Just because you don't pay volunteers, doesn't mean you shouldn't give the same careful attention to vetting and placing them as you would to paid employees. Implementing diligent and thorough hiring practices is one way to ensure that volunteers are placed in positions where their strengths will make the greatest impact. It’s a win for your beneficiaries and a win for your organization.

What does a good volunteer “hiring” process look like? Most include four main components: Application, Interview, Reference Check, and Criminal Screening.

Application

The application process is your introductory period, where you and the volunteer get to know each other. The volunteer has read a detailed job description on your volunteer opportunity announcement and is ready to apply. Your volunteer application should be just as thorough as an employee application, as volunteers are still personnel who are performing tasks for your organization. Particularly if you serve at-risk populations, such as children or the elderly, properly vetting your volunteers should absolutely not be neglected. Make sure your application asks for the full picture of volunteers’ backgrounds, including personal contact information, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, education and work histories, skills, reasons for volunteering, limitations, certifications, and more.  The Balance offers an excellent list of topics that should be covered in a solid volunteer application. As always, ask a volunteer to include a resume as well.

Interview

Requiring an interview might seem like it’s making potential volunteers jump through too many hoops; after all, aren’t you also advised to try to make the application process easy on them? Yes and no. Make it easy on them by offering online application forms, ensuring they don’t fill out the same form twice, and clearly communicating job descriptions. But don’t neglect safety or your organization’s integrity by cutting corners on well-screened volunteers. Interviewing volunteers is an important layer in the “hiring” process for three reasons: 1. It helps you get to know their personality and better learn their strengths. As a result, you can place them in a position most suitable for them. 2. It is an opportunity to see any red flags. If something they say doesn’t align with their resume, you’ll know that you need to pursue that further. 3. It gives the volunteers the opportunity to learn more about your organization and see if they could be a good fit volunteering for you. Check out Verified Volunteers for a helpful list of interview questions.

Reference Check

After the interview, check personal and professional references, which volunteers should include on their applications. It’s important to contact both personal and professional references, so that you can get a full picture of volunteers’ character and strengths, and to make sure that the information you gleaned from their applications and interviews all lines up. When you talk with references, try to avoid asking yes or no questions; instead, ask questions that require the reference to talk specifically about volunteers’ characteristics. If volunteers would be working with at-risk populations, such as children or the elderly, it is important to ask references to evaluate volunteers’ experience or abilities working with the given population. Plus, ask if the references have any reservations about the volunteers working with such populations. Energize, Inc. offers additional explanation on the importance of thorough reference-checking.

Criminal Screening

Many organizations don’t want to subject their volunteers to the uncomfortable process of criminal background checks, but unfortunately, in this day and age, it’s a step that every organization should complete. Effective criminal background checks include a search on the sex offender registry and a criminal history search. When conducting a criminal history search, it is most effective to conduct a county and state search in conjunction with a national search. This means if an applicant lived or worked in a different county or state, search records there too. It might seem like overkill, but local and national systems do not update synchronously, so checking all databases is the only way to make sure you’ve not let anything fall through the cracks. Verified Volunteers explains the critical importance of this step in more detail.

Implementing a diligent, robust “hiring” process for volunteers is probably the hardest part. Once it is implemented, the process will probably feel like a well-oiled machine, and you will begin to notice that volunteers are happier and their impact is better than ever! As always, before you implement any new process regarding volunteers and personnel, be sure to clear it with legal counsel first. Good luck!

 


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