21st Anniversary Page
Archives Search
Ask Connie
Boards & Committees
Internet Resources
Management & Supervision
Recruiting & Retention
Tech Tips
Volunteer Program Evaluation Series
Who We Are
Email Us

VolunteerToday.com ~~ The Electronic Gazette for Volunteerism


Visit this page for ideas, suggestions and hints to build volunteer recruitment capacity.

Recognition Image

~ August 2003 ~Topics

Right Arrow Image References: A Screening Tool Left Arrow Image

In some volunteer programs, asking for references on an application went out of favor. The idea of having a prospective volunteer provide the names and contact information for people who can provide insights into their suitability for a volunteer position appears to be making a comeback. Here are some hints on how to do this in a manner designed to bring the most useful information to make the right volunteer placement.

Provide clear instructions on references to the person completing the application. In the instructions on providing references explain why names are requested and describe how questions are asked of references. Assure people that questions are related directly to the work the volunteer does for the organization. Explain what is meant by references that are neither relatives nor personal friends. Give examples of all these items. (Example: References might include a leader in your church, synagogue or temple, a person with whom you worked on another volunteer task, the parents of children with whom you worked, etc.)
Be sure references come from individuals with direct knowledge of the person in question. Indirect knowledge, say from the chair of a committee for a big event who never worked directly with the person, is inappropriate. You want names of people with direct knowledge of the individual and who have interacted with them.
Ask for four references and then check the bottom two. It is likely that the top two candidates will give the most favorable assessment. A more balanced view may come from those the person listed as his/her third and fourth choice.
Design questions that are open-ended and do not violate privacy laws. Questions should always be related to the work the person will be doing. (Example: “The person applying for this position will be handling money, can you tell me if you have seen this individual handle money and if so, would you allow them to do it again, and why?")
References should be asked the same questions. It is unethical to ask different questions of different references (unless it is specifically job related). Questions should always be the same for each position. Anyone applying to work directly with clients, for example, might be asked about the person’s ability to maintain confidentiality for children and their families.
Never ask vague questions. Write clear questions that go directly to the position the volunteer will hold. (Example: “Describe to me how you know this person and why you think they would list you as a reference for a volunteer position that involves the following ________________________.”)
Write an introduction for the reference interview that describes three things. It should explain briefly about the organization and the role volunteers have, the purpose of the interview and the role of the interviewer in the organization, and how the reference is helping make the best placement for the volunteer (not axing them out of involvement).
Respect the reference givers time. When calling to ask reference questions ask to set up a time when it would be convenient for you to call again. Imagine it is a meeting. Also, give them an estimate of how long the interview will take. It should not take longer than 15 – 20 minutes. It is one thing for them to go on about a person, but the person conducting the interview should keep it within these time limits.
Checking references requires the skills of the world’s best listener. Pay attention to pauses or hesitation. Listen between the words. If you sense some doubt on the references part, it is an indicator to do some additional checking before placing the person.

Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: "Volunteer Screening: An Audio Workbook," by Nancy Macduff and "Beyond Police Checks: The Definitive Volunteer and Employee Screening Guidebook," by Linda Graff.

Volunteer Screening Audio Workbook Image Beyond Police Checks book Image

The Big Introduction—Tips on Giving Speeches or Talks

The opening of a speech about the volunteer program or the organization needs to do three things: tell about your history of being involved in the organization, tell what the organization does; and what your purpose is in speaking to this group.

Graphic Image Part One

Who Am I?
  • Tell who you are and what you do in the organization
  • Give background on how you came to be in this position—what you did before
  • Why this position is important to your life

Graphic Image Part Two

What is the Organization
  • Brief overview of the mission
  • Brief statistics
  • How volunteers fit in the organization and the way it accomplishes its mission
  • Be short, funny, and personal

Graphic Image Part Three

What I Intend in this Speech
  • Tell why you are here making this speech
  • Tell what you hope to accomplish when you are done

Right Arrow Image Trends: What They Mean for Volunteerism Left Arrow Image

The trends listed below are taken from an article in The Futurist, a publication of The World Futurists Society, in June 2003. There is a brief review of the trend and what it entails and then implications for volunteer programs and nonprofits.

1. Workers are retiring later. In the developing world, it appears that workers are retiring early than their parents. This is misleading however because many of them retire only temporarily and begin another career. True retirement, an end of work life, is likely to be delayed until late in life. By 2010, the average age of retirement will be delayed well into the 70's.

Implications for volunteerism: The senior retiree volunteers who are the backbone of many programs will dwindle in numbers, or will become more episodic in their service. The new seniors will be older and more experienced with perhaps two or three career skill sets to share. These folks will make good mentors to young people in the organization, and in some cases the staff.

2. The work ethic is vanishing. Tardiness is on the increase in the workplace; it is common for workers to abuse the use of sick leave. Gen-Xer's have little company loyalty, due to watching parents be downsized and put out of work. The post baby boom generation works to have money, fun, and leisure. Job security and high pay are not as important as motivators, such as having a job that gives a real sense of accomplishment.

Implications for volunteerism: Like their employed counterparts, volunteers will move from organization to organization. To keep them, they need to be nurtured, not just selected and then forgotten. Training is important, as is regular communication and appreciation. If the new volunteer cannot learn new skills, they are likely to move somewhere where they can.

3. Time is becoming the world’s most precious commodity. The electronic revolution (computers, cell phones, the Internet) has created a high-pressure “do it now” mentality. In the USA workers spend 10% more time on their job than they did 10 years ago. Everyone in the Western world is desperate for anything that will simplify life or save time.

Implications for volunteerism: Providing volunteer opportunities that are short in duration, but contribute to the mission of the organization is a must for the coming volunteer. They will not wait five years to chair the Board, or be given a meaningful task. And working efficiently is how they are likely to measure an organization or program.

4. Consumers want community and social responsibility from companies. Buyers want the products that come from companies that care about pollution, child safety, and financial transparency. Government intervention is likely to push companies to behave in more ethical and responsible ways.

Implications for volunteerism: Companies want to look good. They have organized employee volunteer programs as one way to do that. Volunteer programs need clear guidelines and policies for affiliating with a for-profit company. There is also a growing opportunity for such partnerships. The company gains, by looking like a good citizen, and the organization gains, by increasing its pool of potential volunteers and/or donors.

Interested in assessing volunteer and staff relations in your program?

Looking for help from an expert?

Get help with one of the Volunteer Program Evaluation Series.


The Points of Light Foundation has forms available to nominate volunteers and volunteer organizations for the Daily Points of Light Award. It is designed recognize individuals and groups that demonstrate unique and innovative approaches to community volunteering and citizen action, with a strong emphasis on service focused on the goals for children and young people set by the Presidents Summit for American's Future. The award is given five days a week, excluding holidays. If you would like nomination forms, call 202-729-8000.

By calling 1-800-VOLUNTEER in the U.S., individuals can be connected to their local volunteer center.
This is a national interactive call routing system designed to get volunteers connected to people who can help them volunteer.

Return to Top

A Service of MBA Publishing-A subsidiary of Macduff/Bunt Associates All materials copyright protected ©2006
925 "E" Street Walla Walla, WA 99362 (509) 529-0244 FAX: (509) 529-8865 EMAIL: editor@volunteertoday.com
The content of all linked sites are beyond the control Volunteer Today and the newsletter assumes no responsibility for their content.

Volunteer Screening Audio Workbook Image Beyond Police Checks Book Image