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4 Things Nonprofits Can Teach Us About Recruiting Management


Guest Blog by Brad Wayland – Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton.

One of the greatest challenges in running a successful nonprofit involves volunteer recruitment and management. It’s a field that can be both stressful and fast-paced, marked by high turnover and a bevy of recruitment challenges. Looking at how successful nonprofits manage their volunteers can teach you a great deal about handling your own recruitment process. Volunteer turnover is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing the nonprofit sector. The question of how to recruit, engage and retain volunteers is one that countless leaders struggle with. By studying the nonprofits that have figured it out, you can actually learn a great deal about private-sector recruiting management.

Here are four insights nonprofits can offer us when it comes to corporate recruitment management.

1. You Need To Understand Your Candidates

In 2016, Dutch Analytics firm Elsevier GmbH published a study of volunteer burnout in the nonprofit sector. In it, researchers found that burnout is frequently tied to a poor fit between volunteer and organization. In other words, if a nonprofit doesn’t understand the audience it’s targeting with its recruitment efforts, it’s likely to bring in a ton of people for whom the organization is a poor fit.

Similarly, in addition to understanding what you’re looking for, you need to understand who. If you don’t, your efforts will not be properly-targeted. This involves answering the following questions:

  • What specific skills does the candidate possess?
  • What is the candidate interested in?
  • What is the candidate passionate about?
  • What does the candidate value?
  • Why is the candidate interested in this position?

The Takeaway: Gain knowledge of your candidates in two ways. First, ask the right questions during the interview process. Second, study each candidates social media presence, with a mind for how well they fit with your ‘ideal’ candidate.

2. Branding Matters

As noted by communication agency Ideas on Purpose, branding is critical for nonprofits – perhaps more so than in the for-profit space. This is because rather than selling products or services, they’re selling ideas. They’re promoting an ideology, a vision for a better future.

If a nonprofit doesn’t have a consistent voice and brand across its channels, people are far less likely to trust it. Similarly, if a nonprofit’s internal culture is out of alignment with how it presents itself to the public, its volunteers are much likelier to grow disillusioned and quit. So what’s the lesson here for a private sector organization? Customer-facing marketing plays a huge role in a successful recruitment strategy. Good applicants will pay attention to how your business conducts itself. And they will notice if your internal culture doesn’t properly align with your stated values.

The Takeaway: By focusing on better customer engagement and marketing, you can actually improve your success rate when recruiting new candidates.

3. The Right Technology Can Make All The Difference

There’s a lot of busywork involved in volunteer management. A lot of documentation and back-and-forth which can make volunteer work both frustrating and cumbersome. The best nonprofits understand this and deploy management technology to streamline things.

This includes scheduling software that allows volunteers to set flexible shifts and self-register for events and positions, project management tools that automate communication and reporting and management platforms that integrate with existing marketing tools.

The Takeaway: Examine your own recruitment process for potential bottlenecks, and deploy the right tools to automate and streamline as-needed.

4. Recruitment Is Meaningless Without Onboarding

One of the most common mistakes I see novice nonprofit leaders make involves the volunteer onboarding process. Namely, they don’t have one. They bring in new volunteers, hand them some orientation materials, and turn them loose. Anyone who’s been in a situation like that will openly tell you that it’s one of the most frustrating experiences a worker can face. A lack of clear direction and understanding about one’s role within an organization not only harms morale, but also productivity.

The Takeaway: Make sure your recruitment management process also includes comprehensive orientation and onboarding. Newly-hired candidates should know exactly what their responsibilities are, in addition to how they can fulfill those responsibilities.


Volunteer recruitment and retention remain one of the most significant challenges facing the nonprofit sector. Yet it’s not insurmountable. Through proper branding, software tools, onboarding, and an understanding of their target audience, successful nonprofits have overcome it. Now that you know, you can apply their tactics to your own recruitment strategy.


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