7 Best Budget Practices for Developing a Volunteer Program

Guest post by Pia Simeoni. 

Remember the old saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch?” Everything has a cost, whether it’s an opportunity cost or a financial one. This concept applies perfectly when it comes to developing your nonprofit’s volunteer program. 

Recruiting, retaining and recognizing volunteers is never free, even though they’re not necessarily paid employees. Consider your nonprofit’s investments to connect and manage your volunteers. Then, compare these expenses to the ultimate payoff of your volunteer program. 

To best plan for a well-prepared and well-budgeted volunteer program, be sure to consider the following best practices:

  1. Consolidate your finances with nonprofit accounting software
  2. Consider investing in volunteer management software
  3. Ensure you have the best tools to engage with volunteers
  4. Take the extra step to build a cohesive volunteer team
  5. Track the impact of your volunteer program
  6. Educate supporters about volunteer grants
  7. Support relationships by providing multiple giving opportunities

Ready to create the most effective volunteer budget possible for your nonprofit? Let’s dive in to learn more!

1. Consolidate your finances with nonprofit accounting software

Nonprofits often consider starting a volunteer program as a way to save money, and when planned effectively, these programs can do just that! But to create a successful program, you’ll need to invest time and — yes, that’s right — money. 

If you don’t have a solid plan from the beginning, your volunteer program could end up wasting your nonprofit’s valuable finances rather than saving them. Before you start your program, be sure you have an effective grip on your current financial situation.

The best way to ensure you have a proper handle on your nonprofit’s financial status is to use effective nonprofit fund accounting software

Be sure your software solution offers features that will help your nonprofit:

  • Make informed decisions
  • Budget according to your projects’ needs
  • Take care of internal operations
  • Be prepared for the future

Once you have your accounting information set up and the proper funds allocated, you can pull money from your unrestricted fund to launch your volunteer program. However, without taking the first step to get organized, you could find your entire budget thrown off!

2. Consider investing in volunteer management software

Once your finances are in order, consider the cost of volunteer management software. You should conduct this cost comparison before you purchase a solution. Consider both the investment cost of the software, as well as the opportunity cost.

Investment Cost

Software prices can cover a considerable range. However, the functionality of these software solutions also varies with the price. 

Therefore, make a list of the problems you want to solve with volunteer management software. This will guide you through the features your organization needs. 

You may find you need access to features such as:

  • Volunteer recruitment
  • Scheduling
  • Hours tracking
  • Application templates
  • Volunteer portal access
  • Document storage
  • Communication systems

Your needs are unique to your organization. So list out your needs for the program and research solutions that offer features to solve them. Make a list of these solutions and their prices, looking for the most bang for your buck. Then, compare the price with the opportunity cost. 

Opportunity Cost

Consider the list of needs your organization has that you could solve by investing in a volunteer management solution. How could you achieve those needs without software? 

List out the solution you could conduct in-house for each item on your list. Estimate the amount of time and money that would go into each of those items. 

From there, compare the cost of investing in a new system and working without specialized software. Ask yourself questions like:

  • How much time will I save by investing?
  • What could I do with that additional time?

Don’t forget you can work with more affordable solutions that specialize in certain features, such as VolunteerMatch for recruitment, while still conducting other management processes in-house.

For more tips about managing volunteers without breaking the bank, check out VolunteerMatch’s guide!

3. Ensure you have the best tools to engage with volunteers

Volunteer recruitment and communication are two of the top hurdles that organizations need to overcome while developing their volunteer programs. However, these aspects of your strategy make up the bread and butter of your program. 

You’ll need outreach tools for communication to begin the engagement process and to maintain a strong volunteer base. Consider what types of tools will work best for your audience. For instance, you might choose to invest in: 

  • A specialized recruitment tool. For the initial outreach, recruitment tools are a great resource to find potential volunteers and connect with new talent. 
  • Social media tools. Social media tools like messenger bots help nonprofits leverage their complete online networks to connect with volunteers without spending hours typing messages.
  • Marketing automation tools. If your nonprofit already has an effective marketing plan with compelling email templates and social media posts, consider automating the process to further save you time. 

Once you’ve developed your outreach strategy, you’ll need to continue the engagement with volunteers. Check out the tools available in your volunteer management software, CRM and marketing software to see if you have access to effective engagement tools already. 

If you don’t have access to these tools, you may consider scaling up your existing software or investing in a low-cost marketing tool to continue communicating with existing volunteers.

4. Take the extra step to build a cohesive volunteer team

As we mentioned in the last section, maintaining the engagement of a strong volunteer base is just as important as recruiting new volunteers. 

Dedicate part of your volunteer program budget to take the extra step in strengthening your team of volunteers and helping them feel more connected to the cause. 

Ensuring your volunteers feel connected to your mission and to one another helps build a sense of loyalty between them and your organization. Allocate part of your budget towards volunteer loyalty initiates. For instance, you may choose to:

  • Design volunteer T-shirts. Nothing says “team” like matching T-shirts! Customize the shirts to include your logo or something related to your mission. Your volunteers will feel like they belong to the team when they wear the well-designed shirt.
  • Plan a stewardship event. Show your volunteers you appreciate their work by hosting an event for them. It could be something as simple as a catered lunch. This provides everyone a chance to mingle and motivates your volunteers to keep working hard. 

Using that little bit of wiggle room in your budget to take this extra step will result in effective team-building with your volunteers. You’ll find yourself with a stronger team to help your volunteer program grow into the future.

5. Track the impact of your volunteer program

As you create your volunteer program and it begins to grow, your budgeting initiatives become even more important. 

You’ll need to track the expenses for your program, as well as the impact it makes. Looking at the two metrics side-by-side will help you measure your program’s success.

Keep track of measurements such as:

  • Number of total volunteers
  • Volunteer retention
  • Volunteer demographics
  • Volunteers who also donate
  • Survey results
  • Number of volunteer hours 
  • A financial equivalent to those hours

Compile all these important statistics into a volunteer program annual report. An annual report will synopsize important information to give you an effective overview of the program. Plus, you can easily send it out to your volunteers to share accomplishments and keep them coming back. 

Make sure you can create effective custom reports through your accounting software to learn more about the program expenses and impacts. Check out this re:Charity article for a list of top nonprofit fund accounting software solutions with extensive reporting capabilities. 

6. Educate supporters about volunteer grants

Did you know your volunteer program can actually help your organization bring in donations? Many companies have corporate philanthropy programs that include volunteer grants. 

What are volunteer grants? 

Companies will sometimes financially match the contributions that their employees make to nonprofits. This means they’ll match the time contributions employees spend volunteering with nonprofits. In fact, according to this Double the Donation article, 40% of Fortune 500 companies offer volunteer grant programs.

However, volunteers don’t always know about such opportunities to further boost their impact. Therefore, one of the best ways to encourage volunteers to check their status is simply by telling them about it. 

You may choose to use this additional boost in funding to help expand your volunteer program further or to help fund your organization’s most pressing needs.

7. Support relationships by providing multiple giving opportunities

One of the major benefits of a fully-developed volunteer program is the creation of an extensive base of support for your nonprofit as a whole. You can encourage volunteers to donate to the cause and encourage donors to volunteer. 

Your volunteers have already exemplified their support for your organization, so make sure to nurture that relationship foundation

By treating your volunteers as an integral part of the team and providing them the opportunity to give in other ways without pressuring them to do so, you’ll build your relationship with these supporters and steward them to become more involved. 

Encourage building this relationship with both your volunteers and your donors, showing them other opportunities to get involved and serve as advocates for your organization. These opportunities will often result in higher donor and volunteer retention rates.


The art of crafting a budget varies among nonprofits. The most important thing to remember is you have the power to make your volunteer program your own. The more energy and planning you put into it, the more likely you’ll be to find success.

Even with budgetary constraints, there are ways to incorporate all of the important program elements. Be sure to take the time to plan and kick it off right!

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Author Bio: Pia Simeoni is Director of Marketing for Nonprofit Solutions at Community Brands. You can find Pia on LinkedIn and Twitter.