Your volunteer program can make a real difference in your local community. Learn how to strengthen your volunteer efforts with a community needs assessment.

Community Needs Assessment: Tips to Strengthen Volunteering

Volunteering takes many forms, whether it’s helping promote your nonprofit’s digital fundraisers or devoting a few hours a week to further one of your nonprofit’s initiatives. Volunteers give their time for a variety of reasons, such as a desire to support a cause they believe in, make friends with other volunteers, or even fulfill a school or work requirement. 

Many volunteers work with nonprofits that promise to help their communities. If your nonprofit is interested in launching a local volunteer initiative, you should start by completing a community needs assessment. Get Connected by Galaxy Digital’s guide to community needs assessments explains that these evaluations are tools nonprofits can use to identify what needs are present in a community and if the community has the resources available to meet those needs. Then, you can create a framework for ensuring those necessities are fulfilled. 

Completing a community needs assessment and using it to guide your volunteer program will lead to a stronger, more focused volunteer effort that will effectively meet the needs of your community and be fulfilling for participating volunteers. 

To help your nonprofit make use of this tool, this article will first explore how a community needs assessment can be used to make practical improvements to your volunteer program, before diving into three top tips for putting your assessment into action. Let’s get started.

How can a community needs assessment enrich your volunteer program?

A community needs assessment can assist your nonprofit in identifying gaps in your community’s services that your volunteer program can fulfill. The first thing a community needs assessment can help you do is categorize different types of needs and sort them by importance. 

There are four types of community needs:

  • Perceived needs. Perceived needs are subjective assessments made by community members about what they feel their community needs. 
  • Expressed needs. Expressed needs are similar to perceived needs in that they are defined by community members. However, expressed needs have a demonstrated history behind them, such as community members voicing formal complaints about littering due to a lack of trash cans. 
  • Absolute needs. Absolute needs are essential to basic survival, such as food and shelter. 
  • Relative needs. Relative needs are not necessary for survival, but due to outside circumstances have become essential. For example, your local library does not need to offer the community computers with free internet access, but failure to do so can significantly harm enough members of your community that this need should be fulfilled.

Your nonprofit can use these needs types to compare multiple needs that are discovered from your survey. Additionally, you should take into consideration which problems your nonprofit has the resources to solve and where your volunteers’ time will be best spent. 

Identifying these needs can also inform your volunteer recruitment strategy. For example, if your community has a need related to technical skills, your nonprofit would know to add that as a qualification in your volunteer recruitment messages.

Top Tips for Using Community Needs Assessments To Strengthen Volunteering

1. Align community needs and your volunteers’ skill sets.

As mentioned, community needs should influence the volunteers you recruit and assign to specific projects. If you already have a running volunteer program with several individuals you can reach out to about your new project, be sure to consider their specific skill sets and how they relate to your community’s needs. 

You can learn more about your current volunteers with a volunteer survey and attract new volunteers with the right skills by writing thorough job descriptions. Here’s a breakdown of these two tools:

  1. Volunteer surveys are surveys you give your volunteers to learn more about them and their experience with your organization. These surveys should ask about a volunteer’s specific skills and qualifications, their interests, and what they want to get out of volunteering. 
  2. Your volunteer job descriptions should include details about your program and the skills your nonprofit is looking for in volunteers. Ensure you are also clear about scheduling and time commitments to set expectations right at the start of your program. 

As you focus your volunteer program around specific community needs, you will likely have volunteers whose skills don’t quite align with your highest priority projects, but who still want to help. Do your best to find roles for all of your volunteers to keep them engaged with your organization. Doing so will ensure you have additional hands on deck when a project they are qualified for comes along. 

2. Develop a clear plan of action to address each need.

Your community needs assessment can help your nonprofit gather necessary information and data that can be used to create an action plan for your volunteer program. Essentially, your nonprofit will need to first take into account what needs exist in your community, the resources and budget you have available to solve those needs, and your volunteers and their individual time commitments and skillsets. 

With these various factors in mind, your nonprofit can create a SMART goal for your volunteer programs. SMART goals are goals that are:

  • Specific. While your nonprofit likely has a greater, broad mission statement that all of your initiatives fall under, your volunteer programs should aim to have highly specific goals. These will help you determine without a doubt whether your program was successful. For instance, a goal such as “recruit more volunteers than last year” will be successful whether you recruit one or a hundred more volunteers than you did previously. By contrast, setting the goal of earning 50 new volunteers for your program gives you a specific target to reach for. 
  • Measurable. Qualitative goals can be useful, but your volunteer program should aim to have measurable, quantitative goals whenever possible. For example, an animal shelter’s volunteer program might have a measurable goal of finding homes for at least 40% of their current number of dogs and cats in the next six months.
  • Attainable. Your nonprofit should have to put a considerable amount of effort into achieving your goal, but it should also be within your organization’s potential reach. Setting unattainable goals will likely only demotivate your volunteers, which can cause your program to suffer in the long run as volunteers get discouraged and leave. 
  • Relevant. Choose a goal that relates to both your specific program and your nonprofit’s overall mission. For example, a nonprofit with a mission to help promote tech literacy in low-income communities may have a program-specific objective of helping a local school create a computer lab. Your volunteer program may then have a smaller relevant goal of recruiting 10 volunteers with the necessary technical skills who can help procure and set up 20 computers. 
  • Time-based. Even for ongoing projects, your nonprofit should establish various time-frames for each goal, at which point you will assess your progress and whether the goal was achieved. 

When setting your goal, be sure to account not just for the results you would like to see, but the resources, logistics, and planning that will need to go into your program. For instance, if your volunteers need any training to complete a specific task or use a software program, you will need to schedule some instruction time into your volunteer program. 

3. Spread the word about your plan of action with volunteers.

You can keep your volunteers engaged by sharing with them how your community needs assessment has shaped your program’s strategy. As members of the community themselves, your volunteers will be excited to see you’ve taken community needs into consideration.

You can get the word out about your program and approach by:

  • Using a multi-channel marketing approach. You can thoroughly explain your program and recruit volunteers by creating multiple touchpoints via a multi-channel marketing approach. This means getting in touch with volunteers through a variety of communication methods such as email, social media, direct mail, and even flyers at your local community center. 
  • Applying for a Google grant to reach more volunteers. Google gives nonprofits the ability to create targeted ads with a $10,000 grant. These ads can be used to promote and share information about your volunteer program when people in your local community perform relevant Google searches. Ensure your nonprofit is optimized for the Google grant before starting the application process to reduce the time it takes to get this marketing channel up and running.
  • Partnering with local organizations. You can reach members of your community by partnering with local organizations such as businesses, schools, and community centers. These organizations will likely have a similar investment in improving your community and may appreciate an opportunity to boost their reputation by working alongside a charitable organization like your nonprofit. 

You can give your volunteers an additional way to support your organization, and their community along with it, by sharing information about volunteer grants. Crowd101’s article on volunteer grants defines them as “monetary donations companies make to eligible nonprofits where their employees regularly volunteer.”  

In other words, when eligible volunteers work a certain amount of hours at your nonprofit, they can fill out an application with their employer, who will then donate to your nonprofit. Help your volunteers discover if they qualify for a grant and provide assistance as they complete their applications. 

Your community supports your nonprofit in all its efforts, and you can pay them back by discovering and attending to their needs through your volunteer program. Take the time to learn how you can help your community, and use the information you collect to inform your volunteer strategy. Good luck!