What Your Volunteers Really Want….


The Changing Landscape of Volunteerism

One of the certainties of the nonprofit sector used to be volunteers. If you were a good organization, you could attract volunteers. However, times have changed. Traditional volunteering has begun its decline, leaving organizations with scores of unfilled positions.

The questions on different forums and in discussion groups are filled with ideas to attract volunteers, yet I see very few data-focused initiatives that offer volunteers what they need and want.

Adapting to New Volunteer Needs

In much the same way that employers have had to change their tactics to meet labor market needs, organizations must adopt a more flexible approach to their volunteer attraction and training needs.

If an organization is lucky enough to have volunteers, I can assure you that the 80-year-old does not want the same thing as the 15-year-old. Nor do they need the same kind of training. Yet, our volunteer training programs are nearly all homogeneous.

Understanding Diverse Volunteer Motivations

The 80-year-old may be volunteering to get out of the house, decrease social isolation, and feel like they are “giving back.” The 15-year-old may be trying to fulfill volunteer hour requirements for a program, likely wants some experience so they can enter the job market, and is either doing it because they “want to” or think it might look good on a resume/school application. The youth may also appreciate public recognition and faster feedback than the 80-year-old. The 80-year-old may need technology training, while the youth may need soft skills. Their needs and wants are completely opposite.

The Importance of Tailored Volunteer Programs

So why should we be tailoring our volunteer programs more to the needs of our actual volunteers? Well, folks, it comes down to demand and supply. Organizations that offer a great experience for volunteers will quite simply attract more volunteers. We are in an era where there are more volunteer positions than actual volunteers. Organizations will need to simply do more to attract good volunteers.

Creating a Better Volunteer Experience

You cannot afford to turn volunteers away anymore. You need to create a better volunteer experience; one that demonstrates that you value both the volunteer and their skill sets and contributions.

The Value of Volunteers

As organizations, we have to get creative in how we attract and retain our volunteers. They are a valuable commodity. The average volunteer brings your organization over $4,000 per year in value.

Personalizing Volunteer Training

So what do volunteers actually want and need? I think it comes down to the individual. This is where a segmented training program based on the unique needs of the individual come into play. The easiest way to deal with this is to do a volunteer skills/aptitude matrix when first come in and identify strengths, areas of expertise etc. This will help you to identify strengths and gaps. Also understanding why each individual wants to volunteer and what they see themselves doing for your organization is a great place to start.

How Do We Start?

  1. Online education is one low cost way to standardize this . You can assign different modules to different individuals. You can also group them and run smaller intakes. You can personalize the delivery based on needs. No one, especially youth, like to sit through modules of repetitive, boring training.
  2. You need Interactive training. For example as opposed to a boring video that dictates communication standards, offer training that is scenario based and interactive. Make it fun. Make them brainstorm solutions. Don’t just dictate rules.
  3. Ask them what they want to be trained on-and give them that training if you can find a way.
  4. Develop a coaching circle for your volunteers that meets once a week to talk about problems/challenges they are having. make it multigenerational and you will see how well they interact.
  5. Offer more recognition for volunteers. Customize it to their personality.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Tomorrow we will talk about how to create a good intake process and screen for volunteers, and what needs to be included in a good volunteer training program and package.


  1. The 2023 average value per hour of volunteer contributions was 31.80. The average volunteer donates about 131 hours per year of time. This is $4165 per year./ ↩︎