Habitat for Humanity: 4 Fool-proof Steps for Creating a Winning Volunteer Team

Volunteers are the lifeblood of any nonprofit. Your services, fundraising campaigns, and even day-to-day operations of your nonprofit can depend on volunteers.

And supporters are eager to help! According to an AmeriCorps published survey, “an estimated 30 percent of Americans or 77.9 million people reported they volunteered for an organization or association.”

So, if people want to volunteer, the key to garner willing volunteers is to:

  • Communicate your needs
  • Share your “why”
  • Make it easy

While all nonprofits know they need volunteers, investing time and energy into building a formal program can naturally fall by the wayside. As you look to recruit and retain volunteers, a best practice is to put a strategic volunteer program in place.

  • Fact: Recruiting an awesome group of volunteers can be challenging. Many do not give this task the credit and attention it deserves.
  • The Result: Poor retention and higher stress for the committee chairs to take on. 

Want to know how to be a recruiting and retention master?

Then settle in and learn all about the 4 fool-proof steps that will get you there!

1. Successful Volunteer Recruitment

A winning team of volunteers starts with having an actionable plan for recruitment. Before you get ready to post an announcement on all your social media channels for a casting call, take a moment to consider avenues in which you may already have access to some really great options. 

  • Recruit from within. Chances are you’ve already got an entire database of individuals already involved in your cause. Perhaps they’d LOVE to be more involved or, better yet, they might just have friends they can ask to get involved. Next thing you know friends are inviting friends and viola! Instant team. 
  • Influential asks. Have an influential individual on your board? They are a gold mine for recruitment. Even if you don’t have direct access to an influential figure that aligns with your cause, chances are with a little brainstorming you might find you’re less than six degrees of separation away from someone that is.
  • Sponsors. Companies often LOVE the opportunity to volunteer for causes that align with their personal mission. In fact, there are many businesses out there that encourage their employees to give back to their community through service work. Start by putting out an ask to those that have already committed to sponsoring your event or those that responded to your initial sponsorship ask with a “maybe next year,” because – hint hint – volunteering = free advertising! (Think volunteers wearing t-shirts or construction hats with their company logo).

Securing all of your volunteers might not be possible from these three areas, but it can be an excellent place to start.

BONUS TIP: Be prepared to respond to top excuses why someone may decline the ask and be prepared with incentives that debunk these reasons. Examples include:

  • “I can’t give that much of my time.”
    • Response: The shifts have been broken down into 3-hour increments and we have many different times slots to work with to accommodate different schedules. 
  • “I’d love to, but I don’t have anyone to watch my children.”
    • Response: No problem, we’ve arranged for a care provider to be onsite to help out with that, at no charge to you!

2. Have the Right People for the Job

Correction: Have the right people for the job before they start.

Getting people to sign-up to volunteer shouldn’t be where the recruitment starts and ends. You’d never post an open job position and call the spot filled with the first person that walks in the door! Filling volunteer positions should be given the same level of consideration. They’ve got big shoes to fill. You want to make sure you’ve got the right individuals lined up for the job. 

Bottom line: Choosing volunteers is like hiring an employee. 

Start with an Interview

Volunteers should be assigned to specific tasks based on their personality, attributes, and strengths. Taking the time to understand your volunteer’s strengths and weaknesses ensures you’ll both end up with a successful and pleasing outcome. There really is a job for everyone. It’s more about making sure you give the right job to the right person.

Pro-tip: You’ll also want to stay organized in the process. And we’re not talking sticky notes all around your desk. Digital tools ease the volunteer management process and a volunteer management CRM will help you keep track of volunteer assignments and create and manage volunteer shifts.

Provide a Job Description (And Don’t Sugar-coat It!)

This doesn’t need to be a fancy document, but it should be very clear. One of the worst mistakes made with a new volunteer is sugar-coating their job description. Be upfront from the start with expectations.

Here are a few items to consider in your job description:

  • Clear outline of the tasks
  • Number of hours required
  • Date and time of service
  • Meals, if they are provided
  • Mileage reimbursement policy
  • Physical demands

The more information provided from the beginning, the less chance of disgruntled volunteers later. Outlining expectations in a document they sign minimizes the risk that they missed something.

3. Give Volunteers the Right Tools

Now that you’ve got volunteer recruitment in the bag, let’s work on making sure they’re prepared to get the job done well. 


The key to success here is to be:

  • Clear
  • Purposeful
  • Underwhelming

Making a job seem more complicated than it is will send volunteers running. Start the training off slowly. Allow everyone to meet each other and understand their purpose and how the team will be working together. Pair down the training to be focused on their specific job to make sure you are not feeding them too much information. It may be more work for you, but holding shorter training sessions over an extended period will allow for better retention than a two-hour long crash course. 

Employees contributing to your company need to feel knowledgeable, appreciated, and engaged, otherwise, chances are they won’t show up for work the next day. Volunteers are no different. 

Help volunteers feel they’re doing something good for a greater cause. That, in essences, is their “paycheck.” Let them know they helped make a difference. Set them up for success from the get-go and they will be asking YOU if they can return for the next project!

Make it Fun:

It’s easy to fall into “all business” when you’re powering your mission. However, ensuring your volunteers are having a good time is essential!

Providing a little incentive to get the job done well can be a wonderful motivator and build camaraderie. When appropriate, develop some competitive challenges that get your volunteers striving to go above and beyond.

4. Show Volunteers They’re Valued

The last piece to the retention puzzle involves showing your appreciation. Remember, volunteers are not paid; so demonstrating your gratitude for their efforts is a top priority.


Appoint a volunteer coordinator who makes rounds and checks in on volunteers. Are they having any struggles? Is there anything they see that doesn’t seem right? Do they need any help?

Welcome Feedback

Welcome your volunteer’s feedback on how they felt about their assignment or how the overall project could be improved. Demonstrate genuine gratitude by looking to implement changes based on their suggestions. Volunteers provide a valuable perspective on how successful your project was or could be in the future. 

Don’t Forget About Them

And most importantly, don’t let them fall off the radar when it’s all over! Keep them connected throughout the year.

  • Send them a birthday card with updates on how their contributions impacted your mission.
  • Give them a $5 gift card to Starbucks just because they are awesome!
  • Send them a note or call them and just say thank you.

It’s the little unexpected things that make someone feel special, appreciated, and a part of a team. 

Volunteers are the backbone of your mission, and finding them can be hard work – which is why taking the time to find the right individuals is absolutely worth the effort. Once onboard, provide clear expectations, train them well with meaningful jobs, and show your appreciation for their efforts and your retention rate is sure to skyrocket!

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