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Sunday May 22, 2022

Volunteers Are the Secret to Your Nonprofit Growth

Upgrade your volunteers! Create a path that lets your volunteers do more. Give more. Be more.

You have many needs that volunteers can fill (probably many more than you know). This is a plan to recruit more volunteers, then give them the opportunity to take on more responsibility, give money, recruit other volunteers, identify opportunities, become trained experts and build a lifelong commitment to your organization.

Maximizing volunteer contributions is a sure path to success.

I think it is fair to say that every organization can benefit by having volunteers – regardless of the work you do. I advise organizations to look hard for meaningful volunteer opportunities and programs for trained volunteers. The value goes beyond getting the job done! You gain smart advocates who advance your mission. You never know where that will lead.

Step Number 1:

Let Them In! The greatest obstacle is making it difficult for volunteers to join you. It should be easy. You can still require training and ask for a commitment (and you should). I am continually amazed at how many organizations make it difficult for people to becoming involved, not just volunteers but clients, members, guests, you name them. Your website is the first place to look to see how open you are to welcoming contributions. And I don’t mean a big red Donate button, that says you want money, not friends.

In all your communications and appeals for volunteers, make your message crystal clear:


  1. there is a need
  2. you can fill it
  3. here’s what your commitment will be
  4. here’s how to get started


The best way to get the right person in the right job is to be clear about what the job is and what is expected of the volunteer. This is so important! Sometimes you may be tempted to make the role sound easy or otherwise desirable. Resist the urge and give a good description of the work and state your expectation.

BTW: Volunteers tend to “look like” the person who recruits them; you tend to attract people who relate to you in some way. They may be a similar age, the same gender or race, have similar views or live a similar lifestyle. So if you want teens, ask motivated teens to help with recruiting.

I have discovered this interesting fact: the higher your expectations the greater the commitment. If you ask a volunteer to stop by for an hour and help you, you’ll get exactly that. If you ask a volunteer to invest (money and/or time) in training, you’ll get a highly committed, involved and grow-able champion.

Step Number 2:

Welcome Them! Of course you’ll friendly and nice, you’ll make them comfortable. But more importantly, make them knowledgeable. Probably the greatest source of frustration for a volunteer is not knowing the bigger picture. When a volunteer only knows their bit they feel inadequate. Many volunteers were formerly business people and are not home with children or retired. They’re smart. You’ll want to take advantage of that. Get to know about them, ask what their expertise and interest are. Very skilled and very connected people volunteer – know what you have.

Have a communication plan. Tell them that as a volunteer they can expect a weekly email, they might “Like” the organization on Facebook or follow you on Twitter. Also let them know how to reach you and anyone else they might need to reach. Let them know who their go to person is for more information. Give them well designed nametags (not sticky “Hello my name is”).

Share all your marketing material with them including annual reports, brochures, website (walk them through if their not technically savvy), videos etc.

Step Number 3:

Guide Them! You’ve got comfy volunteers, it’s time to begin the building process. The most important thing to remember is to offer them opportunities! Let them donate, take on more responsibility, meet more people, know more information.

Start by giving each volunteer a title or making them a member of a named group. Be sure that title or group has its own path to further commitment. For example, let’s say you have a group of volunteers called “Hosts” and they have the job of greeting guests, they may be scheduled for a couple hours a week. They should be aware that the next step for Hosts is to become a Coordinator. Coordinators organize and schedule Hosts. The next step after that might be Host Trainer…

Just by providing the path from the front door to advanced commitment and responsibility you will begin the process of deepening the commitment.

I haven’t forgotten about money, donations, pledges. You will be asking your volunteers to make contributions, in your regular course of fundraising, but the more committed they are, the greater the contribution. Not only will they be willing to give more but they will also connect you with other donors and actively participate in your fundraising efforts. It’s a win-win.

Step Number 4:

Challenge Them! In addition to the straight path you provide for all volunteers, you have other needs. Be sure you know what they are and define them. Keep a wish list of volunteers. Always explore how you could offer more services if you had more staff (you probably know what that would be). So, instead of waiting for funding, look at what you could train volunteers to do that would supplement your existing staff. Many things are possible. I know one volunteer who was so knowledgeable he was able to fill when the Executive Director on maternity leave; in fact volunteers often become Directors.

Consider volunteers as board candidates, or committee members. Train them to speak for your organization. Allow them to develop a children’s program. Be open to their suggestions and pose your own challenges.

Follow those Four Steps and your Non Profit Growth will be rapid and exciting! I’ve seen it happen and I want it to happen to you. Remember one of my golden rules: It is an honor to be asked. Honor your volunteers, ask.

Bonus! 12 ways to turn good volunteers into great ones:


  1. Be sure they feel included!
  2. Make sure they have at least one staff member who they speak with regularly.
  3. Ask their opinions. And listen.
  4. Ask them to take on additional responsibility, start small.
  5. Ask for money, at least give them the opportunity to contribute.
  6. Know your volunteers well enough to appreciate their talents and abilities so you understand how they can help, then ask them to take additional responsibility.
  7. When appropriate, consider a transition from volunteer to staff or staff-like role.
  8. Ask an exceptional worker to serve on the Board.
  9. Ask a natural leader to take a leadership role.
  10. Share stories of committed volunteers and volunteers who have taken on additional roles.
  11. Get the whole family involved, this increases the level of commitment.
  12. Honor them.

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