Illustration of writing an article on a laptop

ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Recruiting Volunteers: The Lifeblood of Nonprofits

Nonprofits love volunteers. After all, they are the lifeblood of many organizations. When budgets are tight— and they always are with nonprofits— volunteers take up the slack.

So, how do you recruit volunteers who will integrate well with your paid staff, perform the functions they are assigned, and stick around?

Recruiting those committed and talented volunteers does take time and a strategic approach.

An example from my past— I was a regular volunteer for my alumni organization and usually said, "Yes" when asked for anything. At one meeting, I was asked to run a particular volunteer effort and said, "Yes," without really thinking about it. As the officer who had asked me walked away, I suddenly realized that the volunteer position was going to take place during the time my son was scheduled for an extensive surgery and recovery period. Not a good time to volunteer.

So, I quickly found the officer and explained that I wouldn’t be available this time. She looked put out and walked away.

Did they ask me to volunteer again? No, they did not. I subsequently took my volunteer efforts elsewhere.

Best Recruiting Strategy
What works best? Honesty is number one!

How many times have you been told that "It will only take a little time" to do a particular volunteer effort? After you’ve been roped into it— and you feel like you’ve been "roped" and hog-tied, too— you find out the time presented as the commitment was not near the amount of time required.

A volunteer won’t be making a repeat commitment unless they have a real need or desire to stay with the group after having their time commitment misrepresented.

When I worked for the Girl Scouts, I was a star recruiter. I was honest and told the potential leaders what their commitment would involve. Most of my leaders stuck around and were stellar in their performances. They also realized that their daughters would benefit from their continued involvement and they knew they could share memorable experiences.

Planning, Presentation and Training Help
After honesty, having the potential volunteer’s position mapped out and described is key. If the organization takes the time to write "job descriptions" and offers training, a volunteer will have a better idea of what to do to succeed. What volunteer wants to be a failure at a task? Volunteers want to feel proud of what they do, just like paid staff.

So, make them feel proud, offer awards that are meaningful (but not necessarily costly) and ask them for their opinions. I was part of a volunteer leadership/training group that was asked regularly to help plan what was offered. As a result, when I actually participated as a trainer, I felt more empowered.

Shelley Gillespie is an award-winning journalist and the author of
Hiking for the Couch Potato: A Guide for the Exercise-Challenged. After all of Shelley's volunteerism and recruiting, she has discovered a new “calling.” She recently published a child's version of Hiking for the Couch Potato titled “Hiking for the Couch Potato Kid: Birds, Bugs, Butterflies and Other Beasties.” Shelley is on a mission to find ways to get kids outdoors. She currently offers workshops to help kids explore the outdoors and get active. Shelley is a former “couch potato” who is committed to making the world a healthier place, one child, one step at a time. She is enlisting the help of readers to spread the word. Contact her at, or visit her website for more information.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog