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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Using motivations as a volunteer recruitment and retention strategy

volunteer motivation

Volunteers are a vital component and resource for nonprofit organizations. They help the sector flourish and accomplish its work, with some organizations solely run by volunteers. The need for more volunteers is paramount when considering the sector and the recent increase in demand for services. This need has been amplified with a 23% decline in formal volunteering highlighted in a 2021 study.

Volunteer recruitment

Along with the issues listed previously, it is also essential to note that 46.8% of nonprofit leaders have cited volunteer recruitment challenges in a 2023 study. Volunteer recruitment typically includes identifying positions/roles, looking into how to recruit (i.e., messages and target audiences), and using an organization’s network to distribute the call for volunteers. Marketing is essential for recruiting because it should attract the correct target audience and address any objections to volunteering.

Volunteer motivations

Understanding volunteer motivations is critical in helping make the recruitment process successful. Motivations have been found to originate before the desire to volunteer. Knowing these motivations can help entice organizations’ target audiences, appeal directly to them, and create that desire. Literature provides various ways to identify and utilize volunteer motivations when recruiting. This ranges from pairing the Volunteer Function Inventory motivations and recruitment messages, focusing on motivations within a specific organization, or matching motives with volunteer tasks.

Nonprofit leaders can investigate how to create or improve their recruitment strategies to increase the number of volunteers. They can start by evaluating their organization and its current volunteers. This involves identifying what motives align with the organization, considering the mission and programs, and then investigating specific motives attracting current volunteers to the organization and positions. The following questions can help nonprofit leaders understand their current state and offer strategies that can be used when recruiting.

Your organization and volunteer motivations

What motivations does your organization’s mission help to fulfill: values, career, social, understanding, enhancement? Once the motivation is determined, begin crafting volunteer recruitment messages with the motivation in mind. Clearly explain how volunteering will fulfill this motivation and benefit the individual.

Why did current volunteers choose your organization? Survey current volunteers to determine their motivators and incorporate their answers when recruiting. This will help identify a target audience for volunteers.

Current volunteer opportunities and volunteer motivations

Why is a volunteer is needed in the organization? What volunteer tasks are required? What volunteer roles are needed? Identify opportunities. If volunteer roles are currently vacant, ensure a detailed volunteer position description lists the tasks and projects required. Include the volunteer position description with recruitment messages.

What attracted current volunteers to choose their roles? Survey current volunteers to determine their motivators and incorporate their answers when recruiting. This is different from the survey on why they chose the organization. Questions in this survey can focus on why individuals chose one volunteer position over another, specifically if factors were more appealing in one role than another.

Explain the impact of the volunteer using the volunteer motivation lens by explaining the effects volunteers have on improving the community, and how their volunteering benefits them as an individual and matches their motives.

The literature does not provide a one-size-fits-all approach to paring motivations with recruiting. This can be done on a larger scale, for instance, when considering altruistic motivations to do good or showing volunteer impact, or on a smaller scale, tailoring volunteer motives to roles in your organization. Even with this, the literature provides a consistent message to work from the inside-out, considering the organization and its volunteer positions and then aligning recruiting strategies with motivations that it fulfills. Individual organizations can decide which strategies work best for their needs.

Christina Tenorio is a 2023 graduate of the Masters of Nonprofit Leadership and Management
program at Arizona State University. She has a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Communication from the University of Portland. She lives in Seattle, WA, and is the Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology Program Manager. 

Image by Lillian Finley

Get more volunteer management strategies when you become an accredited Service Enterprise

The ASU Lodestar Center offers nonprofits throughout Arizona access to the Service Enterprise Initiative, in partnership with AL!VE and Points of Light. We equip nonprofit and public organizations to increase their return on volunteer investment and meet their missions. Service Enterprise accreditation signifies that organizations have the capability and management expertise to strategically use volunteers to improve the performance of their organization.

Christina Tenorio


ASU Lodestar Center Blog