6 Reasons Nonprofits Have Trouble Recruiting Volunteers

December 8, 2014 — Leave a comment

This summer I did some extensive research about how nonprofit organizations can best recruit, lead, and keep volunteers.

 Reasons Nonprofits Have Trouble Recruiting VolunteersPhoto Credit: Steve Depolo

My research led me to discover that there are six common reasons that nonprofits have trouble recruiting volunteers.

Too many willing-hearted volunteers have been wounded “on the job.” They’ve responded to an invitation to serve, only to end up in a volunteer position that was poorly conceived, resulting in tasks that few people would find fulfilling. Or they show up to serve and discover they have nothing to do; an underprepared volunteer coordinator has wasted their time, causing them to lose precious hours they had willingly carved out from their busy schedule. Some work hard on menial tasks without ever hearing how their efforts serve a grander cause; they’re given plenty of work, but no vision. Others have felt overwhelmed by unreasonable demands for which they’ve not received proper training; rather than being set up to win, they get put on the express lane to frustration and failure. Many have been hurt when a coercive leader drafted them to “fill a slot” without considering their gifts or talents or what they love to do. Some have given hours—maybe even years—in volunteer service to an organization or church, without receiving a single thanks.
Bill Hybels, The Volunteer Revolution, p. 25

1. Lack of training for staff working with volunteers

  • Organizations that invest in training for staff who work with volunteers have fewer problems recruiting volunteers (Hagar and Brudney, “Problems Recruiting Volunteers, p. 152).
  • Training for paid staff about how to work with volunteers resulted in more volunteers recruited (Ibid., p. 150).
  • Training is important because it tells staff how to:
    • express gratitude to volunteers
    • treat volunteers correctly as a non-paid employee, which they voluntarily are
    • communicate to volunteers
    • train and coach volunteers on specific tasks
    • help volunteers feel part of a team

2. Utilizing too many recruitment methods

  • Nonprofits that had the most recruitment methods had the greatest difficulty recruiting volunteers (“Problems Recruiting Volunteers,” p. 149).
  • Using more and more ways to recruit volunteers can be counterproductive (Ibid., 152).

3. Expecting greater commitment from older volunteers as the only option for volunteering

    • Organizations that expect greater commitment from their volunteers who are older find problems recruiting these volunteers (Ibid., 151).
    • Recruiting volunteers who make only long-term commitments is listed as one of the seven deadly sins of volunteer recruitment in the book, The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer.

4. Small nonprofits have more difficulty recruiting volunteers than large organizations

  • The smaller your organization the more difficult it becomes to recruit volunteers (Ibid., 149).

5. Lack of funds to support volunteers

  • Volunteering ultimately requires tremendous dedication, since those volunteer hours take away from family time, eat into leisure activities, and may often cause the volunteer to lose sleep at night (Japhet De Oliveira, “Motivating and Leading Volunteers,” p. 1).
  • Volunteers often weigh the benefits of their contribution against the personal costs (Barnes and Sharpe, “Looking Beyond Traditional Volunteer Management,” p. 183).

6. Staff indifference to volunteers 

  • This is staff who do not show appreciate to volunteers, do not see the volunteer volunteers, provide, do not provide clear instructions to volunteers, etc. As a result of this many volunteers quit volunteering.

BONUS! 8 Reasons Laypeople Don’t Get Involved in Ministry by Aubrey Malphurs

  1. They don’t know what is available.
  2. Some are waiting on a personal invitation.
  3. They think that is what the paid staff do.
  4. They believe God won’t use them (laypeople) like he will use the pastor.
  5. They said they’ve always done it that way
  6. Some pastors want to do the ministry because it provides job description.
  7. Lack of time and availability of laypeople.
  8. They think the pastor should do the ministry because he’s paid. (Aubrey Malphurs, “8 Reasons Laypeople Don’t Get Involved in Ministry,” Church Central, )

Question: Which of these do you struggle with and/or are there additional ones I have not listed?

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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