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The current influx of volunteers is all the talk in our world. It’s the topic of articles in online and print publications (from the New York Times and The Chronicle of Philanthropy to the Dallas Business Journal), in blogs and e-Newsletters (including our own JFFixler blog), and certainly around the water coolers of nonprofits large and small. We have written about how we believe this is a tremendous opportunity for strategic engagement of skilled volunteers. But, how does an organization move from facing the crowds of volunteers at its proverbial door to actually selecting and placing those candidates who can have greatest impact?
We frequently find that, while many nonprofit professionals would never hire a new staff member without having carefully developed a position description, clearly outlined the desired qualifications, and conducted a formal interview, those same professionals put out a call for volunteers and accept whoever lands at their doorstep with a pulse. Beth Steinhorn a JFFixler Associate, recently observed a training session presented by a trained Boomer facilitator for a local nonprofit. The facilitator was sharing tips on interviewing volunteers and asked what the NPO’s interviewing practices are for volunteers. A board member replied with a smile, “The interview consists of us begging them to volunteer and hoping they’ll say ‘yes’.” In order to make the most of these interested volunteers seeking opportunities to use their skills to make an impact in the world, organizations ought to be intentional and strategic in whom they select and invite into a partnership with staff. The key to that is the interview.
When seeking highly skilled volunteers who are serious about their volunteer work, the organization should act seriously about their volunteer needs. Interviewing candidates not only demonstrates that the organization views the volunteer in a professional light, but also gives both the organization and the candidate a chance to see if there is a good fit between the two. I was quoted in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article, “Vetting Charity Volunteers Can Help Smooth Relations,” that discusses the importance of carefully vetting potential volunteers for a good fit with the organization, not just in terms of qualifications and skills but also in regard to personality and office culture.
When interviewing volunteer candidates, we encourage all nonprofits to use the same care and attention given to interviewing candidates for paid staff positions. Both the volunteer candidate and organizational staff want to know if the volunteer’s skills are a match to the nonprofit’s needs, if the organization can provide the necessary support to ensure success, and if the candidate is a good fit in the office culture.
In order to help achieve everyone’s goals, follow these tips: