Volunteer Recruitment and Retention Processes in Nonprofit Organizations


Nonprofit organizations relying on volunteer labor are faced with recruitment and retention challenges since volunteerism is not based on remuneration to attract potential volunteers. With increasing responsibility lying on such organizations as governments reduce their expenditure on welfare programs, effective recruitment and retention practices are necessitated of such organizations. This paper reviews literature to identify perspectives that relate to effectiveness of recruitment and retention practices in nonprofit organization reliant on volunteer workforce. Aspects noted to affect practices include knowledge of volunteer market that helps to align the entity’s goals and mission to the interest of prospective volunteers. Other core aspects relate human resource management approaches including developing formal recruitment processes, training of volunteers and establishing systems to recognize or developing an organization culture that appreciates volunteer contribution.
Keywords: Volunteer, Nonprofit organization, Recruitment, Retention.


The concept of volunteerism has been shaped through various perspectives that have come up over the years. Generally, volunteering is considered to be “any activity in which time is given freely to benefit another person, group, or organization” (Wilson, 2000). Though this definition suggests the provision of free services, it does not rule out the aspect that volunteers could receive benefits (e.g. recommendations for job placement) for the services they provide. Offering material benefits in volunteer work has however attracted various perspectives regarding what volunteering consists. Whereas one perspective (e.g. J Smith, 1991 as cited in Wilson, 2000, p. 216) holds that provision of material benefits, e.g. monetary remuneration, deprives the service rendered off its volunteerism nature, a different perspective is that willful working in poorly-remunerated work also constitutes some form of volunteerism (Smith, 1982, as cited in Wilson, 2000, p. 216). Additionally, whether aspects such as intentions and motive of the individual offering service influence the consideration of such service as voluntary or not has also been widely debated (Wilson, 2000).

Other aspects also affect the consideration of a service to be voluntary or not. Such include whether the service is reactive (e.g. helping an assaulted victim) or proactive (cluster of activities designed to alleviate a condition affecting an individual, a group or an organization), and if the activity performed is activism-oriented or care-oriented (Wilson, 2000). Further, perspectives exist that demarcate “associational volunteers, who are members working for their organization, from program volunteers, who are members working on behalf of their organization” (Wilson, 2000, p. 216). Such perspectives however at times become blurred with regard to volunteering. For instance, volunteers could participate in activism to spur the government into action in case of an epidemic that the government is reluctant to address. In this paper, the aspect of recruitment and retention of volunteers in an organization is considered, thus the general definition of volunteerism as provision of services freely to benefit a nonprofit organization, and the population it serves is the guiding definition.

Effective management of volunteers is critical with many organizations relying on such workforce to achieve success. In the UK, for instance, the evolution of social policy that has placed welfare and community development aspects within the scope of activities rendered by organizations reliant on volunteer labor has enhanced the need for volunteers (Bussell & Forbes, 2001). Similarly, in the US, the effect of economic crisis that have led to reduced expenditure on welfare programs has necessitated a higher involvement of volunteers, with volunteers noted to have contributed as much as “8.1 billion hours of service in 2009 … estimated [to have] a dollar value of $ 169 billion” (Corporation for National & Community Service [CNCS], 2010, p. 1). With transformation in governance and social systems that has increased the pressure on nonprofit entities to provide services that in a traditional perspective were the responsibility of the government, most countries have had an increased need for volunteers (Dolnicar & Randle, 2007). The contribution of volunteerism, in this respect, has been not only bettering the outcomes of individuals in need of services offered by volunteers, but also providing social and financial efficiency to the respective organizations (Shin & Kleiner, 2003). Accordingly, volunteers are a special contribution for both the organizations and communities in which they serve. Go to part 2 here.

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