3 Ways to Recruit Volunteers

Volunteers! Every nonprofit needs them. But how do you find them and convince them to help? There are numerous methods you can use to recruit volunteers. However, not all of them will be appropriate for your organization or your particular needs.

Take into account the jobs you need volunteers to do and then consider who could do those jobs best and who might even be interested. For instance, Baby Boomers might flock to helping disadvantaged children while Millennials might be good targets for environmental projects.

Then there are the methods by which you recruit volunteers. Do you want to use online portals, volunteer fairs, or some sort of advertising such as PSAs?

Whatever demographic you appeal to or whichever methods you choose, the strategies that underlay all of it still remain pretty standard.

Rick Lynch and Steve McCurley, authors of Essential Volunteer Management, suggest that there are three basic ways to recruit:

  1. Warm Body Recruitment

When you need a large number of volunteers for a short period, and the qualifications of the task are minimal, you might engage in “warm body recruitment.” This involves a broad dissemination of information, including:

  • Distribution of brochures
  • Posters
  • Speaking to groups
  • Notices in appropriate media
  • Word of Mouth
  1. Targeted Recruitment

The targeted campaign requires a carefully planned approach to a small audience. Use this method when you are trying to recruit volunteers that need to have specific skills or not commonly found characteristics.

A targeted campaign requires, at the outset, that you answer several questions:

  • What do we need?
  • Who could provide this?
  • How can we communicate with them?
  • What would motivate them?

Working through such questions will help you identify and locate the volunteers that you need. Once you find a source of such volunteers, simply take your recruitment message directly to them.

  1. Concentric Circles Recruitment

This type of recruitment requires you to identify people who are already in direct or indirect contact with your organization and then to contact them with your recruiting message. These groups include:

  • Your clients, their families and relatives.
  • Alumni of your program/s.
  • Friends of your current volunteers and staff.
  • People in your organization’s neighborhood.
  • Individuals who have been affected by the problem you are attempting to solve.

Concentric Circles recruitment involves people who are already familiar with your agency or the problem you address, or who are connected through friends or staff members. It is more likely that you will succeed in persuading them to volunteer than complete strangers. In sales terms, there is a big difference between a “cold” call to a stranger than a “warm” call to an acquaintance or a friend.

Your Recruitment Message

No matter which recruitment method you use, you must have a compelling message. You need to explain why your agency is worthy of that person’s time. Make your message short, simple, and direct, communicating the need for the volunteer’s service and the good he/she can do.

Stress the needs of the community for the service, but also point out the benefits the volunteer will receive. These include doing good, but there may be skills and valuable experience that the volunteer will gain.


Finally, be sure to ask people to volunteer. The most effective way to do this is to have your staff or volunteers ask their friends and acquaintances to volunteer. Be sure to provide them with the information they need to make an effective “ask.”

Recruiting Volunteers Online

While finding volunteers the old fashioned way through referrals and local contacts still works best, the use of online volunteer matching sites has taken off.

Here are the some of the most widely-used volunteer matching sites:

  • Idealist
  • Network for Good
  • Go Volunteer Africa
  • Volunteer Match
  • Go Volunteer Asia

Be sure to check out sites that serve your particular region as well. Recruiting online also includes a comprehensive volunteer page on your website. Make that page fun and not just a bunch of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo. I especially like this step by step guide one setting up a volunteer program from Go Volunteer Africa