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Five Ideas to Diversify Your Volunteer Program
Having a diverse and inclusive volunteer community helps nonprofit organizations effectively accomplish their missions and build capacity. Building a volunteer program that engages different types of people from different walks of life takes intention and care. Here are some ideas for nonprofits to recruit, engage, and retain a diverse group of volunteers.
1. Address what volunteers are seeking.
As shared in a previous post, nonprofits that understand what people are seeking from volunteer opportunities can use that information to increase volunteer engagement. This strategy can also be used to attract different types of volunteers that have different reasons for wanting to serve.
Example Scenario: Many high school and college students are seeking volunteer opportunities that boost their resume experience to enhance their college or job applications. However, they may have trouble connecting with volunteer roles tailored to their needs.
Try It: Consider creating roles for high school and college students to contribute to your board of directors or serve in an advisory capacity to develop leadership skills. This group can bring a fresh perspective and new skill sets to your organization. They can also serve as ambassadors encouraging others in their age group to pursue volunteer opportunities.
Bonus: Forming relationships with different generations is important to have a balanced spectrum of support. Engaging younger volunteers can lead to lifelong support.
2. Leverage your donor base.
Many organizations have volunteers that are also their most consistent donors. What about donors that could also become volunteers? Donors are invested in your mission, but there is often the assumption that donors may not be interested in supporting the organization beyond a financial contribution.
Example Scenario: Organizations worry about asking too much of donors, so they limit their donor outreach to donor appreciation, organization updates, and new fundraising campaigns. This strategy could be isolating a group of people that are willing to support your organization in other ways such as volunteering.
Try It: Make it easy for donors to try out volunteering. Consider a call to action on donor outreach about the opportunity to get more involved through volunteering. Or invite donors to a donor appreciation event that is also a volunteer project. Allowing donors to connect with other donors while participating in a volunteer capacity will strengthen their engagement with your organization.
Bonus: Increasing donor involvement through volunteering gives donors more insight into the inner workings of your organization while strengthening their desire to invest in its future.
3. We all have something to give.
The beauty of volunteerism is that everyone has something to contribute. From expertise to time to feedback, there is an opportunity for all types of people to serve nonprofit organizations. Having a diverse community of volunteers captures a diverse array of talents and perspectives that enhance your organization. However, many volunteer programs do not offer a diversity of roles and responsibilities that reflect the varied ways people can serve as volunteers.
Example Scenario: Many people do not see themselves as qualified or able to volunteer. It may not even be on their radar to explore due to stereotypes that volunteering takes more time and resources than some people have available.
Try It: Audit volunteer program materials for accessibility to different audiences and recipients. Instead of only offering potential volunteers the opportunity to participate in predetermined roles, be open to creating new opportunities that align with what they can give. Share stories of different volunteers giving back in different ways to reflect that your organization values and respects diversity.
Bonus: Expanding volunteer opportunities to be more inclusive has a positive impact on organizations overall by creating a diverse community of supporters.
4. Remove barriers.
The restrictions and guidelines to volunteer can limit people’s ability to participate. The pandemic has led to creative solutions to pivot volunteer opportunities that are traditionally hosted in-person. This has addressed barriers for people dealing with transportation, childcare, or scheduling conflicts that make scheduled in-person volunteering challenging, but there is more work to be done. Other barriers include inaccessibility of volunteer information due to language barriers, time commitment stipulations, and financial requirements such as mandatory donation amounts for board members.
Example Scenario: Passing a background check may be an organizational requirement for all volunteers regardless of their role. This requirement can deter people from exploring volunteerism and exclude people that will not pass the check for various reasons.
Try It: Audit your guidelines for volunteers to uncover any barriers that are preventing people from participating. Streamlining the process and making it accessible will increase the diversity of volunteers. For example, review the necessity of background checks for volunteers to audit for roles that may not require it or can have alternative vetting procedures.
Bonus: Many nonprofits can benefit from removing barriers to volunteer opportunities. Organizations that create an inclusive and welcoming volunteer program can help change perceptions that volunteering is only for certain groups.
5. Offer volunteer opportunities for groups.
Many businesses, faith-based organizations, and professional membership associations are seeking opportunities for their employees, congregations, and members to give back together. These are valuable experiences that allow teams of people to connect differently while giving back.
Example Scenario: A business is seeking an opportunity to volunteer for an organization as a team. They search for opportunities, but many of the opportunities are for individuals or are already being filled by other groups.
Try It: Update volunteer recruitment information to encourage organizations to inquire about group volunteer opportunities and think creatively about how to engage groups. Does your organization need a team of people to help with an event? Or are there projects such as a website audit or bylaws review that a team of expert volunteers could work on together?
Bonus: Collaborating with other organizations raises the profile and awareness of your organization’s work while increasing your reach and impact.
As a sector, there is a need a build a more inclusive and diverse volunteer force. We hope that these ideas will help your organization take action to welcome different volunteers to your community.