Both nonprofits and churches struggle consistently with recruiting and effectively utilizing volunteers. People are increasingly more and more busy and too consumed with work and family to volunteer multiple places these days

Studies show that most Americans support a very small number of causes annually (with one typically being their church), so nonprofits have to manage their donors carefully and volunteers carefully.

Many churches solely rely on the internal support of their members. Their structural makeup requires it, and if churches don’t master the art of maintaining volunteers, they might have to shut their doors – while nonprofits can hobble along for awhile without volunteers, but will rarely thrive.

Here are three things nonprofits can learn from churches about volunteers:

1. Have someone influential ask.

We’re all a little vain, aren’t we? I hate to say it, but when my pastor calls me and asks me for my help selecting a new church database management system, it’s a lot harder for me to say no than it would be to just about anyone else.

If you’re struggling to line up volunteers, get your ED to make a phone call. Ask the CEO to go visit someone with you. You will be amazed at how people’s availability changes when they are made to feel more important. In much the same way that Tom Ahern tells us to make the donors the star of the show in your acknowledgment letters, I’m urging you to make your volunteers the stars!

2. Don’t overwhelm your group of prospective volunteers.

One thing I’ve learned from working on big projects at my church is that prospective volunteers sometimes assume the worst. They think they are going to have to run the whole program, be in charge of a lot of people, be at the whole event all night, etc.

That fear can cause them to avoid volunteering.

Break it down into small chunks for them, let them know you only need them for a couple of hours, just one small task and so on.

3. Ask them what they want to help with!

My wife teaches Head Start, so naturally people assume she would want to volunteer in some child care capacity. And she subs in sometimes during Sunday school and is happy to help. But sometimes she might rather enjoy interacting with adults a little more. Yes, I have a (relatively) technical background, but I too would rather work with other adults and not just computers.

You will get a much better response if you ask your volunteer pool what they would like to help with. It may not always be what they do in their day job. The responses may surprise you and teach you something you didn’t know about the person.

All three of these suggestions really involve you being engaged with your volunteers. Get to know them, and keep getting to know them (people’s wants and needs evolve!).

One of your big focuses should be on donor retention through better donor engagement; volunteer retention through better volunteer engagement can be just as rewarding!

How does your organization maintain a healthy volunteer program? Let me know in the comments below!


James Goalder

James Goalder

Senior Account Executive at Bloomerang
James Goalder is a Senior Account Executive at Bloomerang. James serves on the Board of Directors of Project GROWS in Verona, Virginia, serves as a Sunday School teacher at his church and enjoys living in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in the Western part of Virginia.