Attracting and Retaining Volunteers

By Lucille Maddalena, Ed.D.


Attracting volunteers and staff is an on-going function at every nonprofit organization. Consider the amount of time it takes to identify the appropriate person to fulfill a key role— the time investment is often more than most realize. I have found that locating and enticing volunteers and staff to join a nonprofit actually takes less time than it does to prepare the candidate to assume the new responsibilities. Both phases of finding and orienting new members represent a significant investment of time and money.
Volunteers may be attracted to support your organization because the Mission Statement, philosophy, programs and initiatives align with their personal values and beliefs. By investing their time with others of similar interest they are accomplishing two important goals. First, they are working to fulfill their commitment to better their society and culture. Second, and probably most important for all of us, is that they are achieving a much-desired sense of self-satisfaction often unattainable at typical job or during routine life events. The combination of these two factors enhances an individual’s self-esteem and most often significantly improves of their quality of life.

There is another, very real and tangible benefit from volunteering that is a critical factor especially during turbulent economic times: the nonprofit organization is a place to recharge personal strengths, reassess personal interests and competencies, and explore new and potentially viable alternative careers.

In this article we will examine how you can attract new volunteers by providing the opportunity for self-growth and the training to accept new assignments that may open the door to a new life style.


Before investing in a volunteer to assume a leadership role, be certain your screening process includes consideration of the individuals’ competencies that are of greatest value to the organization. We all do some things well while some tasks seem well beyond our abilities. To enable your volunteers to have a pleasant and long relationship with your organization, it is wise to learn their personal interests as well as their strengths and weaknesses.

Match Individual Competencies with Tasks

You can get a better picture of your volunteer by asking them a series of questions before assigning them to a specific task. The following seven attributes are among the key competencies of highly-valued volunteers:

Time: Serve your organization as a volunteer for at least one year
Commitment: Make a significant contribution of their time and creativity
Relationships: Develop strong, productive relationships with volunteers and staff
Competency: Achieve the goals set in an efficient and sustainable manner
Team player: Contribute to group efforts without the need for personal recognition
Leadership: Identify and employed best practices to complete assignment efficiently
Decision Making: Build decisions through group consensus and group support
To determine the best match of volunteer tasks with volunteer interests, prepare a series of questions based on these competencies that will enable you to learn more about potential volunteers. Inquire into past career as well as volunteer experience. Invite candidates to offer examples of how they accomplished tasks in the past and to discuss how they would like to develop new skills.

Questions to Identify Interests/Competencies

The following are some questions you can ask to gain an understanding of the interest as well as experience the potential volunteer will bring to the organization:

  1. How much time will you be able to invest as a volunteer? Would you prefer to be involved in tasks that require a few hours each day, or would you rather think in terms of hours per week, or month?
  2. What type of commitment do you think will most comfortably work within the time available? Would you prefer to lead a committee, be a member of a team or contribute to an on-going project by working on one phase independently according to a pre-set schedule?
  3. Would you like to be involved with a more social group that meets informally or would you prefer to work with a group that limits face-to-face meetings to work sessions? Do you know others who have volunteered with us in the past that you would like to work with – or do you know of anyone you would like to recommend we contact as a future volunteer?
  4. Will you share a few examples from your career or volunteer experience that you particularly enjoyed? I am particularly interested in a project or task you completed that resulted in something considered of value to the organization.
  5. How would you describe appropriate recognition for a task well done? When a few members of a team have completed most of the work, do you find it best to award the entire team or to focus on the few members who worked hardest behind the scenes?
  6. How do you know when a job is performed efficiently? How would you describe a ‘best practice’?
  7. How do you get a group to make a decision based on consensus? When does the leader just decide for the group, and when is it most productive for the leader to ask for the opinion and feedback of all concerned?

Copyright ©2017 Lucille Maddalena. To receive permission to reprint contact us.