Defining Your Offer – Even Volunteers Don’t Work For Free

Did you think volunteers work for free? A lot of people make this assumption, but it actually isn’t true, and figuring out exactly how your volunteers want to be “paid” is key to not only attracting more volunteers, but keeping the good ones.

We need to think about our time, our attention, and our networks as finite resources. When a volunteer engages with your organization, they’re committing something of value. Their time, their expertise, and even their mindspace could be dedicated to something else — being a good steward of this contribution is a key part of volunteer management. Organizations that choose to recognize this can be more strategic about the way they onboard new volunteers, the way they assign volunteers, and how they retain them. When volunteers leave, it’s often because they’re not getting “paid” anymore, whether that means:

  • Their skills aren’t being developed further, or aren’t being utilized.
  • Their values don’t align with those of the organization.
  • They were volunteering to get experience in a certain area and they have that now.
  • They’re taking on too much or being overworked.

So, what can non-profits do attract good volunteers and retain them? The first step is to figure out the “why” behind your volunteers’ choice to work for your organization. This won’t be the same across the board, but creating a few volunteer “personas” can reveal a pattern, which will ultimately help you identify your focus areas for recruiting.

Once organizations have honed in on their focus areas, they should ask themselves:

  • Are our volunteers only using their existing skills, or are we providing opportunities for them to develop additional skills they’d like to refine?
  • Are we actually “acting” on the values that we claim to have as an organization?
  • Have we “checked in” with our existing volunteers to find out if their volunteering goals are still being met, or what their plans are for the future?
  • Are we giving work to volunteers who may have too much on their plate just because we don’t have capacity?

This is a great starting point. Once you start to define, as an organization, what you’re “paying” each volunteer, it will get easier to identify gaps and create a more strategic volunteer recruitment plan and engage current volunteers.

Nobody volunteers for free. So what is your offer?


Vivid Shift is a recruitment marketing agency based in Western Canada. We help organizations share what makes them unique so they can attract the right employees, volunteers or students. Find out more at

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