Every nonprofit and ministry that I talk with tells me that they are in need of more volunteers…either because they are worried about “burn out” among their volunteer pool or because they do not have enough volunteers to fulfill their missions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, volunteerism fell to 24.9% of Americans in 2015; for the past several years, this number has continued to decrease. Unfortunately, most nonprofits and ministries have a strong need for volunteers to support their work in the community. And, volunteers are typically an organization’s biggest financial supporters. This makes sense, when we are invested in an organization or ministry, we give of our time, talent and treasure.
While there are several reasons put forth by researchers as to why the decline is happening, nonprofits can be successful in attracting volunteers if they understand how to attract volunteers. Attracting volunteers begins with understanding why people are motivated to volunteer.
It helps to understand the basics of motivational theory to understand why people do or don’t volunteer. People are generally motivated by three broad “needs” in their lives. Those with a need for Affiliation are people who want personal interaction, to make friends, and be perceived as a “good” person. Those with a need for Achievement have specific goals they want work toward; these individuals seek responsibility and view problems as challenges. Those with a need for Power have a need to impact and influence others; these people will generally keep an eye on the overall goals of the organization.
So, as you think about attracting and retaining volunteers, think about why people want to volunteer. What need in their life are they trying to fulfill? Obviously, it can be uncomfortable to ask potential volunteers, “do you want to volunteer because you have a need for achievement.” However, what you can do (and should do) is include a couple of questions on your volunteer application that ask why the individual wants to volunteer and why they are attracted to your organization.
Think about the tasks that you need volunteers to do. Are they menial tasks that no one else wants to do, or are they meaningful tasks that directly contribute to the mission of the organization. Everyone wants to feel like they are spending their time doing something worthwhile, so make all of your volunteer tasks worthwhile. Get to know your volunteers—their skills and strengths. What do they like to do? Then, let them use their skills to strengthen the work of the organization. Volunteering should be an enjoyable experience.
Do you need volunteers an on-going basis? Think about breaking the need down into small, bite-sized pieces. It is difficult to get volunteers to commit to a “lifetime” commitment. Get people involved and they will willingly want to serve again. But, again, communicate to your volunteers how their work contributes to the mission.
Your organization can be successful in attracting volunteers! Remember the basics—time, talent and treasure. Get your volunteers involved in “doing” for the organization, then they will “give” to the organization and become your biggest supporters as they “advocate” for the organization.
Share with us what has worked for you. Is your organization struggling? We can help you put together a successful program for volunteers.