Essential Steps for Successful Volunteer Program Development

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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. Build a vibrant volunteer program by following these essential guidelines:

Establish clear roles and expectations. Begin by outlining the different roles a volunteer might take on. Volunteer activities may be skill-based, task-based, or a mixture of the two. Survey those interested in volunteering to find out the ways they envision helping your organization. Then outline your organizational expectations: how long each shift will be, how many shifts are required in a given time period to be considered active (if any), and what the process for schedule changes will be.

Gather your resources. Take stock of the resources you will need to execute a successful volunteer program. First, and most importantly, make sure you have the support of your team. Staff members inevitably will interact or supervise volunteers for large events or initiatives, so their support is crucial. Confirm that there is room in the budget to print training materials.

Define volunteer intake 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. Be transparent about the application process and any required 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.

Recruit, Recruit, Recruit. For volunteer recruitment, a multi-pronged strategy works best. 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.

Set goals and track progress. 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, 6 months and 1 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.

There is no secret magic to successful volunteer programs, only thoughtful planning and execution. Establish a clear path for volunteers to follow, offer a simple onboarding processes and evaluate the program regularly to cultivate a program that volunteers want to be a part of and are proud to share with others. 


Katie Norris, Client Account Manager