Non-profit Marketing Strategies That Work For Gaining Volunteers

Volunteer neededHaving a good volunteer base is vital to a non-profit organization. Volunteers perform much of the necessary work to further the organization’s mission, whether it’s serving meals at a food kitchen or soliciting funds for a favorite health cause or caring for homeless animals. Volunteers not only execute the hands-on work, they also act as evangelists for your organization, sharing their passion through conversation with friends and family, on social media and at work, creating greater awareness for your non-profit. Also, volunteers are most likely to help you by making annual financial donations and through legacy giving–a donation or estate gift upon their death—often leaving a substantial amount.

Most non-profit organizations rely heavily on volunteers. Many are run solely by volunteers. With 62.6 million people volunteering at least once in the last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are plenty of people out there willing to help. But how do you get them to help your organization? Here are a few non-profit marketing strategies that will help you attract and retain a dedicated volunteer force.

Volunteer mission statementClearly Communicate Your Mission

Volunteers want to work with an organization that is aligned with their values, making it imperative that you communicate your mission clearly. Just like the elevator speech that you pitch to donors, you need to have a similar compelling speech to recruit volunteers. It should be clear and succinct and have an emotional tug. It should also be present on your website and marketing materials. A potential volunteer should be able to find a connection with your mission and want to join you.

Coordinate and Communicate
A volunteer coordinator is the liaison between your organization and the volunteer force. Maintain a current list of each volunteer, including name, phone, email and other information, like special skills and past volunteer projects. Keep your volunteers tied in to your mission with a volunteer newsletter that gives updates on current projects, shows the impact of their work and gives out information about upcoming or ongoing needs or opportunities. When you have a big task that will require many volunteers, you’ve got a ready database of committed, engaged people to call on.

Volunteer storyTell Your Volunteer Story

The best volunteer recruiters are the people that are volunteering for you now. Testimonials from your volunteers on the joy or satisfaction they’ve received from working with your organization are the best way to bring in new people. Share those stories on your website and communication pieces. But don’t stop there—let some of your clients or the community you serve tell how volunteers have made an impact on them. Make sure to include comments from your administration or CEO, talking about the value of what volunteers have done for the organization. And don’t forget about passive recruiting through the use of t-shirts, car decals and other personal declarations individuals make every day.

Types of volunteersDifferent Opportunities for Different Folks
Do you need volunteers for an annual big event, or once or twice a week for a few hours? Maybe it’s a bit of both. So assess your needs—what tasks, what times, what places—and work from there. Recruiting to host a big river clean up day is very different than having someone come in twice each week to run the cash register in the resale store. Consider who will best fit the task and some of the generational differences in targeting volunteers.

This Ain’t Your Grandfather’s Volunteer Force

While the stories of the sacrifices and contributions of the Greatest Generation are widespread, it doesn’t mean that other generations of Americans are slacking in the volunteer department. Amongst Baby Boomers, 27.2% of the population volunteers, contributing 2.8 billion hours of service annually. For Generation X, 29.4% volunteer a total of 2.3 billion hours of service. And 21.7% of Millennials volunteer 1.6 billion hours annually. The bigger difference is how they choose to donate their time and to which organizations.

Baby Boomers Top 5 Activities

Collect/distribute food


General labor,



Generation X Top 5 Activities

Collecting/distributing food


Mentoring youth,

General labor

Millennials Top 5 Activities


Collect/distribute food

Mentor youth

General labor


Baby Boomers are much more likely to volunteer for a religious organization (44.1%) than Gen Xers (28.5%) or Millennials (28.3%). Educational organizations get the highest percentage of both Gen X (39.2%) and Millennial (29.2%) volunteers.

Boomer volunteersThings to consider when recruiting Baby Boomer volunteers

-Boomers consider volunteering part of their personal and civic responsibility and are looking for opportunities to serve

-Take advantage of considerable professional skills by using Boomers as mentors or board representatives

-Boomers prefer flexible, episodic volunteering opportunities

-Recognize the challenges of the active lifestyle of this age group

Gen X volunteerThings to consider when recruiting Gen X volunteers
-Offer family volunteer opportunities so they can bring spouses and kids

-Consider virtual volunteer opportunities for those strapped for time, for example, in lieu of 10 volunteer hours, make a monetary donation

-Tap in to technical expertise. These digital natives can help with websites, develop social media plans, create videos and help your organization with other technological needs.

-Anticipate the desire for volunteer opportunities around specific dates—Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, holidays, September 11 Day of Service—and plan to have events those days.

Millennial volunteerThings to consider when recruiting Millennial volunteers

-Offer relevant work experience that gives them a chance to build a resume

-Make the experience of volunteering special – offer a behind the scenes tour or swag or samples—to engage them

-Give them a voice in the project—ask for their input, allow for flexible volunteer times or for them to volunteer as a group

-Just as in for-profit companies, trust and integrity are very important for Millennials. Be transparent about your organization’s management and finances.

Make Your Volunteer Opportunities Findable

Include a clear path on your website for volunteer information and make sure that any emails or phone calls are followed up promptly. Work with local groups, including service organizations and student groups, to recruit those in need of service hours. And lastly, list your organization on volunteer search databases like those below so those seeking opportunities can find you.


Volunteers are out there. What will your organization do to attract, and retain, them? You can use the non-profit marketing strategies above or you can call us at Yaffe. Michael Morin and his team will be happy to help you put together strategies tailored to your non-profit organization’s specific needs.

LaurieLaurie Golden, frequent volunteer

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