|VolunteerToday.com ~~ The Electronic Gazette for Volunteerism|
There is sometimes a feeling that references for volunteers provide little valuable information to the Volunteer Manager. It is felt that since the potential volunteer provides the list of people to give for references, that they are choosing people specifically who will provide them with a positive reference and not say anything negative.
There is always the possibility that someone will lie to you. I try to get a combination of friends and co-workers and a minimum of three references. This gives me an opportunity to get different information, based on how the person knows the prospective volunteer.
Talking with them on the phone gives you an opportunity to ask additional questions if something comes up in conversation. I have found that by talking to someone on the phone you can tell if they are struggling for what to say or if all the positive things they are saying about the person are just flowing. If they are struggling, you can ask, "Is there something more that you would like to tell me?" or even be blunt and say, "It seems like you are struggling for what to say; are you unsure of how this person might handle __________?"
I do also send a letter out requesting answers to a few simple questions, so that I have some written information, as well as my notes from the conversation.
I believe that the most important thing to keep in mind is that it is important to follow the practices that are set down for paid staff. If references are required for paid staff, then they should also be required for volunteers and if not, you definitely should not be requiring them for volunteers. In anything you do, you are typically going to be in good shape if you have written volunteer policies that follow those written policies for paid staff.
Terry Schroeder is a social worker at the Division of Children & Family Services in Bremerton, WA. She has worked for the department for 28 years, the last 20 working with volunteers in some capacity. She is also an avid volunteer, currently serving on three local non-profit boards and one advisory board. She can be contacted by calling: 360-475-3571 or emailing her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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