Many organizations make the mistake of thinking that, since volunteer positions are unpaid, there is no need to run criminal background checks or go through other vetting processes when bringing new volunteers on board.
7 questions you should be asking potential volunteers
Here’s something to keep in mind: The truth is that a volunteer is a representative of your brand just as much as an employee.
Many volunteers have important responsibilities from collecting money to working with children or the elderly. As is the case when hiring employees, allowing the wrong volunteer to work on behalf of your brand can lead to theft, embezzlement, workplace violence, abuse, and other costly problems.
To avoid PR nightmares and potential lawsuits, it’s important to screen your volunteers carefully.
To help you separate qualified volunteers from the people you don’t want to represent your brand, here are seven (7) questions to incorporate into the volunteer screening process.
1. Will you consent to a background check?
You don’t have to go quite as in-depth with your checks as you would for a full-time employee.
For instance, you probably aren’t requiring your volunteers to have certain college degrees or professional certifications, which means that you can skip the verification checks. However, criminal history and sex offender checks should absolutely be part of your volunteer screening process.
2. Have you volunteered in the past?
Learn about a candidate’s volunteer experience. Someone who has a long history of volunteer work will likely be easier to incorporate into your mission than someone who hasn’t.
3. What attracted you to this volunteer opportunity?
Just because someone is a prolific volunteer doesn’t mean they are the right fit for your team. You should look for someone who is passionate about your organization and the work you do.
When you are filling a full-time job within your organization, you likely give preference to people who clearly really want this job instead of just wanting a job. The same should be true for your volunteer searches. Particularly for non-profits, finding someone who is “devoted to the cause” is a must.
4. What are your interests or skills?
Organizations take a lot of time outlining the skills and experience they want from a potential applicant for a full-time job. Few companies put the same effort into outlining descriptions for volunteers, which means that you will likely get candidates with very different specialties.
You are seeking a volunteer who will add something that your team doesn’t have already, whether it’s a specialized role or an extra set of hands. Asking about a person’s interests or skills will help you envision what that person will bring to the volunteer role.
5. What is your schedule like?
Just because you aren’t planning to pay someone doesn’t mean that you have zero expectations about when they will be available. An important thing to remember is that volunteers have lives and schedules of their own and few are planning to devote full-time or even part-time hours to your cause.
Asking about availability is a must. High school students are typically great volunteers because they have a lot of enthusiasm and are looking to build out their resumes, but they also have school, sports, after-school activities, and part-time jobs. Seniors are another popular volunteer group, but they also have prior commitments and routines.
If some of your volunteer candidates work full-time, then they are probably only available on evenings and weekends.
Many organizations don’t think to ask about scheduling and availability because they are used to interviewing people for full-time positions in which the hours are implied. For volunteer positions, asking scheduling questions is one of the most important parts of the application or interview.
6. How long do you foresee being involved with us?
It’s possible that your organization only needs a volunteer for a few weeks or months. However, many organizations that use volunteers either utilize them on an ongoing basis or require their help seasonally.
For instance, your business might need volunteers every Christmas to set up a “Santa’s Workshop” for the kids, or you might need volunteers in the summer for a film festival that your nonprofit helps to sponsor.
Either way, it’s reasonable to ask about a person’s long-term volunteer plans. If you are looking for someone who can become a regular part of your volunteer rotation or who will be able to come back and help for multiple seasons in a row, then you should factor that expectation into your interview process.
7. Do you have any questions for me?
At the end of every volunteer interview, you should open the floor up for questions.
Every volunteer opportunity is a bit different, so it’s important for your candidates to understand the parameters of the role they are seeking. Some volunteer roles involve specific functions while others come with the expectation that the person who takes on the role will be able to juggle multiple responsibilities depending on what is needed.
Based on the questions your candidate asks and how they react to your answers, you can get a good idea if the person is ready and able to take on the role.
Some organizations believe that filling volunteer roles is as easy as letting any applicant sign up online. In most cases, the volunteer screening process needs to be more extensive and more formal to serve its purpose.
While you might not have to put as much effort into vetting your volunteers as you do in screening and hiring full-time employees, your volunteer screening process should be cut from the same cloth.
A well thought-out application, a conversation-driven interview, and a consistent background check policy will go a long way toward helping you find the kind of passionate, motivated, and trustworthy volunteers that you want as representatives as your organization.
Michael Klazema has been developing products for criminal background check and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries. Follow him on Twitter @klazema or connect with him on LinkedIn.
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