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.
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:
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
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.
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:
Behaviors - about what a person has done
or is doing. "Tell me about the last volunteer position you
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."
Feelings - note that respondents sometimes
respond with "I think ..." so be careful to note that
you're looking for feelings
Knowledge - to get facts about a topic. "Tell
me what you know about our program or organization and its services."
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?"
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.
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
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.
Alternate types of questions during the interview.
Start with easy fact-based questions that provide short answers.
Then ask a more open-ended question.
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.
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.
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:
Wording should be open-ended. Respondents should
be able to choose their own terms when answering questions.
Questions should be as neutral as possible. Avoid
wording that might influence answers, e.g., evocative, judgmental
Ask one question at a time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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..
Indicate how long the interview usually takes.
Explain the process following the interview. Tell
the person "what comes next." Screening, training, shadowing
another volunteer, etc.
Ask them if they have any questions before you both
get started with the interview.
Don't count on your memory to recall their answers.
Ask for permission to record the interview or to take notes.
Attempt to remain as neutral as possible. That is,
don't show strong emotional reactions to their responses.
Encourage responses with occasional nods of the
head, "uh huh's," etc.
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.
Provide transition between major topics, e.g., "we've
been talking about (some topic) and now I'd like to move on to (another
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:
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.
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
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.
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.