6 Tips From Pierce County Organizations for Attracting and Retaining Volunteers
Tacoma Community Boat Builders’ crew of 36 volunteer mentors were recently named Pierce County Volunteer Group of the year. In 2018, the group collectively served over 4,100 hours building boats and forging bonds of friendship with youth from the Pierce County Juvenile Court system. Executive Director Shannon A. Shea says these volunteers are the heart of the organization. “With three full-time employees, we run on a shoestring, so to do what we actually do, which is pair every youth who walks through that door with their own mentor, we need our volunteers.”
Just like Tacoma Community Boat Builders, many local nonprofits depend on the support of volunteers to achieve their missions. Rebuilding Together South Sound, an organization that focuses on bringing people together to repair homes and revitalize communities, has leveraged a large volunteer corps to complete nearly 1,000 projects across Pierce County since their inception in 2001. The Center for Food Preservation Arts relies on volunteers for about 90% of its work addressing food insecurity and waste by creating opportunities for people of different abilities, socio-economic statuses, and cultural and racial backgrounds to come together around the shared experience of food preservation.
We talked with each of these organizations to get 6 tips on how to attract and retain great volunteers.
1. Create a wish list
“A lot of times in a small nonprofit, you’re so far in the weeds just trying to take care of day to day business it’s hard to think of what you can actually tell people that you need help with. Rather than getting attached to who’s going to do what, just make a list of all the things that need to get done and then you can match volunteers to your needs.” – Shannon A. Shea, Tacoma Community Boat Builders
2. Offer multiple points of entry
While all three organizations need volunteers with specialized skill sets, they also provide a host of opportunities for volunteers in other areas like administrative, marketing, and communications support, and legal services. In addition, they recommend offering a range of commitment levels. “Not everyone can commit to a set schedule so creating a mix of regular programs and one-off events gives more people an opportunity to get involved.” – Hal Meng, Center for Food Preservation Arts
3. Show volunteers how valuable they are
Whether it’s a huge volunteer appreciation event or just providing a Diet Coke when you know that’s a volunteer’s favorite drink, these organizations find ways to show appreciation for the time and effort volunteers give. “A lot of the folks who do this kind of work don’t do it for the recognition, but it’s still important to help them feel welcomed and appreciated.” – Kim Taylor, Rebuilding Together South Sound
4. Recognize volunteers’ family members too
“It’s not just the volunteer herself or himself who’s giving to us, it’s those people who would normally get to enjoy their company at home. Those people at home are making a sacrifice and giving too, so we try to show appreciation to them as well.” -Shannon A. Shea, Tacoma Community Boat Builders
5. Help volunteers learn new skills
In addition to offering a variety of classes and access to canning equipment, Center For Food Preservation Arts covers the fees for volunteers who want to obtain their Food Worker Card. “If you can help them learn a new skill that they can use in their own lives then they are getting something back for the time they are giving.” – Hal Meng, Center for Food Preservation Arts
6. Build community partnerships
“We’ve been a member of the Master Builders Association for years and we work with the Remodeler’s Council. We’ve built lots of connections to volunteers through that. We also have a partnership with Tacoma Public Schools Career & Technical Education and we’re working on connecting with other local constructions education programs who are looking for hands on opportunities for students.” – Kim Taylor, Rebuilding Together South Sound