Essential Steps for Successful Volunteer Program Development

Monday, November 21, 2022

If you are employed by a relatively new nonprofit that has grown steadily since its founding, congratulations: you are on the path to success. You established your board, vision and mission statements, engaged an initial group of donors, hired your core staff and created community impact through your programming. What’s the next step? In a word: VOLUNTEERS.

Besides financial contributions, the gifts of time and talent are the most important donations that supporters can make to your organization. Volunteers can increase workplace efficiency, reduce overhead by saving payroll dollars and serve as community advocates for your organization if leveraged correctly.

If that sounds good to you, get started on your volunteer program today. It’s important to adopt good habits now regarding your volunteer program so that the initiative remains sustainable over time and thrives. Create a vibrant volunteer program by following these essential guidelines:

  1. Establish clear roles and expectations.

  2. Gather your resources.

  3. Create volunteer orientation and training processes.

  4. Recruit and engage volunteers.

  5. Set goals and track progress.

  6. Thank volunteers for their dedication. 


Ready to create an effective volunteer management process? Let’s dive in. 

1. Establish clear roles and expectations.

Volunteer activities may be skill-based, task-based, or a mixture of the two. It’s essential to match each volunteer with the right role that suits their interests, strengths, and qualifications. This is done by establishing detailed volunteer role descriptions, complete with the expectations and responsibilities for each position so that your volunteers know if this is the right option for them or not.

For each role, establish expectations for:

  • The length of each volunteer shift - Ensure you communicate the time requirements for each volunteer shift. If your volunteers have busy schedules outside or face any barriers that may restrict them from volunteering for long hours, they’ll know whether this opportunity is a good fit.
  • What skills are required to complete the role - If you want the right volunteers signing up for the right shifts, make sure you clearly define the skills that are required to help ensure each volunteer is guaranteed to thrive.
  • The process for schedule changes and updates - The last thing you want is your volunteers feeling confused or frustrated. Let them know what your communication methods will be and who to go to if they have any questions.

Once you’ve created your role descriptions, use the most effective social media platforms to reach your potential volunteers. Create a target persona of the ideal volunteer you want, and understand which platforms they spend the most time on to increase the visibility of your volunteer opportunities.

2. Gather your resources.

Take stock of all the resources you will need to execute a successful volunteer program. This is crucial for building strong relationships with your supporters and boosting volunteer engagement! 

It’s best to stay prepared and organized well in advance and have all your resources ready to offer the best experience possible for your volunteers. Here’s what you’ll need to start with: 

  • The support of your team. Your staff members will interact with your volunteers during large events or projects, so their support is necessary. With the help of your current team, you can also plan a fun and engaging orientation for your volunteers to feel comfortable and excited right from the start!

  • Room in the budget. Plan out where your funding will come from ahead of time as the software solutions and materials you need to launch your program will require some funding.

With these resources and forms of support in your pocket, you’ll be able to get your full team on the same page, making the planning process for your volunteer opportunities go much more smoothly. 

3. Create volunteer orientation and training processes.

Have you ever heard of the phrase “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” or “K-I-S-S Method?” That rule of thumb applies here. Make it simple for people to become volunteers with your organization. Your volunteers will create the most impactful work when they’re passionate and confident about carrying out their assigned tasks.

Be transparent about the application process and any required volunteer training. Provide training materials or consent forms for additional requirements like background checks or liability waivers at the beginning of the application process so that potential volunteers feel informed and supported by your organization.

In addition, ensure your volunteer orientation is effective and engaging by using it to review your organization’s history and mission, volunteer roles and expectations, check-in/check-out procedures, and relevant staff contact information. 

Lastly, make sure volunteers feel comfortable and confident in their roles. For instance, if you’re training them to become online advocates for your cause, you can have them come up with a few social media posts on their own or open the floor for questions to ensure volunteers are prepared. 

4. Recruit and engage volunteers.

A multiplatform strategy works best for effective volunteer recruitment. Print flyers and advertise the volunteer opportunities on community message boards. Request that the volunteer program be included on your website and in the social media strategy for your organization.Create profiles and upload volunteer opportunities on partner sites like the RSVP program, Volunteer Match or front facing pages created in Charityproud.

As you carry out your recruitment strategy, think of different audiences of potential volunteers, such as corporate partners. Volunteering can be a great way for working professionals to develop professional skills in a relaxed environment. You can also reach out to nearby high schools or universities or any other community organizations, such as civic groups or associations.

If you’re hosting virtual volunteer training sessions or events, you can ensure they are engaging by incorporating opportunities for volunteers to meet face-to-face over video conference. With a professional and well-planned volunteer recruitment process, you can impress prospective volunteers and enhance your organization’s reputation!

5. Set goals and track progress

Setting goals will provide your organization with a long-term vision and insights on how to organize your time to ensure efficiency. It will help you see if you’ve reached your organizational objectives, and if not, you’ll know what further actions to take.

Create goals for the initial recruitment and implementation phases of the program. Assign metrics for everything from the number of volunteers to retention rates at benchmark times (think 90 days, six months and one year). Take an annual satisfaction survey of your volunteer corps and make adjustments to the program when you identify trouble spots in the volunteer experience.

Nobody knows your organization better than your volunteers themselves! They are the pillars of your nonprofit, which is why it’s crucial to understand how they feel about your organization. When done effectively, collecting surveys from volunteers can help your nonprofit improve many areas of your organization, such as programming and recruitment efforts. This helps you build on your current program and ensure your current and future volunteers have a memorable experience.


6. Thank volunteers for their dedication.

Your volunteers are passionate about your cause, which is why they donate their time and skills to help you reach your goals and make a positive impact. In return, they deserve to be recognized for their contributions. When your volunteers feel like their work is making a difference and feel valued, it goes a long way in creating an environment that your supporters want to participate in. Good volunteer stewardship might even convince volunteers to become donors as well.

No volunteer management program is complete without a comprehensive strategy for showing gratitude to volunteers. Share your appreciation using the following methods:

  • Handwritten thank-you notes - Consider asking your community members to write personal letters to the volunteers who made a difference in their lives. When the words of appreciation come from those who your volunteers served, they will feel like an important part of your organization, boosting volunteer satisfaction.
  • In-person or virtual volunteer appreciation events - Plan a team lunch or a night out with your volunteers as a thank-you gift for their hard work. This is a great opportunity for everybody to celebrate their accomplishments and connect outside of their normal volunteer environment. You can also plan a virtual event to ensure  everybody has a chance to join!
  • Free merchandise, such as t-shirts or water bottles - Customize any merchandise such as t-shirts, hats, water bottles, or mugs with your organization’s colors and logo to make your gift special. You can also ask your volunteers to submit their own designs and send out a poll to decide on the winning design that will be printed on your merchandise.

Thanking your volunteers is a crucial component of increasing their confidence and self-esteem. Any form of appreciation will make your volunteers feel much more inclined to continue participating in the future.

Now that you’ve learned the essential steps of successful volunteer program development, it’s to put your best foot forward! There is no secret recipe to successful volunteer programs, only thoughtful planning and execution. Establish a clear path for volunteers to follow, offer a simple onboarding process, and evaluate the program regularly to cultivate an experience that volunteers want to be a part of and are proud to share with others.