How to recruit volunteers for older adult service programs

This article is based on a webinar presented by Julie Ugoretz from SAGEConnect and Diane Schrameyer from Senior CHAT. Click here to see the webinar!

Dedicated, caring volunteers are out there and willing to help. You just have to find them! Of course, that’s easier said than done. To shed some light on this issue, we asked two of our partner organizations to share some practical tips on how to find volunteers for programs serving older adults.  

Define the program  

The first step towards an effective volunteer recruitment plan is to clearly define your program, including who you’re trying to serve and what the goals are. This is essential because the most dedicated volunteers are the ones that feel aligned with your mission. How you choose to design your program will also determine the criteria you’ll use to evaluate volunteers. For example, a peer-to-peer program will recruit very differently from an intergenerational program, or a local in-person program will recruit very differently from a virtual program that can be national. 

Try to answer these questions:
  • What kind of organization do you have?
Example: national nonprofit serving LGBTQ+ older adults
  • Who are you serving?
Example: older adults living in 3 Pennsylvania counties
  • What are you offering your clients?
Example: weekly 30 minute phone calls
  • Who is providing the support?
Example: local RSVP volunteers age 55+
  • What is the intended outcome of the program?
Example: reduce social isolation among LGBTQ+ older adults

Example descriptions
SAGEConnect is a national friendly calling program serving LGBTQ+ older adults through primarily younger volunteers. Callers are expected to connect weekly and chat for about 30 minutes. The goal is to reduce social isolation by building a social support network among participants. 

Senior CHAT is a local friendly calling program serving older adults in three Pennsylvania counties. Volunteers of any age are welcome, but most are older adults who are participating in the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). The goal is to reduce social isolation through peer support.

Establish volunteer criteria 

Before you can recruit volunteers, you need to know who you are looking for so you can target your marketing efforts appropriately. Try writing a list of some of the characteristics and skills that your ideal volunteers should have. This doesn’t mean all of your volunteers will need to check every box, but it helps focus your efforts so you can look for volunteers who are the most likely to be a good fit for the program. 

See the examples from SAGEConnect and Senior CHAT below. Later in the article we’ll talk more about how to screen for the characteristics you come up with. 

  • LGBTQ+ identified or allied 
  • Diverse geographic locations (national program, urban+rural) 
  • Caring and able to listen without fixing
  • Reliable and communicative
  • Interested in connecting with someone new

Senior CHAT
  • Friendliness
  • Caring, active listener
  • Willing to commit to weekly social calls for 6 months
  • Peer (older adult), when possible
  • Willing to follow procedures
  • Local to Pennsylvania 

Identify volunteer sources 

Now that you know who you’re looking for, you can start to identify places where your intended audience may look for volunteer opportunities. The best sources can vary widely depending on who you are targeting. Below are some sources with examples of factors to consider when assessing whether or not it is right for your program.

Sources of volunteers:
  • Existing volunteer pools, such as the Retired or Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), local Meals on Wheels programs, or United Way volunteer pools. 
    • Pro: You may collectively benefit from having a shared pool of volunteers that each organization brings to the table. Additionally, with an existing pool, you’ll find individuals already experienced with volunteering and who understand the commitment. 
    • Con: There may be some additional requirements (such as reporting) when you engage with formal volunteer groups. 
  • Partner organizations, such as faith-based organizations, aging and disability networks, and other senior-serving programs. 
    • Pro: You may be able to find volunteers that strongly align with your mission who will be dedicated and enthusiastic about helping. 
    • Con: Building meaningful partnerships can take significant time and effort.
  • Online volunteer hubs, such as,, 
    • Pro: Your opportunity will be exposed to a lot of volunteers very quickly. You’ll likely get interest from volunteers within a day of posting.
    • Con: You may get a lot of interest from volunteers that don’t meet your criteria, especially for local programs.
  • Social media posts. This works especially well if your organization already has established social media channels with engaged followers. 
    • Pro: It’s very easy and free to post your opportunity. If you have followers already interested in your cause, this can be a good way to engage them. 
    • Con: This won’t work well if you don’t have followers and will miss people who don’t use social media (which may be a problem depending on who you're trying to reach).  
  • Online advertisements, such as Google Ads, so when someone searches “volunteer opportunities near me” they’ll find your program. 
    • Pro: You can reach a wide audience and may be able to engage people that would not know to search for your specific organization or program (helpful if you don’t have broad name recognition). 
    • Con: Casting a wide net means you may end up with a lot of interest from people who don’t meet your criteria and you’ll need to spend time sorting through them. You may end up paying more per qualified volunteer than other channels depending on the cost of online advertising. 

SAGEConnect and Senior CHAT focus their efforts on the strategies below:

  • SAGE’s existing networks, including other SAGE affiliates across the country 
  • Social media (Instagram, FB, Twitter) - Check out their Instagram account for inspiration 
  • Google searches for “LGBT Volunteering” – this requires some level of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) knowledge 

Senior CHAT
  • Existing Senior Corps RSVP members 
  • Other local senior-serving programs (funded by a local United Way)
  • Pennsylvania LINK - Aging and Disabilities network
  • General public (Ad in senior publication)
  • Communities of faith 
  • Local volunteer center 

Conduct outreach and marketing 

You have a great mission, but there are a lot of volunteer opportunities out there that have great missions too. Why should volunteers give their time and energy to your organization? When marketing your program, you’ll need to be able to articulate the benefits of participation for volunteers as well as the people they’ll be helping. 

The benefits that appeal to your target volunteers may differ depending on the characteristics you identified as ideal. For example, if you’re looking for young adults, they may be motivated to gain experience that can translate to their future careers. However, if your target group is older, this motivation probably won’t be as applicable. See the examples of benefits listed below provided by SAGEConnect and Senior CHAT. 

  • Meet someone new
  • Connect with LGBTQ+ community
  • Ease social isolation
  • Only 30 minute per week commitment

Senior CHAT
  • Flexible schedule
  • A way to do something for someone else from your home
  • Connecting with others…one phone call at a time

Your marketing will also need to communicate the key requirements for the volunteer position so you don’t end up wasting a lot of time on screening out people who don’t qualify. For example, the time commitment, background check, equipment, training, and transportation required are important to know up front. 

SAGEConnect and Senior CHAT both highlight soft skills as key requirements for their program, such as active listening, reliability (calling every week), being able to set clear boundaries, and willingness to immediately report concerns. 

For more examples of marketing materials, check out Mon Ami's Friendly Calling Best Practices.

Senior CHAT's marketing flyer.

SAGEConnect social media post.

Evaluate & screen volunteers  

Your onboarding process will need to include some screening procedures that help ensure your volunteers are a good fit for the program. Volunteer retention starts with a good screening process because it’s an opportunity to identify people that are able to meet the requirements and make the time commitment needed. 

Below are some examples of screening processes you may want to consider:
  • Application form
  • Background checks
  • Reference checks
  • Phone interview
  • Virtual or in-person orientation session
  • Waivers and confidentiality agreements
  • Training sessions

The screening process ideally should be in line with whatever the volunteer will be asked to do. For example, if it is a friendly calling program, part of the screening should involve talking to a staff member on the phone. Or, if it is an in-person friendly visiting program, an in-person interview may be appropriate. 

The screening process should also make sense for your target volunteers. SAGEConnect hosts an online training session for volunteers and then has volunteers complete an online quiz based on the content. Senior CHAT asks volunteers to complete the volunteer handbook instead. Both of these are great options and make sense for their target volunteers. 

Recruiting the right volunteers who will be reliable and the right fit for your program is possible with some planning. Building out your process will likely require some trial and error. The key to finding the right process is to track how well each method is working. Check out our article on developing a volunteer management dashboard to learn how you can track your progress with free tools.