Find the Connection: Attracting and Retaining Volunteers

This was originally presented as a Virtual Lab for the Nonprofit Learning Lab on Friday, June 5, 2020. Slides were modified for this blog post.


When it comes to seeking help in a nonprofit, it’s not enough to understand the organization’s mission and needs on a constituent level. To build a loyal volunteer base, invest in getting to know THEIR motivations and goals.

The slides and presentation summary below focus on marketing volunteers roles using transferable skills and leadership opportunities. We’ll dive into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a framework.

Recruiting Volunteers

  • Finding Volunteers – Try posting on sites like VolunteerMatch or contact a local community service organization like Kiwanis.
  • Understanding the Why – Everyone serves for different reasons. While some are looking for community service hours, others want to develop a specific skill or have a unique experience.
  • Mastering the Marketing – Find someone that can write an engaging job description. Emphasize skills that volunteers will gain. Conduct interviews to make sure each person is a good fit.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

This framework is typically used to study how humans are intrinsically motivated, and the idea is that the “lower” needs must be met before “climbing” higher in the hierarchy. We’ll look at these levels individually, as the hierarchy for each organization may vary.

  • Physiological Needs – Do your volunteers feel at home? Think through the logistics of their arrival and overall experience of being onsite. Find ways to keep them comfortable and energized.
  • Safety Needs – Do your volunteers feel valued? Provide sufficient training, tools, and additional assistance to set up your team for success. Create a healthy and inclusive environment.
  • Love & Belonging – Do your volunteers feel connected, both to the cause and the organization? Reinforce a sense of community and encourage meaningful conversations.
  • Esteem Needs – Are your volunteers learning and growing? Emphasize skills they can transfer to school or the workplace. Show genuine appreciation and invite them back.
  • Self-Actualization – Do your volunteers feel a sense of purpose? This happens when we internalize and relate to the WHY of the cause and the organization.
  • Self-Transcendence – Will your volunteers rise up to serve others? Not only do we feel connected to the experience, but we want to keep giving back to positively impact others.

Check out the slides below for additional examples and some bonus content at the end! Reach out if you’d like this or an extended workshop version to be presented at your next nonprofit leadership meeting.

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