An important step in establishing a solid volunteer program is to gather the right volunteers. Then set them up for success by providing a thorough orientation and training so they understand your program well and know exactly how to help.

Where to Find Potential Volunteers

  • Your personal and professional networks.
  • Businesses that encourage employees to volunteer.
  • Employer retirement planning seminars.
  • Professional associations for public relations, IT, development, etc.
  • Education centers, senior centers or local programs for older adults.
  • Rotary and other service clubs.

What to Say

Explain the purpose of the project and how a volunteer’s skills can help. Include a list of skills you need; end with “Or tell us what you’d like to do.” Use stories and pictures. Show how volunteers’ actions bring change. Test different messages with possible recruits, and use the appeals that work best. These messages have helped some organizations:

  • “Enjoy a flexible schedule.”
  • “Join a team.”
  • “Projects tailored to your skills and interests.”

Create appealing appeals with these strategies:

  • Think about your ideal recruit, and share testimonials from volunteers who fit that description.
  • Let the program’s beneficiaries tell what they need.
  • Keep statistics minimal. To encourage empathy, show the program’s effects on one person.
  • Request help in a dignified tone; try not to sound needy or too dramatic.
  • Reach out through social media and other online channels.

Of course, content matters. Offer volunteer positions that are flexible, available as part-time, full-time, and via telecommuting. If possible, give a choice of direct and indirect service. Boomers often welcome distinct projects with a start and end date and projects that let them take training classes or build skills firsthand.

When you get responses, be selective. Schedule a meeting with a potential recruit to see if there’s a fit between his or her needs and yours.

How to Train Volunteers

When you bring on a new recruit, do so formally. Create a Memorandum Of Agreement that outlines the volunteer’s responsibilities. Create a skills inventory, share a written job description and develop a work plan. Doing so lets your volunteer know more about the project and what to expect.

Provide a formal orientation and training that explains how a nonprofit works and how consulting works, as volunteers may not have had direct experience with either. Help volunteers hone existing skills related to their projects or learn new ones at free workshops. Provide peer mentors who can show new recruits the ropes and make them feel comfortable.