Playing Matchmaker – The Intersection of Volunteer Interests and Organizational Needs

Volunteer engagement involves two sides of the same coin: volunteers and the nonprofit organizations that need them. However, we often discuss volunteerism from the volunteer perspective or the organization perspective. For example, in an effort to encourage more people to volunteer, we focus on the benefits of volunteering or volunteer motivations and traits. From the organizational perspective, we target issues such as volunteer recruitment and retention.

In reality, volunteerism encompasses volunteer and organizational needs and takes place at the intersection between the two. Volunteer practitioners know that an effective volunteer match involves connecting the right volunteer with the right position at the right organization.

The University of San Diego’s Caster Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research recently conducted a needs assessment with 166 organizations and 394 volunteers to help shed light on this intersection and the related importance of volunteer matchmaking. The results offer a new way to view an old dilemma. Specifically, the study found a mismatch between what volunteers want and organizations need in terms of volunteer service. This lack of alignment is one of the reasons that engaging volunteers is challenging.

Volunteer time and availability were cited as the greatest challenges to service by the volunteer and organization survey respondents. Volunteers prefer one-time and short-term volunteer opportunities while organizations seek long-term commitments of three months or more from their volunteers.

Many individuals find volunteer opportunities through volunteer connectors like online volunteer databases, a volunteer center, or United Way. They also learn about projects through word of mouth or relationships at work, their places of worship, or their children’s schools. Another 27 percent use the host organizations’ website to find volunteer opportunities. Many organizations use similar methods to find the volunteers that are the best matches for their needs.

Implications for Practice

Nonprofit leaders can use the assessment findings to enhance their volunteer recruitment with the following recommendations.

Use short-term experiences to cultivate longer-term volunteers.

Consider the ways that people interact with your organization (volunteer or otherwise), and use these experiences to education them about how to get more involved.

Equip those affiliated with the organization with messaging about becoming a volunteer.

Staff, program participants, organization partners, and current volunteers can be ambassadors for recruiting new volunteers.

Use volunteer connectors strategically.

Be selective about volunteer connector sources (Hager & Brudney, 2011). Determine which ones yield the best volunteer matches for your organization and focus on those rather than posting to every source you can find. Provide specific details about available projects so that volunteers can determine whether they are a fit.

Ensure your website is volunteer friendly.

Help volunteer prospects get to know your organization and the ways they can get involved. Make it easy to inquire about or apply for volunteer positions.


Jennifer Yebba
(619) 260-2918


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