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Top 3 Volunteer Management Challenges (and How to Conquer Them!)

volunteers working outside

National Volunteer Month is a time to celebrate the real heroes: our volunteers! 

One in four Americans volunteer their time and skills annually, fueling countless non-profits' work nationwide. From animal shelters to food banks, they're the backbone of these organizations.

But managing this passionate crew isn't always a walk in the park. Three areas tend to trip us up:

  • Recruitment and Retention: Finding and keeping great volunteers can be a constant battle.

  • Scheduling and Availability: Juggling volunteer schedules with everyone's busy lives can be a logistical headache.

  • Motivation and Engagement: Keeping volunteers feeling valued and excited to contribute is vital to a successful program.

This article tackles these three common challenges head-on with practical tips for building a volunteer program and maintaining your sanity.

Recruitment and Retention

Attracting and retaining passionate volunteers is the cornerstone of any successful non-profit organization. Here's how to build a dedicated team that thrives alongside your mission.

Targeted Recruitment

Generic job descriptions just won't cut it — Develop a clear profile of your ideal volunteer. Are you seeking social butterflies to engage with donors at events or detail-oriented data analysts to help with fundraising reports? Understanding your specific needs allows you to target the right audience.

Compelling Descriptions

Rather than just listing tasks and requirements, highlight the impact volunteers will make! Focus on the "why" behind the role: how it contributes to your mission and the skills volunteers can develop. For example, instead of saying "data entry," emphasize how volunteers will " contribute to crucial grant applications that support our mission to provide educational resources to underprivileged communities."

Matching Passions

Don't just fill slots; create meaningful connections. Match volunteers with projects that ignite their passions and utilize their talents. Invest in training and development opportunities to help them grow their skills and feel confident in their roles. This keeps them engaged and contributes to their overall satisfaction.

Recognition and Appreciation

"Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it all into words is all that is necessary." —Margaret Cousins

A genuine "thank you" goes a long way. Public recognition in newsletters or social media, handwritten notes, or small tokens of appreciation demonstrate that their contributions matter.  

Next up, let's tackle the challenge of scheduling and volunteer availability. Streamlining this process can ensure a smooth workflow and maximize volunteer engagement.

Scheduling and Availability

Juggling volunteer schedules amidst busy lives can feel like a logistical nightmare. However, you can transform scheduling into a smooth and efficient process with a bit of planning and the right tools. Here are some key strategies to keep both you and your volunteers happy:

Plan Like a Pro

Before diving into scheduling, take a step back. Identify the specific skills and roles needed for your upcoming project or event. For example, if you're hosting a fundraising gala, you might need volunteers for tasks like:

  • Set-up and breakdown: Strong individuals capable of handling heavy lifting and arranging tables and chairs.

  • Registration and guest management: Friendly and welcoming volunteers to greet attendees and handle check-in.

  • Silent auction management: Detail-oriented volunteers to oversee bidding on auction items.

By outlining your needs, you can determine the number of volunteers you require for each role and the ideal time commitment for each shift.

Empowerment Through Self-Scheduling

Ditch the endless email chains and embrace the power of self-scheduling! Volunteer management software allows volunteers to sign up for shifts that fit their schedules and preferences. This empowers them to take ownership of their contribution and frees up their time for other tasks.

Transparency is Key

Maintain a clear and user-friendly online calendar that's your central hub for all scheduling information. Some key details to include in your shift description:

  • Specific times: Start and end times for each volunteer opportunity.

  • Required skills: Any specific skills or experience needed for the role. For instance, "Must be comfortable using a cash register" or "Experience with data entry preferred."

  • Additional information: Any other relevant details about the role or what volunteers can expect during their shift.

Embrace Flexibility

Recognize that volunteers have busy lives! Consider offering a variety of shift lengths to accommodate diverse schedules. This could include shorter shifts (1-2 hours) for volunteers with limited time or longer shifts (4-6 hours) for those who can dedicate more hours.

Next up — the art of keeping volunteers motivated and engaged – the secret sauce to a thriving volunteer program!

Motivation and Engagement

So now you know how to recruit and schedule your volunteers—how do you avoid burnout and keep those helping hands coming back for more? Here are some easy-to-implement best practices:

Meaningful Work & Recognition

Go beyond basic tasks. Assign volunteers projects that utilize their skills and allow them to take ownership (retention). Publicly acknowledge their achievements in newsletters, social media, or volunteer appreciation events (retention). This fosters a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and value.

Connected to the Cause

Connect volunteers to the impact of their work. Share success stories and data demonstrating how their contributions make a difference (retention). This will help volunteers feel invested in your mission and keep them motivated.

Growth & Development Opportunities

Invest in your volunteers! Offer training workshops or educational sessions relevant to their role or interests. This shows you value their growth and keeps them engaged (retention).

Empowerment & Flexibility

Offer a variety of roles and tasks that align with volunteers' interests and skills (retention). Consider flexible scheduling options like short-term projects or one-time events to accommodate busy lives. This empowers volunteers and makes participation easier (scheduling).

Building a Community

Organize social events or team-building activities to foster a sense of belonging (retention). Encourage volunteers to connect and build relationships with one another. Research shows that 35% of volunteers find social connection to be a motivating factor!

Your Thriving Volunteer Program

Building a solid volunteer team is the heart of any successful non-profit. Implementing these tips can create a rewarding experience that keeps volunteers engaged and excited to contribute.

We want to hear from you! Comment below and share your best volunteer management tips or success stories.


Kristin Chute head shot

Kristin Chute is a freelance writer with a passion for helping nonprofits increase their reach and impact. She has written for companies offering SaaS solutions, nonprofits directly, and donor loyalty programs.

Kristin believes in the power of nonprofit organizations to change the world. With expertise stemming from her career and personal connection to volunteering at her childhood summer camp, she shares insights to help nonprofits increase their reach, engage supporters, and amplify fundraising efforts.


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