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A Non-Profit's Guide to Volunteers

Updated on March 30, 2014


Non-profits know that volunteers provide the functionality and action within their organizations. Fundraising, events, and even general housekeeping become much easier when a non-profit has a helpful league of volunteers who are ready to pay it forward and get the job done. Many non-profits struggle with acquiring a volunteer staff, let alone maintaining and keeping good volunteers. In this guide we will outline the three steps to volunteerism. First, we will discuss several ways to find and acquire people who will make great volunteers. Second, we will outline the etiquette involved in the treatment of the volunteers you hire. Finally, we will discuss how you can keep those amazing volunteers. Remember, building a network of strong, repeat volunteers takes time and love.


We use the word “attract” here because like a siren, you want to call out to those individuals who are genuinely interested in giving their time to you and your cause. Competition for volunteer staff is sometimes fierce and warm bodies do not always make for a great volunteer team. When done right, you can attract and utilize an incredible team of people who get as much in return for their work as you do when benefiting from their time and energy!

    • The most obvious way to call for volunteers is through your website, your social media outlet (FaceBook, Twitter or other) and by good old-fashioned word of mouth. A non-profit should always have, somewhere on their website, a statement or link to information for those people who wish to volunteer. Whenever you send out a newsletter or a public email, always include an ongoing call to “be a part of our team”. We live in an age where technology is most often a person's first source of information, research and inquiry, so use it to your advantage. Make volunteer information available.

    • While we are on the subject of technology, allow us to highlight a few of the dozens of websites available for organizations just like yours. People who wish to donate their time to volunteerism often visit such websites, where they can choose which groups or companies seem a good fit for their skills and their time. Add your organization to these websites and open the doors to potential volunteers in your region. Here are just a few of these websites: Create The Good, HandsOn Network, VolunteerMatch, Idealist, CauseCast, Sparked, Care2, Do Something, Changents and AllForGood.

    • Churches, unions, youth groups and organizations, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts....all of these groups and more actively seek to donate volunteer hours. Call these local groups, or even better – make a coffee date to meet with them in person. Take a Volunteer Package and communicate to them your cause, your mission statement and information about your needs where their time is concerned. Even if the answer is no, they will leave your meeting with the knowledge that you exist and they will carry with them your information for future use.

    • Offer time increments. People who wish to donate their time and skills to a cause often fear they cannot do so because of time constraints. Spending 8 hours working an event may be overwhelming to some so consider offering smaller hours. You may attract new volunteers if they know they can still donate 2 hours of work. If you have a volunteer form, break hours into 2 hour, 4 hour or Full Event time slots.

    • When it comes to hiring volunteers, always go through an interview process. The interview doesn't have to be long, just 15 or 20 minutes. Clearly communicate the needs and tasks involved in the upcoming event. Ask the potential volunteer about their talents, skills and past experience. Sometimes the person volunteering is looking for an outlet – an opportunity to use their photography skills, their people skills or perhaps they are extremely organized. Find out why an individual wishes to donate their time. Some folks want to be social. Some wish to be more active in their community and pay it forward. Some people may have a personal tie to your non-profit's cause. Whatever the reason, create a conversation where you better understand the individual and work together to place that individual in the best possible volunteer position. Give that person a title (Official Event Photographer, Equipment Coordinator...) which will further cement the important role they will play when they donate their energy to your cause.

    • Hire more volunteers than you need! Statistics show that 25% of volunteers will either drop out or not show up at all. Having said that, never have 15 people arrive only to wave away 5 of them saying “we don't need you”. Assign a strong Volunteer Coordinator within your non-profit organization. This person can assess the need for volunteers and plan accordingly.

    • Finally, suggest volunteers bring a friend. This is especially handy when you have an event with an unpredictable public attendance. Sometimes a volunteer will feel more comfortable if they get to work alongside someone they already know. Have volunteer packets ready for their friends when they do show up. This packet should include a pamphlet or flyer educating them about your organization, contact information and simple rules for behavior and expectations.


Now that you have some remarkable volunteers, what do you do? When a person volunteers their time, energy, skills and talents to your event they do so because they want to do so. Their experience with your organization will determine whether or not they will offer their time to you again. Here we will outline a few tips, ideas and some basic etiquette involved in how to treat your volunteers.

  • Greet each and every volunteer warmly when they arrive! Have a sign-in sheet by the door so they can sign in as they enter the event. Place your Volunteer Coordinator at the door so he/she can welcome these people into your group. A hand shake, and sometimes even a hug, can go a long way in making someone feel like they did the right thing by coming in to work.

  • If your volunteers have been assigned specific titles, address them as such and introduce them to other volunteers by that title. This not only creates a sense of worth and importance in the eyes of the volunteer, but encourages all volunteers to respect one another.

  • Be respectful of time management where a volunteer is concerned. If a person signed up for a 2 hour work session, do not wait for them to leave. Go to that person when their time is up and thank them for their time. Never make a volunteer wonder if they should simply walk out and leave or if they should dismiss themselves. Make it a good experience for them. “Carol! Thank you SO much for all you did today! Please feel free to go at anytime – we cannot thank you enough and hope to see you again soon!”

  • Tell volunteers up front where the bathrooms are located and any other information they may need while working. Be sure they know where they are stationed and exactly what their job entails. If a volunteer does not fully understand the task, open with statements such as, “That is no problem, let's learn together...” and teach them their job. Never allow a volunteer to feel confused or dumb. Tell each and every volunteer that you are available to answer any questions they may have throughout the duration of the event.

  • Allow volunteers to move around. No one likes to stand at the door for 8 hours! Allow breaks every 2 hours and reposition people when necessary. This allows your volunteers to see new faces, do new tasks and it prevents them from getting bored. This also prevents cliques.

  • DO NOT DEMAND. Volunteers work when they can. Be accommodating and respectful at all times. The moment you begin to pressure your volunteers is the moment they feel that you are taking advantage of them. Never take your free labor for granted!

  • Make work a party whenever possible. I have donated my time to countless organizations and events and I can tell you which ones I absolutely loved! If your volunteers are setting up for an event, play music and encourage socializing. If the atmosphere is fun, the work will be fun!

  • FEED AND WATER your volunteers. People, I cannot stress this enough. This should be a top priority! Too many times I have been trapped in a volunteer job where I could not even get a bottle of water! If people are giving you free work, give them the courtesy of hydration and a snack! Grocery stores and restaurants routinely donate flats of bottled water and some food to non-profits. If you cannot get donations, $20 also goes a long way. Have coolers of water (sodas and gatorades if you can get them donated as well) and invite each volunteer to take one whenever they need one. My favorite jobs were those where they brought everyone coffees from a local coffeehouse!

    Any volunteer who is donating 6 hours or more should be fed. Order pizzas. Have a bowl or box filled with snacks such as cookies, peanut butter crackers, Hershey kisses, and fruits! There is no excuse for neglecting this common courtesy! Who wants a bunch of dehydrated, hungry volunteers representing their non-profit? No one!

  • Encourage, encourage, encourage. Praise, praise, praise! This world definitely needs more of both. Some people actively volunteer because it is the only time they are openly valued and appreciated. You can never extend too many compliments and thank-you's. Wash your volunteers with a wave of gratitude and let them leave feeling great about themselves and their work.

  • Be organized and timely. Do not make your volunteers stand around waiting because you are late! Never waste an hour of their time because you are disorganized and have nowhere to place them. Stay on top of things and show your volunteers how organized and efficient your non-profit is.

  • Teamwork. Verbalize to your volunteers how thankful you are that they were part of the team and let them know that their work contributed to the “big picture”. C.S. Lewis said that “the driving force of mankind was to be part of the inner circle.” Tell your volunteers that they are a very important part of your organization.


It is possible to acquire volunteers who look forward to working with again in the future. Maintaining strong volunteers is possible but takes time and patience. Here are some ideas about how to get your volunteers to return.

  • Maintain an updated database of your volunteer's names, phone numbers, emails and addresses. This is part of being organized and will be a vital resource during times of planning events and fund-raisers.

  • During events, take photos of your volunteers as they work. Post these photos on your FaceBook page or website, giving your volunteers a shout-out and a big thank you! This makes their work fun and validates your appreciation for their time.

  • Ask for feedback. You can do this in person or via email. Perhaps as a volunteer is signing out, you can thank them, shake their hand and ask, “How did today go for you?” If they have any suggestions, pay attention and tell them you will follow up on those ideas.

  • ALWAYS write hand-written thank you notes. I cannot stress this enough. Do not send a thank you email! Take a few minutes to sit down and write out thoughtful, personal thank you notes and mail these to your volunteers. This will not only touch people on a personal level, but will benefit you by encouraging many of your volunteers to return over and over because you took the time to let them know they made a difference.

  • Hold an annual Volunteer Appreciation party of some kind. Have a cook-out at a local park. Host a pancake dinner. Have a dance. Have any kind of fun event once a year where you can openly express your gratitude towards your volunteers. Welcome volunteers and their friends and families. Remember – this leads to more volunteers!

  • Whenever possible, give your volunteers a physical memento or reward for their work. Let them leave with a T-shirt bearing your logo or the event logo. Other ideas include a coffee cup, a refrigerator magnet, a key chain or perhaps a beautiful poster. (I have friends who volunteer just to get the free T-shirt!)

In closing, be knowledgeable and always maintain a gracious attitude when embarking on the quest to find volunteers. Good people are out there and it is up to you to find them. Be patient and understanding and know that in time you will build a solid group of amazing volunteers. Good luck!


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    • Sarahredhead profile imageAUTHOR

      Sarah Jackson 

      4 years ago from Southern United States

      Dear Faith Reaper,

      Thank you love!!!!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      4 years ago from southern USA

      Excellent information here, very useful! Thank you for sharing.

      Up and more, tweeting and pinning

      Enjoy your day,

      Faith Reaper


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