Recruiting and Working With Volunteers

volunteersIn his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins states, “The first thing is to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus.” He, of course, is referring to the bus as being the company or organization. In our practice, we have worked with both for-profit and non-profit organizations.  In the for-profit world the people are employees, while in the non-profit world many of those people are volunteers. Strategic from 2013 have shown that 80% of the non-profit workforce are volunteers, total of 62.6 million. Leaders in non-profit organizations should recognize this important work force and learn how to best recruit, motivate and retain them. They need to appreciate why people volunteer, how to get them on-board and how to retain them.

Why They Volunteer

People in general like to lead multi-faceted lives. Their primary career is their source of income and might produce great satisfaction and challenges. As a volunteer, they have the opportunity to either be involved with another one of their passions or just exercise their skills in another area. The accountant who volunteers to coach a sports team is exercising a passion. The teacher who comes to a park to help with a beatification project might be interested in just doing something different.

Socialization and a desire to give back to the community are also important motivators. Volunteering gives seniors an opportunity to get out of the house, meet new people and development friendships. It becomes a priority in the daily activities. People who appreciate the roles that others have played in their success, feel a new to repay the support they have received from their community.

Keep in mind that volunteers don’t mind making a commitment, so don’t be affair to require training or a period of service. Remembering that most volunteers have other important demands on their time show flexibility in scheduling their involvement. Also remember that they don’t want to make a contribution. They want to make a difference.


We recently did an informal survey of twenty non-profits websites throughout North and South Carolina. Of those, only five clearly asked for volunteers, described opportunities and provided contact information. When recruiting volunteers, post everywhere; your website, Facebook, Twitter, Craig’s List etc. Also don’t forget to partner with other organizations, such as churches, scout and civic clubs. Many can provide the needed force to do a onetime event such as a 10 K run or community picnic. Students in high school are also looking for community service projects in many cases to fulfill educational requirements.

Never underestimate word of mouth. Tell volunteers you need more help and they will ask their friends, family and neighbors to join in. There is a large group of people who will not volunteer, but if specifically asked will gladly participate.

The development of engaging volunteer description is strongly recommended. One example is volunteershown below. This one is courtesy of the Mecklenburg County NC Parts and Recreation Commission. Note that itis colorful, eye catching, tells the location, the contact person, the dates, time, a description of the position and even the recommended apparel. This becomes a highly inviting communication tool for recruiting.

The Onboarding Process

The onboarding process should start with an interview. Not the traditional interview used during a job hiring process, but more of a mutual evaluation. Understand the level of commitment that the volunteer is able to make including their scheduling issues. Explain any behavior requirements, such as the need to respect others or a dress code. Make sure that they understand your expectations and you understand their expectations.

Some degree of orientation should be provided for each volunteer. We recently volunteered for the US Open Golf Tournament and we had a two hour orientation. An orientation should inspire them with the cause, understand their role, dos and don’ts, plus the importance of the schedule. Try not to miss any of the requirements so that at some later time you don’t have to say, “By the way”



Your leadership is an important part of motivating and retaining volunteers. Don’t ignore them just because they don’t receive a paycheck. Stay connected with them and check-in with them on a regular basis. Give them clear directions and ask if they have any questions of their assignments. Don’t assume anything. Make sure you thank them and make them feel needed.

Don’t forget the socialization motivator. Have a picnic or party where the volunteers can socialize as a thank you for their service. Maintain a data base of volunteers’ from which you can send a thank you note and maintain as a future source for recruitment. Create a culture in your volunteer community.

This article included excerpt from a seminar on volunteers presented to the North and South Carolina Parks and Recreation Joint Conference in Myrtle Beach. The Power Point is located on Library Page of our Website