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Basic Literacy & Numeracy

Volunteer Recruitment and Retention: It’s Easier than it Seems

April 15, 2024

In this final article of our Volunteer Recruitment and Retention series, we wanted to recap what we’ve discussed so far. Looking back over the previous four articles, we can see that recruiting and retaining volunteers can really be boiled down to four main ideas:

1. Understand why people volunteer

In the first blog of the series, we discussed the many reasons people choose to volunteer. They believe in your cause. They want to help others. They want to meet people. They want to develop their skills. They want to work for a nonprofit.

We need to make sure we have volunteer opportunities that can fulfill any of these needs.

Also, when volunteers come in, we need to ask them: “What do you want out of this volunteer opportunity?” Then we need to make sure that we place them in a role that matches what they want to get out of it.

Finally, we need to ask people to volunteer. One of the biggest reasons people don’t volunteer is that no one ever asked them. This is especially important when we think about the diversity of our volunteer population. If we want a more diverse volunteer base, we need to seek out diverse populations and specifically ask them to volunteer.

2. Make it easy for people to volunteer

The way we structure our volunteer opportunities can create barriers to people who want to volunteer. A year’s commitment, meeting twice a week with a student, and a 15-hour training over 2-4 weeks before someone can start volunteering can seem daunting. We are in control of what we do. Think creatively about breaking down those barriers.

Try offering some flexibility for volunteers in their commitment week to week as well as long-term. Redesign your volunteer training to take advantage of mentoring. Just-in-time training can shorten the amount of time between when a volunteer shows interest and when they actually get to start volunteering.

3. Keep volunteers engaged and happy

There will be periods when there isn’t an ideal spot for a volunteer. Create volunteer opportunities that are easy to insert people for short periods of time. Office roles with a variety of functions are good options. Short-term learning opportunities like conversation classes or book clubs can help bridge the gap between more permanent engagements. Or implement computer labs or learning circles where one or more volunteers can support students using digital tools and provide intermittent instruction.

Also, check in with volunteers on a regular basis to make sure they’re happy. It’s not enough to find out why they’re volunteering and placing them in a volunteer opportunity that matches. You must also check in to make sure they’re having the experience you want them to. Do this because you want to …

4. Use happy volunteers to recruit more volunteers

We learned in our last blog article that most people learn about volunteer opportunities from personal contact and become volunteers because someone they know asked them. Happy, enthusiastic volunteers are your best recruiters. Use them to connect to their network of family, friends, and work colleagues.

When you put those four things together, it does seem pretty simple:

  • Understand why people volunteer
  • Make it easy for people to volunteer
  • Keep volunteers engaged and happy
  • Use happy volunteers to recruit more volunteers

ProLiteracy member Organizations* are invited to join us for a members-only webinar on April 25 in which we will dive deeper into volunteer recruitment and retention.


*You will need to enter a valid member number when registering.

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