Engaging Volunteers: Strategies and Social Media Tips for Finding Help

young skateboarder woman with smartphone; representing engaging volunteers

Many nonprofits rely on the skills, time and dedication of their hardworking volunteers. But engaging volunteers in your organization isn’t always easy, especially when you’re trying to rise above the noise on social media. 

The best way to stand out? Be specific about your needs, and reach out to both potential and current volunteers. That’s how you get long-lasting engagement. 

Here’s how to share your message with those who need to hear it — and how technology can help.

Look For People Who Believe in Your Vision

Finding and keeping volunteers isn’t a new challenge for nonprofits. Most volunteers have a limited amount of time to donate, making their time ultra-precious. 

“Most volunteers spend limited time in nonprofit organizations,” says DonorHut. “And sometimes, times for volunteers that can work better together are inconvenient. That means it’s challenging for nonprofit organizations to have individuals with the right skills at the same time.”  

Likewise, organizations have their own time and budgets to look after. In an ideal situation, they would be able to train up passionate volunteers. In reality, though, that’s not usually the case.

That’s why organizations must be crystal-clear about their volunteering needs, and they should never lose sight of their missions.

Be Super-Specific About Your Needs

People are more likely to help out when they feel they have a certain skill they can contribute. 

Being transparent about your needs also highlights what a person might gain from the opportunity, says nonprofit giving platform GiveGab. In other words, make opportunities about them, not you. People volunteer because they want to feel they’re making a difference.

KeySplash Creative CEO Susan Gunelius agrees that its important to define roles and responsibilities when recruiting volunteers. She suggests starting by creating a list of needs, then looking for items and tasks that can be grouped together. Then, you can start to define the different roles that need to be filled.

“Be sure to include the responsibilities, skills or knowledge required to do the job, how much time the volunteer will need to commit to do the job, and the deadlines they’ll be responsible for hitting,” she says.

That way, people will know exactly what they’re getting themselves into when they sign up to volunteer. Setting expectations this way can prevent volunteer turnover and save everyone time in the long run.

All too often, we see volunteer recruitment ads that are too vague and impossibly broad in scope (e.g. “must be enthusiastic, reliable, tolerate stress, have a spark in your eyes, all smiles”). This doesn’t tell volunteers anything about the role itself, nor whether their skills match a need. It does, however, create an expectation that the organization is looking for a superhuman, which could dissuade applications from real people with real skills who really want to help.  

And if your list of needs translates into several different roles, great! Having a variety of volunteer opportunities lets you appeal to multiple people at once, Shaunak Wanikar at CallHub writes. 

Some people may only be able to work weekends while others may want to contribute their energies all throughout the week. Make it clear that you welcome all levels of engagement — so long as those levels engagement meet your organization’s needs — and that even small time commitments are important to your organization. Then, follow through by creating opportunities for people who cannot commit to a schedule but are nonetheless enthusiastic about helping.

Connect the Work to Your Organization’s Mission

Here’s where you outline what you’re going to say to potential volunteers.  A recruitment message can be more specific or more broad, depending on whom you’re speaking to and how you’re sharing the information, Ilma Ibrisevic at Donorbox writes.

Either way, the message should include your organization’s goals, why you need help and what role volunteers will play in helping you achieve that goal. Keep your audience in mind as you sketch this message out. Speaking to a specific group may require you to get more personal about how they can make a difference. That’s fine; your goal at this stage is to find the straight line that connects your organization’s mission with the thing that unites the group you’re reaching out to.

Once you’ve crafted a clear message, it’s time to make a plan for reaching out to future volunteers.

woman in a coworking space holding a hashtag sign; representing engaging volunteers on social media

Spark Conversation on Social Media

Social media is a free, effective way to find potential volunteer matches and engage them in exciting projects. Simply asking questions on social media can spark engaging responses that get your community members talking. 

As Azure Collier points out at Constant Contact, the Girl Scouts of America received tons of responses by simply asking parents on Facebook what skills their girls had learned, and what types of trips they’d taken. Your own outreach can start with something as simple as that.

Being transparent and relatable on social media helps people feel at ease when responding to your message. Think of social media as a two-way communication tool for starting conversations, says VolunteerMatch marketing coordinator Elysia Gabe

“Use social media to engage and interact with your followers,” Gabe writes. “Make sure to respond to questions on social media, start live videos or chats, create groups for volunteers, provide feedback and give helpful advice.”

You could engage a wide range of people if you get creative. For example, if you need artwork for your social media posts, connect with local schools and get kindergarten or primary school classes to donate work the students have done. With some free design tools, a volunteer could turn those into fun, informative visuals for Facebook or Instagram. 

To create a more emotional connection with potential volunteers, consider filming a recruitment video. Hanover County Fire and EMS in Virginia achieved success with a touching video that called local heroes to take action. 

“It takes a special kind of person to protect and serve our beloved community, someone who will embrace our values of pride, accountability, courage and teamwork,” the video says. This kind of language is inspiring and motivating to the right person, and can be shared across multiple social media profiles.

volunteers cleaning up a beach; representing engaging volunteers

Facebook

Checking for local or topical Facebook groups is a great place to start engaging people in active opportunities. In addition to posting volunteer roles in other groups, why not start your own? 

Facebook groups are a powerful, free tool for uniting past, current and future volunteers, says Nick Morpus at Capterra. These spaces can be used to share news about current projects and recruit new volunteers into the network. You can encourage current volunteers to invite friends and family members to join the cause, especially if you have an upcoming event that will require a large number of helpers. 

Instagram

Instagram can also be used to unite people around certain causes. As CauseVox writer Tina Jepson points out, hashtags help make your cause more discoverable. For example, Project AWARE uses the hashtags #DiveAgainstDebris and #ProtectOurOceans, both of which connect with people who care about fighting ocean pollution. Hashtags for themed days like #ThrowbackThursday also help get eyes on Instagram posts.

Another way to make your mission more discoverable on Instagram is to make use of Stories. Instagram Stories can highlight the work you’re doing and how you’re making a difference, Alison Glazer at Whole Whale writes. 

Glazer points to the organization Do Something, which uses Stories to highlight its campaigns and capture protest events in real-time. To show its involvement in the youth climate strike, Do Something shared pictures from the event and made sure to use the #youthclimatestrike hashtag to engage people interested in that cause.

Using these strategies to attract like-minded people helps build an Instagram community. Be sure to interact with the people who view, like and share your content, suggests Bloomerang. This will help you stay tuned in to the important conversations around your organization and overall cause.

Volunteer Sites 

Many volunteers turn to sites like VolunteerMatch when looking for an opportunity in their area. Making your organization and opportunities visible on a site like that can ensure you connect with like-minded volunteers. The site also offers a service that helps organizations recruit volunteers and promote their causes to a wider audience. 

JustServe is another organization that brings volunteers and organizations together in the name of volunteering. Similar to VolunteerMatch, it allows volunteers to browse potential opportunities by location, cause and organization. 

Idealist is another that’s been around for years. The site is well-established and has a long track record of connecting both professionals and volunteers with impactful organizations.

Remember: Tailor Your Message to Each Platform

People on VolunteerMatch or JustServe are likely actively looking for opportunities to volunteer. Someone on Instagram, however, might not be.

That’s why you need to tweak your message, if only a little bit, to fit each platform where you share. On a volunteer site, you can come right out and say who you are, who you need, where you need them and when. The same goes for any Facebook volunteer groups you administer. 

With a platform like Instagram Stories, though, take some time to introduce your organization and its mission. Through your photos and videos, you’ll be building a vision in the viewer’s mind of how they can make a difference. Then, make sure you have some kind of call to action (e.g. “Link in bio”) so interested followers can take that next step when they’re ready.

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