Moving Beyond Your “Hard Core” Volunteers

Volunteerism October 27, 2014

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley

Do you have a small group of volunteers that you rely on at your organization? Are you looking for ways to recruit and motivate more participants?

In our Small Membership Advisory Community sessions and in our 1-On-1 interviews with Advisory members, we’ve heard a lot  about challenges in finding and engaging volunteers. For example, one of our members noted that even though her association has a sizeable board, the same two or three people  – the “hard core volunteers” – do all of the work.

Lack of “people power” holding small organizations back

Another Advisory Community member told us:

We don’t attempt as many activities because we know there’s not the capacity necessarily to pull them off. There’s more we could be doing but we lack the person power to do everything that would be nice to do.  So we are trying to be realistic in what we can actually accomplish.  And one of the limiting factors is people power.

Many small membership organizations rely on volunteers to lead the organization and manage all of their initiatives as well as day-to-day administration. This means that finding enough of and the right volunteers is critical to their success in meeting their mission.

So what’s the secret to effective volunteer recruitment, retention and engagement?

Here are some of the insights discussed in our Small Membership Advisory Community and identified by other non-profit and membership folks.

Communication with potential and existing volunteers is key

One factor that can impact both volunteer recruitment and engagement is communication. This includes:

  • finding the right messaging to encourage volunteering
  • communicating to ensuring that volunteers feel connected with the organization throughout their involvement
  • finding ways of enabling volunteers to build relationships with one another

It’s important to have some way for the volunteers to connect with the organization and with one another. Some organizations offer information in a newsletter, others connect on social networks.

Connect with volunteers and members – in all the right places

Another suggestion from our Small Membership Advisory Community was to use social networks, such as Facebook to find and connect volunteers. One Advisory Community member has had great success in finding key people and getting them to reach out to their own networks on social media. He reminded us that Facebook is designed for people to connect with and join in with their friends, so it can be ideal for non-profits and membership organizations. For example, he noted:

If someone joins your Facebook group or likes your page then their network will see that. And so you need a few people, at least, to start that so then they’re networks will see it.  And you have to have content there that people find interesting so that they do like it or join your Facebook group. ... So it’s really important to get a few people that are on your side to begin that process. … [While] you can’t count on them necessarily to get it going but identifying people who are social or active with social media and getting them to connect with their networks, that’s how it starts.

In terms of reaching out to volunteers and helping them connect with one another, it could be as simple as having a Twitter account or a particular hashtag through which you share progress or acknowledge milestones. It can also be a way to create more buzz around future projects and get more volunteers motivated.

Social networks can be an effective way to share information, share photos, get people to be engaged, especially the younger generation.  But don’t forget that your website can also be a central hub – with information, photos and stories of volunteer efforts.

Use your membership networks

Another Advisory Community member offered advice on how their organization used their board members’ to reach out to their own networks to identify potential volunteers. Then the organization follows up with a letter of invitation, asking people to join and talking about the advantages of participation.  In addition, the organization asks their members to actually recruit other members.

You can also consider having your key volunteers or members recruit among their networks (e.g., on LInkedIn) – such as their university alumni networks; other professional organizations etc.

Don’t forget volunteering  is VERY PERSONAL

One of our Advisory Community members reminded us of the personal nature of volunteering. He noted that his organization had been started by two individuals whose own charisma drew in volunteers. In addition, the newsletter they produced to demonstrate the volunteers’ and the organization’s efforts had  been written, primarily, by the one key founder. This newsletter offered stories and prose in a very personal, friendly style that the volunteers enjoyed receiving each month. These were appreciated and shared because of the personal way the information was provided, rather than in a clinical or more formal manner.

Volunteering is very personal. People are contributing their time, effort, energy and organizations need to continually find ways to recognize their efforts and say thank you.

Be sure to track and communicate volunteer impact

But to properly recognize volunteers, you need to be keeping track of their efforts and measuring  the impact they and their efforts have made to your organization, the community or the project. It can be helpful to track your volunteers’ hours and efforts and evaluate projects on a yearly, or quarterly basis. That way, you have some specifics that you can use to both recognize and thank volunteers, and also you’ll have details on the actual volunteer roles and outcomes that you can share with incoming volunteers.

Once you’ve captured information on the volunteers’ efforts, be sure to share it!  Find unique ways to offer incentives and show your appreciation. For example, you can:

  • showcase valuable volunteers that have contributed a lot of hours or gathered donations on your website
  • recognize efforts through a certificate (which might be especially helpful for young volunteers who can include their volunteer efforts on their resumes)
  • create a social media post with a list of key volunteers and their achievements, including photos

More insight and tips available in our Mission-Driven Volunteering Webinar

For more insight and ideas on recruiting and motivating volunteers at small membership organizations, you can register for our free Expert Series Webinar:

Mission-Driven Volunteering presented by experts Elizabeth Weaver Engel, MA, CAE and Peggy Hoffman, CAE.

Webinar presentation and video available:

The Mission-Driven Volunteering webinar is now concluded, but you can check out highlights, view the presentation or the entire session video here.

Additional Volunteer Resources:

We also have a number of volunteer resources in our Membership Knowledge Hub:

Image source:  Super hero team - courtesy of

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!

Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.


  • Shelly:
    Is it possible to post a recording of the Mission Driven Volunteering webinar for those of us who couldn't attend?
  • Lori Halley

    Lori Halley:
    Shelly Yes! We will be blogging about the webinar and including a link to the slide presentation and video. We'll also be offering the questions and answers from the session. Stay tuned to the WildApricot Blog over the next week or so for that.


About results ( seconds) Sort by: 
Sorry, an error occured when performing search.