The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Help! I Have Volunteers but Nothing for Them to Do

Ask a Fundraising Coach

I have people wanting to volunteer but we do not have a space for them or any events at the moment (small nonprofit operating out of my home). What should I tell the people wanting to volunteer? Just wait until we have events or see if they are interested in other tasks that we need help with like reaching out to media, potential donors, etc. Maybe I can send out tasks every week that we can use help with and see if anybody is interested in those tasks?

Leading a nonprofit with a mission that resonates so strongly, people are looking for ways to contribute their free time to help is a great sign of success ahead. Congratulations!

Volunteering can be an amazing, time-efficient, and often low-cost way to build relationships with individuals who are already invested in your mission. It can also be a very convenient form of cultivation where prospective donors come to you AND have the opportunity to experience first hand what it requires to deliver on your mission.

If you don’t have a single volunteer opportunity in place, get started with the three-point checklist below. (Regarding your idea to create a weekly list of tasks to be completed: this creates extra work for you. Matching jobs to be done with a volunteer’s skill set can be a time drain of epic proportions!)

To ensure a mutually beneficial experience for volunteers and staff, I encourage you to dedicate a minimum of four hours to identifying, planning and promoting the right opportunities. Give yourself at least one year to test, learn and optimize the volunteer experience.

If you have a thriving or existing volunteer program, create a survey to get to know your volunteers and determine what is working and where your program can be improved or grow in the year ahead.

If you can’t identify or accommodate a single volunteer opportunity…well, keep thinking. Still nothing? Be a resource! Identify three organizations in your city or with a similar mission area to refer interested volunteers.

The next generation of donors has engaged in some form of required volunteerism from middle school forward. Smart nonprofits will find a way to provide exciting opportunities to teens and maintain relationships with these engaged expert volunteers through college and beyond.

Timing is everything. Think in terms of 3-5 hour shifts. Consider volunteer schedules when selecting day of week, and provide options that accommodate a traditional 40-hour workweek and perhaps one weekend opportunity.

Your #1 goal is for volunteers to have fun, gain a better understanding of your work, and leave with a sense of joy knowing they’ve made a difference today.

Getting Started – 3 Essentials to Creating Volunteer Opportunities

1. Identify six to eight volunteer opportunities (mix of on-site and virtual) for interested parties. Aim to offer one each quarter and one ongoing opportunity. 

Remember, no task is too small. Keep it simple – complex tasks, especially those that require extreme attention to detail, are not volunteer-friendly. Painting, assembling packages or mailings, sorting donations, or even planting flowers to beautify your location are FANTASTIC options.

Virtual, no-office-required ideas: volunteers can post to your social media pages, place thank-you calls to donors, help write appeals, or follow up with event attendees.

2. Run it by legal and your Board  – this is a MUST.  Add “Review Proposed Volunteer Opportunities” to the agenda for your next Board Meeting. 

If hosting volunteers at your workplace, you will almost always need a signed waiver from every volunteer. For virtual volunteers, especially those posting to social media, create a one-page document with content guidelines. Accidents and miscommunications happen even with the best intentions in place, so be smart.

3) Promote opportunities.

Promote opportunities on social media and in targeted email appeals to EVERY contact group – Board Members, event sponsors, staff at your local Community Foundation, major gift donors, event attendees, and newsletter subscribers who have not yet contributed. Don’t make assumptions on who will be interested and give everyone a chance to volunteer.

Good luck and report back on your success!

Have a question to ask? Get in touch at [email protected].

My org built a factory overseas that hires women to provide a source of income for them & it produces small crafts. I want to send some of the items they produced to my major & monthly donors. However when I looked into it, it’s going to cost $6-8 to ship each craft item and I’m really worried how this is going to look. I know if I received it, I’d think “wow you must not really need my donation!” but on the other hand, we don’t have too many people that would be receiving it and I think it will help grow donations overall. What has been your experience with this?

Trust your intuition!

If you think it will help, make it happen. My experience is that small gifts will not increase the number of donors or total giving to your organization. That said – a small gift linked to the mission of your organization can have a significant impact on how appreciated an individual feels, as well as how likely they are to remain engaged or increase future support.

Be sure to enclose a card that reads, “this gift and all shipping expenses were enthusiastically covered by an anonymous donor” or “all expenses related to this and all special thank-you gifts are covered by a grant from our board of directors; please accept our immense gratitude for your tremendous commitment to our mission”

If you think your donors would be interested in learning more about the factory where the gift was produced, include this information on the flip side of the card. Bottom line – a smart thank you is ALWAYS a great idea.

Ask a Fundraising Coach is Network for Good’s weekly advice column, where Personal Fundraising Coach Andrea Holthouser tackles your toughest challenges in the world of fundraising, nonprofit management, donor relations, and more.

Submit your questions to [email protected]


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Carrie Saracini
Content Marketing Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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