How to Interview and Screen Nonprofit Volunteers - dummies

How to Interview and Screen Nonprofit Volunteers

By Stan Hutton, Frances Phillips

Potential volunteers for your nonprofit should be required to fill out job applications just as if they were applying for paid work. Ask for references and check them. Review résumés and conduct formal interviews. Avoid paranoia, but don’t discount your gut feelings, either.

If you’re using volunteers in professional roles, such as accounting, check their qualifications just as you would check the qualifications of an applicant for a paid position. It’s possible that this process may offend potential volunteers, but it’s far better to make sure that the person can do the job, even if she’s doing it for free.

If you’re placing volunteers in sensitive jobs, such as working with children or providing peer counseling, screen your applicants carefully. Criminal background screening, including a fingerprint check, is sometimes required by law, by licensing requirements, or by your insurance carrier. Some states and counties also require a test for tuberculosis. Check with local authorities about the requirements in your area.

We realize that screening can be a delicate issue. You’re walking a tightrope between the right to privacy and the right of the organization to be sure that no harm befalls its clients. Some potential volunteers may be offended by background checks. Explain that the procedures aren’t directed at them personally but are in place to ensure that clients are protected. Also, treat all volunteer applicants the same.

Be prepared to answer questions when people call to volunteer. If you’re already using volunteers to answer the telephone, prepare a list of common questions and answers and place that list near the telephone. Here are some sample FAQs that the Sunshine and Health Project, a fictional nonprofit, may need:

  • What are the hours I would be needed? We answer the phones five days a week from 9 in the morning until 9 at night. People are asked to work a three-hour shift once a week.

  • How will I know what to say? All volunteers receive one day of training. Training is offered once a month, almost always on Saturdays.

  • What kind of advice can I give? Our volunteers can’t give medical advice or advice on specific diets. Volunteers refer callers to existing services and professionals. We ask volunteers to be positive and to offer general support to all callers.

  • How do I know where to refer people? We have a complete database of weight loss-related counseling services. It’s a simple matter of looking through a loose-leaf notebook or our computer database to find the appropriate phone numbers.

  • What if I get sick and can’t cover my shift? Have volunteers on standby to cover unexpected absences. If you aren’t able to volunteer on a regular, weekly basis, you may consider being a backup volunteer.

  • Are we asked to do any other work? Sometimes volunteers are asked to help with mailings between phone calls.

  • Will you pay my auto (or public transportation) expenses? We’re sorry, but our budget doesn’t cover reimbursing volunteers for expenses. Some expenses may be deductible on your income tax, however. You should check with your tax specialist.

  • Can I deduct the value of my time from my income taxes? No, the IRS doesn’t allow tax deductions for volunteer time.

These questions and answers also can be printed in a brochure and mailed to potential volunteers who request more information. Be sure to include background information about your organization in the mailing.