Appealing to Volunteers: How to Make Your Organization Stand Out in a Sea of Not-For-Profits

by Sonya Friesen

As a not-for-profit, sometimes the hardest part about survival is not about finding the funds to continue to support your organization, but finding the right people to volunteer to fill the right roles. It seems as though everywhere you look there is a new organization vying for your attention, a new charity looking for volunteers, or a new association needing help in their fundraising department. As a volunteer, it can be incredibly daunting trying to choose the right organization for you – a place where you will feel comfortable, fit and work towards a mutual goal. In fact, there are some organizations that seem to dominate the volunteer market. Not only do these organizations have no problem finding full-time volunteers, but volunteers seem to flock to them, producing a, dare I say it, overflow of people looking to help.

 What is it about these organizations that attract so many volunteers and what can your not-for-profit do to stand out? What is it that these organizations are doing that your organization is not? It comes down to about five simple principles. Grab a pen; you’re going to want to write these down!

  1. Make your organization “sexy”.

How can an organization be ‘sexy’, and what does that have to do with gaining volunteers? Well, as it turns out, it has just about everything to do with recruiting help. No, I don’t mean ‘sexy’ in the traditional sense – by no means do I encourage you to have all your employees wear their bikinis to work everyday or channel their inner “Ryan Gosling” (although, that may help). The simple answer is to create a visual appeal that will attract volunteers and make sure your organization is integrating itself into the media, social media and just about every forum it can. Get the message out there and consistently use your visual aid. The more volunteers are exposed to your organization, and the more they associate your organization with an ethos trigger – something that appeals to their emotions like animals and children – the more enthused they will to contribute there own time and resources. People like to know that they are making a difference – if they have a visual concept of that difference, they will flock to your organization. Trust me.

  1. Showcase all the successful things you’ve been able to accomplish through volunteers. 

Volunteers want to know that they are making a difference. Showcasing your organization’s accomplishments, but not crediting any efforts of your current volunteers, won’t do your organization any good. Showcase the accomplishments your volunteers have had, everything you couldn’t have done without them, and how important they are to the overall function of the organization. Have a “volunteer of the month” profile, or a forum for volunteers to interact with one another. The minute people realize that they will be making a difference, the minute they want to be a part of it.

  1. Appreciate your volunteers

What do all these big charity organizations have in common? They have monthly, yearly volunteer appreciation evenings and recognition awards. An organization should never take advantage of its volunteers. Volunteers are giving away their time for the success of the organization – it is important to recognize and reward this. Provide a weekly lunch; offer a monthly networking dinner, or a yearly recognition ceremony, even a simple thank you note can go a long way. People want to know that their efforts and work will be valued. It is important to showcase your appreciation if you want to even consider increasing your volunteer count.

  1. Create a clear mission – and stay true to it!

Chances are, your organization has already established a clear mission – but if you’re fluctuating from it in any way, you are risking your chance at establishing a long-term team of volunteers. Volunteers align themselves with organizations because they feel strongly about the overall mission or have a passion for the cause. The more an organization deviates from its mission, the less these already-established volunteers will want to be a part of it, and the less likely they are to encourage there like-minded friends to join. Is your organization dedicated to helping abused animals? Make sure that everything you do is in light of this concept. The more you establish yourself as a leader in one particular cause, the more likely volunteers will want to be a part of it.

  1. Make it fun!

Volunteering has a horrible reputation for being ‘boring’ and ‘pointless’, deterring people from wanting to involve themselves. What can your organization do to deviate itself from this stigma? Make volunteering fun! This can be hard, depending on what you require from volunteers. Making an office-based opportunity exciting is difficult, but if you find ways to make it more interactive and fun, people will be encouraged to join. Don’t forget to focus on the bigger picture! The more fun you make your organization, the more people will want to be a part of that!


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