits’ best interest to vet volunteers similarly to prospective employees. Are they a good match for the work you need done? If so, fantastic! If not, they might be a better fit for another organization, or you can hold on to their contact information for future projects. 

When building your own program, consider starting with a list of tasks and the estimated time commitment for each. Then, determine how mission-critical each task is before deciding which volunteer, if any, to assign to it. 

Vital tasks that people depend on, like deliveries from Meals on Wheels, require dependable volunteers who can commit to a regular schedule, and staff coverage as a backup for when volunteers can’t make it. Tasks that are less urgent, like picking up trash outside or calling a game of bingo, can be assigned to volunteers like high school students or groups that are interested in one-time opportunities. 

Pro tip: Try not to pigeonhole your volunteers based on assumptions about their abilities. Have a conversation with them about what they want to do and what they feel capable of doing. You may be surprised by how much your volunteers want to help and get their hands dirty! 

3. Celebrate your volunteers like you celebrate your donors 

According to AmeriCorps, 23.2% of Americans formally volunteered by working with a nonprofit or other community service organization between September 2020 and 2021, and nearly 51% of Americans informally volunteered during that time by helping a neighbor or lending a hand to someone in need. 

While it’s not as simple to quantify the impact these helpers had on their communities, they’re just as important to recognize as the folks who give back by making monetary donations. Do your donor recognition programs include people whose gifts are time or talent? 

Donor recognition serves multiple purposes – obviously, to thank the donors who make your organization’s work possible, but also to inspire others with the means to give back to follow suit. When you highlight your volunteers’ contributions to your nonprofit’s success, others with similar time and skills to share will see their impact and consider what it might feel like to make a similar gift themselves. 

4. Build a network of other nonprofits for referrals

You might come across volunteers who have great intentions and want to support your cause, but whose skills and availability don’t match your organization’s needs. That’s ok! Giving yourself permission to say “no” means that your volunteer program will serve your nonprofit, not the other way around. 

No need to squash prospective volunteers’ ambitions, though. A volunteer who might not be a good match for your organization’s needs might be perfect for another, similar nonprofit in your area, and you’ll never know if you don’t ask. Try connecting with organizations within a reasonable driving distance who work in a similar cause area to see if you can refer prospective volunteers to each other. 

Worst-case scenario, you’ll make new connections and build a network with people who understand your work and you can lift each other up. Best case scenario, you also get to swap volunteers until everyone finds the best fit for them. It’s a win for all involved!

5. Bonus: pro tips and final thoughts from Jocelyn and Jess

Boyertown Area Multiservice really does it all, from Meals on Wheels deliveries to youth activities to assistance with tax preparation. When asked for words of wisdom she’d share with younger or newer nonprofit professionals, Jocelyn said, “Don’t try to live up to an unrealistic expectation, especially from a predecessor. Try to take comments in context – they’re not always suggestions. Remember that change takes time, and that’s ok!”

Jess and Jocelyn agreed that, as nonprofit professionals, it’s critical to give yourselves and each other grace. “Community service organizations are doing a lot of great work. It’s a lot. It’s hard work. Everyone is doing their best, and we’re all still human. If we’re still here, it’s because we still have the heart,” they said. 

Above all, Jess wants to celebrate the volunteers who make their work possible. “We’re beyond thankful for the volunteers we have. We couldn’t do almost anything we do without them,” Jess said. 

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About Boyertown Area Multi-Service, Inc. 

Boyertown Area Multi-Service is a social service agency dedicated to meeting needs and improving the lives of people in the Boyertown School District Area and surrounding communities of Amity, District, Hereford, Pike, and Oley townships. 

They are an independent non-profit and member organization of the Boyertown Area United Way and the United Way of Berks County. They are also funded by the Berks County Office of Aging, Montgomery County Aging and Adult Services, as well as individual donors, and supported by the community of Boyertown and surrounding areas.

About DonorPerfect

DonorPerfect is a one-stop fundraising software solution that helps nonprofits raise more money in less time. Features like integrated and secure online donation forms, communications tools, automated workflows, and customizable reports empower fundraisers to spend less time on administrative tasks so they can focus their efforts on building meaningful and lasting relationships with their communities.

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