Building a Successful Volunteer Program

As an organization serving your community, engaged, capable volunteers are likely a key piece to the success of your organization. How often do you find yourself thinking, “If I just had more funds for staff, or people to help, we could do so much more!” I’d imagine the answer to that question is, “More often than I would like.” It’s not a secret people are what make your organization go. People are what helps take the reach of your services one step farther. Effective, engaged, excited team members are a huge need in any organization. This need for people is rarely met overnight and it takes time to build a successful healthy volunteer team. At CaseWorthy, we get to partner with hundreds of organizations with strong teams and strong participation, and when you look closer, you can see there are common themes to these teams’ success.

Building a Successful Volunteer Program

How do you convince someone to volunteer? 

When looking to build a volunteer team, it is important to remember and understand the battle you’re fighting. The battle is not simply convincing someone you need help. Those you’re recruiting need something more than that. The battle is convincing someone your cause is worth it for them to invest their most precious resource into your organization. You’re asking them for their time. Time is what’s traded for wages, for fun, for future plans. Those you are recruiting need purpose, community, and fulfillment and to find all that within their limited time. Dozens of organizations in your area need help. Those near you need to understand why helping your cause is worth it.

Realizing this, you must help your volunteers see that their serving brings value and is worth it to them, not just you. You need to help someone see the value before they begin, and to continue to believe in the mission after they’ve started. Their decision to volunteer is a daily decision and it is important to make sure that your team sees the daily value. You need to help people personally connect with your vision and help them see their role in the whole process. Help the individual see the mission can’t move forward without he or she completing a role designed for them. They are the missing link. When asking someone to solely carry out someone else’s vision, that person can often get burnt out and move on. When you help someone find their passion and how to take ownership of that passion and purpose, they can become invigorated and excited about serving. (And maybe become your best recruiter!)

Let’s look at an example. If you don’t have a passion for baseball, being asked to volunteer and lead a youth tee ball team could sound as exciting as having dental work done. When looking at this comparison and depending on which point of the baseball season you were in, you may even think to yourself, “at least dental work involves a form of numbing.” The duties included in this role of weekly wrangling young children, scheduling practices, setting up the field, dealing with parents, and handing out and collecting equipment could be enough to keep anyone from ever considering being involved in this. If someone were to ask you to give your valuable time to these unenviable tasks, you may not jump at the opportunity with excitement. However, if someone came to you and said, “I am a part of an organization that helps give young men and women a safe place to play, develop interpersonal skills, find a sense of belonging and achievement, all while helping them find a love for exercise. Would you consider discussing how you could partner with us?”. Your interest in that conversation could greatly be affected. The difficult volunteering duties would still exist, and would be necessary, but the connection to the vision and purpose of the organization could help you look past the work side of the process and look towards the outcome and rewards of those actions. If the volunteer is connected to the purpose of their time sacrifice, they can find value in that.

The same is true for your organization. Your goals and vision cannot be accomplished without the help of those willing to serve their time and possibly complete difficult tasks. How well can those you recruit see this vision from the beginning? How well does your current team connect with the value their time sacrifice brings?

Building a Successful Volunteer Program

Where do you cast the vision?

Having an effective vision and mission to communicate is only helpful if you have groups of people to communicate this vision to. Where do you cast this vision?

Being in public view is incredibly important. When holding events, or recruiting drives, make sure to inform local news. They are looking to spotlight things in the community and a story brings value to them as well, so be bold and see how you can partner together. Social media coverage from locally based and targeted profiles can also be incredibly effective in helping raise visibility to what you are doing and accomplishing. You will never know what is possible until you ask. Poll your volunteers about what social media they use and local pages they enjoy following. You can ask to partner with those sites. Your future volunteers may be following those same sites!

News coverage and social media posts seem glamorous, but the power of word-of-mouth advertising should not be overlooked. People trust people they know most. Encourage and equip your leaders and volunteers to ask friends and family if they’d be interested in helping. If your current volunteers understand and are bought in on the vision, it’s much easier for them to communicate and cast that vision to others. Because remember, your real fight is convincing those of the value of your mission and paying for it with their most valuable resource. Time. 

How do you build a strong, healthy culture?

Once you have done the difficult work of convincing someone to volunteer, it is important to keep them connected with the vision. While you are incredibly busy, the time it takes to engage your volunteers and make them feel appreciated is worth it. When your current workload feels tough, imagine if those volunteers weren’t around! Here are some ideas on how to do that:

Regularly share success stories and statistics of what has been accomplished directly tied to their work, and what you’re dreaming about could be accomplished with more help and resources.

Establish clear roles and responsibilities, how your volunteers fit into that, and how they are related to the mission. Make sure the signup process is user friendly and their orientation period is helpful, inviting, and clear.

Use technology to organize your volunteer’s roles, scheduling, to keep them connected, and to also let them know you value their time and are trying to keep them as up to date as possible. As a CaseWorthy customer, our platforms can help you do this.

Track birthdays and major life events and recognize those events. You don’t always need to give a gift, but it matters to people when they know they are remembered and more than just a number.

In the midst of fundraisers and business events, remember to have fun! Try to schedule quarterly, or even just yearly events for volunteers to get together. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, but a time to get together and celebrate the work you have done, and to celebrate the volunteers and community you have built together.

Ask for feedback on what could make their role easier or what they would like to see happen. This can also be a great opportunity to ask them if they would like to take the lead on implementing their suggestion! This gives them the opportunity for more personal ownership and targeted work to see the results of their time investment.

To choose to read an article on how to build a volunteer program, you have a mission you are excited to see accomplished. A mission you already see value in. If you are worried about how to cast vision, or what to say, just lean into the exciting moments you get to see in your role. Think about the success stories you have seen and that help you get excited about the next steps of your organization. Slow down enough to share your heart, your vision, and your excitement. It doesn’t have to be eloquent or elaborate, it just needs to be genuine. You may not get to immediately implement everything you’d like into your volunteer program, but don’t let that discourage you from getting started with the things you can. Share the vision, do your best to get it in front of the most people you can, and don’t overlook those serving with you today. A slow steady rhythm of these principles can transform your teams and your organization. Here at CaseWorthy, we are excited to partner with you on your adventure. Whatever your next steps are in building your team, today is a great day to get started!

Kyle Barnett
About the Author

Kyle Barnett is a Project Coordinator and has been with CaseWorthy since May of 2022. Prior to working at CaseWorthy, he was a high school teacher overseeing a program for at risk students and was the District Administrator for Credit Retrieval. In this role, he helped implement the use of the district’s credit retrieval software at all secondary schools. In addition to his current role at CaseWorthy, he is the youth director at his church, overseeing a team of volunteers to host a weekly service and events throughout the year for youth in the community.


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