You Don’t Need Warm Bodies. You Need Great Volunteers. 

You do not have to accept every person that wants to volunteer. Conducting an interview conveys to your potential volunteers that the work they do is important enough for you to spend time assessing them on the front end. Volunteer interviews also demonstrate to your staff that you value their work enough to not ask them to lead just anyone that shows up. 

The volunteer interview is your filtering process, and screens out people that will likely underperform, not show up, resist feedback, or upset clients or board members. The time you spend in interviews significantly reduces the time spent addressing future crises. It also better sets your team up for success, as well as maintaining a healthy organizational culture. 

This screening can be brief - a volunteer interview may take the form of a quick conversation. The point is to ask enough questions so you can have confidence in the person you are connecting to your organization. There are three things you will want to consider as a part of your process: their interests, their commitment level, and how they work with others.

Gauge their Interest

Most people that want to volunteer at a nonprofit organization have a reason. This reason could be based on personal or family experiences, a desire to share (or learn) a skill, or recognition that their values align with the organization’s. Understanding their interest will also point to their abilities - both natural and learned. As the interviewer, you will be able to identify which type of work they are best suited for - be it administrative, technical, client, or other.

Three questions to ask in the interview:

  • Why do you want to be a volunteer in our organization?
  • Have you volunteered before? Why or why not?
  • What do you hope to get out of this experience?

Understand their Commitment Level

There are two sides to commitment. The first is determining whether they have the capacity for an additional responsibility in their life; the second is digging into whether they are reliable and trustworthy. Your goal in this is to understand whether your commitment levels match so you invest time accordingly.

Three questions to ask in the interview:

  • How much time would you like to volunteer?
  • How will volunteering affect your other commitments?
  • Do you have any hesitations, or areas in which you don’t want to be asked to volunteer?

A volunteer that seems to be a great match for the role - but lacks the commitment the organization needs - is the volunteer manager’s bright shiny object. Commitment can seem like a surmountable issue, but if you assume that it will work itself out, you will likely leave a bad taste with a great volunteer. Instead of bringing on that person for the role, try to find a lower commitment role. 

Find out How they Relate to Others

Although this is the last topic, it is critical to find out how they relate to others vertically and horizontally in an organization. In terms of vertical relationships, determine whether they will be able to follow instructions, accept and learn from feedback, and prioritize trainings or other volunteer meetings. Horizontal relationships include both peers as well as the nonprofit’s clients. Determine whether they are able to exhibit interest, care and compassion, maintain appropriate boundaries, and effectively teach others to do something.

Three questions to ask in the interview:

  • What types of people do you most enjoy working with?
  • What words would your peers use to describe how you communicate and work with others?
  • Tell me about a time you received constructive criticism, and how did you handle it?

Don’t waste your time in the future by cutting corners today. Take your volunteers seriously, and ask them the right questions. 

anne york circle
Anne York

I am the Program Manager for For the City Ventures. Professionally, I've worked in management consulting, tech, and e-commerce. I earned an MBA from the University of Texas-Austin, and a double major in History and Political Science from Hillsdale College. I live in Austin with my husband and three kids. On the weekends, you can find us doing home improvements or soaking up all the fun that Austin has to offer.