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8 min read

Market your nonprofit's volunteer program: 4 critical steps

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Your nonprofit team works hard to keep operations running smoothly. Every staff member works to ensure that your organization earns enough revenue, builds effective relationships, runs programs to serve its mission, and more. To take some of the burden off of these valuable employees and provide additional support for your organization’s operations, your organization likely leverages volunteer work alongside staff support.

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Identify your audience
  3. Make it easy to apply to become a volunteer
  4. Create digital ads encouraging volunteer sign-ups
  5. Say thank you and emphasize your volunteers’ impact
  6. Final thoughts


Volunteers are indispensable resources for your nonprofit as they give time to help you host events, run programs, and complete other mission-critical tasks.


When you have impactful volunteers on your side, they’ll play a key role in completing all of the necessary work at your organization to address your mission. Not only that, but they’ll also help free up your staff member time, so they can focus on other decision-making tasks and challenges encountered at your nonprofit. That’s why recruiting the best volunteers is well worth the initial investment for your organization.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how you can leverage your marketing strategies to spread the word about your organization’s volunteer program and recruit the best and most qualified individuals for your volunteer tasks. We’ll cover the following four critical steps:

  1. Identify your audience.
  2. Make it easy to apply to become a volunteer.
  3. Create digital ads encouraging volunteer sign-ups.
  4. Say thank you and emphasize your volunteer’s impact.

The best part is that much of your promotion and marketing to recruit new volunteers will fit seamlessly into your overall nonprofit marketing strategy. Or, if your nonprofit marketing strategy needs to be built out further, you can use this framework to reach donors, advocates, stakeholders, constituents, and other important individuals for your mission.

  1. Identify your audience.

    One of the key factors of any good marketing strategy is identifying the audience you want to engage. This will help you design your marketing strategies and messages to best reach that particular audience.

    Different nonprofits target different audiences for their volunteer programs depending on the types of tasks they need to accomplish. For instance, you wouldn’t target college students with few qualifications if you’re looking for a certified CPA to volunteer time for your nonprofit accounting needs. Instead, you would reach out through networks of dedicated accounting professionals to see if someone would be interested in giving their time.

    When you think about your own volunteer program, what roles are you trying to fill? How will you excite the right people to fill those roles? For example, are you looking for:

    • Highly qualified individuals for specific office tasks? You might be searching for a certified CPA, experienced graphic designer, or accomplished copywriter to help your organization with specific tasks around the office.
    • A high volume of people who can complete unspecialized work? For example, if you’re hosting an event, you might need a lot of individuals willing to help with crowd control and running various event activities.
    • Long-term individuals to come back week after week? If you’re planning to help individuals develop a skill that you’ll need time and time again, look for people who are able to come back again and again on a regular basis. For example, you might train someone in childcare needs for one of your programs, then invite them to come regularly to help run the program.

    The first essential step to effectively promoting your volunteer program is to decide who your ideal volunteers will be. Consider the jobs you need them to fill and the ideal candidates for each of those jobs.

    Not only will this help you reach only the most relevant people, but it will also help your organization find people who will be happy to complete the jobs you need to be done. Then, you can retain those volunteers for years to come because they’ll be excited to come back and help your organization again and again.

  2. Make it easy to apply to become a volunteer.

    Once you’ve defined the roles you need to be filled at your organization and the people you want to invite to become volunteers for your cause, you can start thinking about the application process.

    This is your opportunity to increase conversion rates for your volunteer program. Long, tedious application processes are more likely to be abandoned by your audience. Consider the ways that you can make it easy to find the application pages and complete the sign-up process.

    For example, your organization should take the following steps:

    • Move the application process online. If you simply ask volunteers to arrive on a specific day and time, you’re missing a valuable opportunity to collect information about your volunteers to further inform your target audience for future opportunities. Plus, volunteers will feel a sense of responsibility to attend when they sign up ahead of time.
    • Create general interests for your application form. Your volunteer program may offer many ways volunteers can get involved. Name them and provide descriptions for each interest area and allow for volunteers to indicate on your form which ones are areas of interest. This will help a volunteer clearly communicate to you how they’d like to contribute while also guiding the conversations you have with volunteers throughout the onboarding stage as you match them to roles that are a good fit.
    • Make applying online easy for your volunteers from your digital marketing materials. Absolutely remember to put your online application form on your organization’s website and particularly on the pages about your volunteer program. Volunteers visit your site to learn more and while you have their attention and interest, give them a way to take action and get involved by applying on your form right away. Also, include links within your email campaigns and digital ads back to your application to capture your audience from outreach materials as well. Plus, by tracking who clicks through what material, you’ll have increased visibility into which marketing strategies are most effective for each audience.

    The information gathered from your online application form can be automatically recorded within each volunteer’s profile when using volunteer management software. This will help you reach out to these individuals during future marketing campaigns as well.

  3. Create digital ads encouraging volunteer sign-ups

    Some of your volunteer marketing activities will need to be carefully planned and targeted to specific individuals. For example, if you’re looking for an experienced graphic designer, you might reach out to an advanced graphic design professor at your local university, asking if any students would like to volunteer.

    However, other opportunities will require a wider reach for your organization to attract the individuals you need to host an event, run a program, or complete other activities. In these cases, you’ll likely need to get the word out to a broader audience. Looking for an impactful way to get their attention? Create digital ads for your nonprofit.

    While many organizations are hesitant to use digital advertising to market their opportunities, Feathr’s nonprofit advertising guide confirms that organizations can use a portion of their budget for nonprofit advertisements. In fact, according to the same article, about 60% of nonprofits have portions of their budget specifically earmarked for digital advertisements.

  4. Say thank you and emphasize your volunteers’ impact

    Nonprofit organizations focus on their donor retention rate in order to raise additional funds, but they often forget about the value behind their volunteer retention rate. Volunteers help free up additional time for your staff members. So, the more volunteers you can retain, the more time you can save for your staff members.MARKET YOUR NONPROFITS VOLUNTEER PROGRAM Thank you

    You can further increase the ROI of your marketing efforts by increasing your volunteer retention rate. This begins with effective stewardship strategies and simply saying “thank you” to your volunteers.

    Be sure your volunteer marketing strategy includes a step that allows you to show your appreciation for your volunteers’ hard work. You might decide to:

    • Send an email follow-up thanking them for their hard work immediately after their contribution of time.
    • Send a handwritten thank you note from your volunteer coordinator, expressing personalized appreciation for their time.
    • Call your volunteers on the phone to verbally thank them for their time. Get specific with exactly how they helped your organization and your larger mission during these conversations.
    • Provide branded materials as a physical thank you gift during or after your volunteer’s time spent at your organization. This will also become free marketing for you in the future!

    There’s no need to choose which of these strategies works best for your organization. You can use multiple or even all of them to show appreciation. When you do reach out to say thank you, your organization should emphasize the impact your supporters had on your cause.

    Highlight a tangible service they provided. For example, you might say, “Your generous time packing school bags helped provide school supplies for 100 children in your community!”

    Volunteers contribute their time because they want to make a difference for your cause. By explaining that their time and efforts are making a difference, your organization will show the value in their work and encourage them to continue coming back.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes time is even more valuable than money. This is often the case with an impactful volunteer program. Connecting the right people with the right opportunities helps build your volunteer program and allows you to accomplish more with less. 

Use these four critical steps to create your own marketing strategy to connect the best possible people with your most urgent opportunities. Then, retain them for the long haul. Good luck!

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