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Engaging Volunteers By Ashley Hurley

 Chrisitan Leadership AllianceEngaging Volunteers: How we’re innovating to serve nonprofits

By Ashley Hurley ~

I was working as a young professional in the oil and gas industry. I managed teams, strategized and implemented plans to achieve tough targets. I realized I wanted to use this expertise to assist the nonprofits. I kept asking questions and discovered that most nonprofits did in fact have critical needs. These were in areas such as strategic planning, communications, project management and data tracking. They assumed they would have to hire to address these gaps but struggled to fund such “administrative” roles. They said these critical needs were going unmet and ultimately they were not having the impact they wanted.

My curiosity got the better of me. I asked around and found that many of my peers shared my desire to help others in a meaningful way. They assumed nonprofits would just ask them to pick up trash or paint playgrounds, so they didn’t go looking for opportunities. I could see something was amiss in the sector when there were so many nonprofits with such critical needs, but whose leaders had no idea how to address these needs through volunteers.

In 2014, I founded Serve Houston to connect professionally skilled volunteers with nonprofits that most need their help. In our first operating year, 2015, we saw more than 400 people volunteering a total of 2,000 hours.

During this time I learned a lot about mobilizing young professionals of the millennial generation.

I discovered that they:

Dream of meaningful contribution

Millennials want to know that their time can make a difference. We had one volunteer who was vice president of marketing for a Fortune 500 company. On a previous volunteer placement this person had been asked to address and mail letters. What a missed opportunity! Once a nonprofit completed our Needs Diagnostic, which helps nonprofits prioritize their most critical capacity needs and how volunteers can help, we were able to place this volunteer where this individual’s skills were put to much better use.

Are motivated by branding

Millennials will assess an organization by the level of professionalism and creativity it shows visually. We put a lot of effort into the visual identity of Serve Houston. It paid off, by attracting a high caliber of professional volunteers.

Value their time

Every volunteer hour must count. We found that gamifying problem-solving exercises to address nonprofit challenges helped achieve this goal. They found creative solutions faster than with traditional methods and had fun doing it.

Desire faith that is lived out

Millennials aren’t thinking about building the church, but about transforming the world with kingdom characteristics. I met several Christian young professionals who were considering leaving the church because they didn’t see the church effectively addressing the needs of the city. We wanted to provide them with an opportunity to work alongside Christian leaders and nonprofits actively living out their faith.

Self-select involvement levels

They desire to self-select involvement level based on time constraints. We devised a tool called the Skills Deck that quickly and accurately identifies areas that are a match for volunteers.

Pursue clear outcomes

While they love to have fun, millennials seek approaches that actually move the needle on issues.

Understanding these characteristics can help us better engage the hearts, minds and professional skills of volunteers who have much to offer Christian nonprofits.


Ashley Hurley, a former oil and gas executive, is the founder and current board member of Serve Houston a nonprofit that seeks to mobilize young professionals to build the capacity of faith-based nonprofits. This post is an excerpt from her article in the 2016 Fall edition of Outcomes magazine.

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