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Back to Basics: Creating a Solid Foundation for Engaging Volunteers

Laura Winterstein  | Published on 10/3/2019

The first step is to figure out where the people you want to recruit are going to be. Is your next volunteer going to see the opportunity on your website, read about it on a poster hung on a community bulletin board, or hear about it from a friend? Once you figure out where to recruit, the next step is to figure out how. The best recruitment messages will contain the following:

  • Tasks - What is the opportunity?
  • Location - Where does the opportunity take place? Can it be done from multiple locations such a person’s home or a local coffee shop?
  • Time Commitment - How long is the opportunity and how frequently does it happen? Is the opportunity only available during business hours or can it be done in the evening or on the weekends? Is it a set schedule or is there flexibility?
  • Requirements - Do people need to have certain qualifications or will everything they need to know be shared with them when they start?
  • Benefits - How does this opportunity support the organization and the people it serves?
  • Benefits to the Volunteer - Why should someone volunteer for this opportunity? What will they receive by sharing their time?

The next step is screening potential volunteers. Because organizations have a wide range of opportunities, it is important to tailor the screening process to the specifics of the opportunity. A onetime event with staff present requires different screening than someone working directly with a vulnerable person.

Besides determining if the role is going to be mutually beneficial for the organization and the applicant, screening is a crucial step in preparing everyone for a rewarding experience.

In addition to asking the why questions - Why do you want to volunteer? Why do you want to volunteer for our organization? Why do you want to volunteer for this position? - and assessing the technical skills needed for the role, consider including these questions in your interview:

  • What have you enjoyed most about previous paid or volunteer work? What have you enjoyed the least? - Someone who enjoys being part of a team and meeting new people isn’t going to be happy doing data entry but will thrive leading social activities with another volunteer.
  • Describe your ideal supervisor. - You can make sure the supervisor and the volunteer will mesh. You don’t want to place a volunteer who needs a lot of direction with a supervisor who only likes working with self-starters who take initiative and vice versa.
  • If you have been volunteering in this role for three months, what would be some indicators of success? - Will the person receive what they want out of the role or will they be unhappy with the experience?
  • When you receive feedback on how volunteering is going, how would you like to receive it? - When you give feedback, you’ll know the medium (e.g., in-person, phone call, email) and the method (e.g., directly, paired with a compliment).
  • Given everything you know about the role and everything we’ve talked about today, what do you think your biggest challenge would be? - Based on the person’s answer, you can reassure them about their concerns or make sure to spend extra time during training or while supervising them making sure they feel well prepared to handle the challenges they have identified.
  • Because of the training involved in the role, we’re looking for someone who can make a good faith commitment to volunteer for X months. Is that something you can do? Is there anything in your life that might interfere with your ability to volunteer? - This sets the expectation for the role initially while gathering information about the feasibility of said commitment. You may want to place a strong candidate who is searching for a full-time job but wouldn’t do the same for someone who isn’t excellent.

Finally, in recruitment and screening, communication is paramount. Being responsive and transparent throughout the process will increase the likelihood of finding the right volunteers and set the standard for future interactions.