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The Recruitment and Organization of Volunteers page and the Management & Supervision page have been merged into one new page. Everything from ideas to help you work more efficiently to the latest in research on keeping volunteers happy and productive, as well as ideas, suggestions and hints to build volunteer recruitment capacity.

~ December 2007 ~ Topics

So, What Are You Doing To Engage Virtual Volunteers?
The Interview-It's Not Standard Anymore
Organize Your Desk in 8 Steps

So, What Are You Doing To Engage Virtual Volunteers?

Are you interested in learning more about virtual volunteers? Visit this month's "Tech Tips" page for some nifty ideas on engaging folks with computers as volunteers.

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The Interview-It's Not Standard Anymore

There are traditional volunteers, episodic volunteers, advocacy volunteers, and a lady just walked in the door and said she was in town for a month and how could she help. Each style of volunteering has different screening standards. For some volunteers it is a serious exchange to determine if the individual is equipped to do sensitive work. In other cases it is to determine what skills the person possesses and how to place them. Sometimes it is the volunteer interviewing the manager of volunteers to see if there is a fit. And sometimes it is not.

Organizing the interview process was never easy when there were only traditional volunteers to talk to, and it has only grown more complicated. Here are some suggestions related to interviewing to create the best fit for volunteer, task, and organization.

  • Is the service being rendered something that requires an interview? The episodic volunteer who shows up to keep ice in the bucket with water bottles for a two hour shift at a 10 K run probably does not need to be interviewed. The person who wants to work with hospice patients definitely does need to be interviewed.
  • What is the purpose of the interview? Serendipity volunteers (drop-ins) often arrive with an idea of what might be of interest. So the interview is two-fold. The potential volunteer is checking out how flexible the organization is in making a "place" for him/her. That potential hospice volunteer is working with the most vulnerable population and the organization needs a rigorous screening, that includes more than one interview. Clarity about the purpose of the interview at the beginning is essential.
  • Who conducts the interview? Historically, the manager of volunteers interviewed most people who expressed an interest in volunteering. In large volume programs that is likely time consuming and can be done by specially trained volunteers. The interview needs to be standardized, so it is the same for everyone, and the interviewers need training in such things as active listening, follow-up questioning, and "red flag" issues.

Types of Interviews:

  1. Informal, conversational interview - no predetermined questions are asked, in order to remain as open and adaptable as possible to the interviewee's nature and priorities; during the interview, the interviewer "goes with the flow." This is most applicable for the person who shows up wanting to "do their own thing." The purpose of this interview is to get acquainted with the individual and what he/she might bring to the program or organization.
  2. Standardized interview - this is the interview for the traditional volunteer who is providing long-term service, especially when a vulnerable population is involved or money. There are some fact-based questions and open-ended questions. The questions are asked of all interviewees. This approach facilitates faster interviews that can be analyzed and compared. It also allows volunteers to be trained as interviewers.
  3. Fixed-response interview - All interviewees are asked the same questions and asked to choose answers from among the same set of alternatives. This might be a way to compare applicants for a position. It is not often used in volunteer interviews.

Types of Questions:

  1. Behaviors - about what a person has done or is doing. "Tell me about the last volunteer position you had."
  2. Opinions/values - about what a person thinks about a topic "Tell me the pros and cons of a hospice patient who chooses to forgo medicine that could prolong their life."
  3. Feelings - note that respondents sometimes respond with "I think ..." so be careful to note that you're looking for feelings
  4. Knowledge - to get facts about a topic. "Tell me what you know about our program or organization and its services."
  5. Sensory - about what people have seen, touched, heard, tasted or smelled. People working in recreational or outdoor programs might ask a volunteer sensory questions in order to determine if they have a realistic view of the work to be done. "When is the last time you did outdoor hard labor work? How did you feel that evening or the next day?"
  6. Background/demographics - standard background questions, such as age, education, etc. Make sure these questions are related to requirements for the position or the work to be done.
  7. Open-ended question - is where respondents are free to choose how to answer the question, i.e., they don't select "yes" or "no" or provide a numeric rating, etc.); "Tell me why you want to do this particular volunteer job."

Question Order:

  1. Get the interviewee involved in the interview as soon as possible. The purpose of the conversation is for the individual to talk and the interviewer to be quiet and listen.
  2. Alternate types of questions during the interview. Start with easy fact-based questions that provide short answers. Then ask a more open-ended question.
  3. Do not ask questions that require a great deal of background on the part of the interviewer. You can bore or tire out the interviewee.
  4. Ask questions about the present before questions about the past or future. For most people it is easier to remember the present. Work your way into the past or future.
  5. The last questions might be to allow respondents to provide any other information they like and to add their impressions of the interview.

Wording of Questions:

  1. Wording should be open-ended. Respondents should be able to choose their own terms when answering questions.
  2. Questions should be as neutral as possible. Avoid wording that might influence answers, e.g., evocative, judgmental wording.
  3. Ask one question at a time.
  4. Clear question wording. This includes knowing any terms particular to the program or the respondents' culture. Try your questions out on someone unfamiliar with your organizations and its special language.

The Interview:

  1. Location. Depending on the type of interview the location is important. For an in depth interview of a person seeking a long-term placement, a quiet spot with few interruptions is important. The short, "get acquainted" interview might be done in a more public place, but one with no interruptions.
  2. Purpose. Take the time to write down the purpose for those in depth interviews. It will help you stay focused when the interview occurs. Shorter interviews need focus, too. Think of the various types of short interviews you have had in the last year. Next to each type of volunteering style write a purpose statement for the interview you conducted.
  3. Discuss with the person the purpose. Outline the purpose of the interview. Explain the process of screening to the potential volunteer if it is a multiple step process. If the person is seeking something special, ask them the purpose from their point of view and share your purpose in talking with them.
  4. Address terms of confidentiality. Be sure to tell the volunteer that interviews are confidential, under most circumstances. If a background check is required then explain the process in details and be prepared to answer any questions the person might have
  5. Explain the format of the interview. Explain the type of interview you are conducting and its nature. Encourage them to ask questions of you at any time..
  6. Indicate how long the interview usually takes.
  7. Explain the process following the interview. Tell the person "what comes next." Screening, training, shadowing another volunteer, etc.
  8. Ask them if they have any questions before you both get started with the interview.
  9. Don't count on your memory to recall their answers. Ask for permission to record the interview or to take notes.

Conducting Interview:

  1. Attempt to remain as neutral as possible. That is, don't show strong emotional reactions to their responses.
  2. Encourage responses with occasional nods of the head, "uh huh's," etc.
  3. Be careful about the appearance when note taking. That is, if you jump to take a note, it may appear as if you're surprised or very pleased about an answer, which may influence answers to future questions.
  4. Provide transition between major topics, e.g., "we've been talking about (some topic) and now I'd like to move on to (another topic)."
  5. Don't lose control of the interview. This can occur when respondents stray to another topic, take so long to answer a question that time begins to run out. This can be challenging with a person passionate about the cause or the program.

Immediately After Interview:

  1. Make any notes on your written notes, e.g., to clarify any scratchings, ensure pages are numbered, fill out any notes that don't make senses, etc.
  2. Write down any observations made during the interview. For example, where did the interview occur and when, was the respondent particularly nervous at any time? Were there any surprises during the interview?
  3. Begin the next steps. If there are additional screening elements, get them in motion. People who express an interest in volunteering do not want to be kept waiting.

Organize Your Desk in 8 Steps
    1. Remove everything from your desk. Place your phone on your left if you're right handed and on the right if you're left handed. Display personal items elsewhere.
    2. Keep a notebook by the phone for messages and phone notes. Write your voice mail messages in it and delete them from the system. Jot down reference notes before you make a call to reduce phone time.
    3. Open your planner or PDA and place it on your desk. Use it to keep track of to-dos, follow-ups and ideas.
    4. Keep office supplies in one drawer only. Buy a dozen of your favorite, inexpensive pens and keep them in a tray in the drawer. Keep back-up supplies in a plastic storage container with drawers.
    5. Sort through your desk files. Keep in your desk drawers only files you use weekly or those that are personal or confidential.
    6. Place your computer at a 90-degree angle to your desk. Keep your deskwork surface clear of everything except essentials and your current project.
    7. Set up a system for active files either in a step file sorter on your desk or in your file drawer. Sort your paperwork into it: Do, Consider, Awaiting Answer, File, Hold, Read and Refer.
    8. Take ten minutes at the end of each day to keep your desk organized. Place tomorrow's top priority project in the center of your desk. You're ready for anything!
The preceding tips on organizing your desk and more can be found at: http://www.lifeorganizers.com/.


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.

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