Let’s be honest - on most days, nonprofits have too much to do and too little to do it with. Work piles up, burnout occurs, and morale starts to slide. However, the nonprofit sector has one huge resource available that most businesses don’t - volunteers. Millions of Americans sign up to serve with a local nonprofit every year, and there’s an enormous pressure for nonprofits to take advantage of as many of them as possible. Is plugging every interested person straight into the most pressing need what’s best for the volunteer - or even your organization?
Rather than simply sending new volunteers to serve in areas they know little about, a better plan would be to start with an interview process. Nonprofits often do not interview volunteers for a number of reasons:
- They lack the bandwidth to do so.
- They fear interviews will drive away the volunteers they need to fill high-need positions.
- They simply fail to see the value of an interview altogether.
The reality is that most nonprofits are likely putting volunteer interviews on the backburner. A 2007 survey in the United Kingdom found “a majority of volunteers (78 percent) had not been asked to attend an interview before commencing their activities, nor had they been provided with a role description (81 percent), or had their references taken up (89 percent). It is unlikely that American nonprofits act much differently, and as a result, huge amounts of volunteer potential is being unutilized. Here are 6 reasons why your nonprofit should implement an interview process into your volunteer onboarding pipeline.
1.Interviews help you discover volunteers’ unique skills.
We often forget that volunteers are just as complex, intelligent, and passionate as we are. Every individual that desires to serve brings with them a distinct set of talents and knowledge that the organization may be able to use. While we are often tempted to plug volunteers into the first need that arises, interviews allow leaders to learn more about the individual and discern whether they bring more value to the nonprofit (and the people it serves) in a different role than the one they (or you) currently have in mind.
2.Interviews help you assess volunteer fit.
Some prospective volunteers just aren’t right for your organization – and that’s okay. In fact, you DON’T want people working with your organization that aren’t passionate about the work or won’t mesh well with staff members, other volunteers, or most importantly the clients you serve. It’s entirely possible that a friendly individual looking to serve just isn’t the right person to be working with teenagers from hard places. Interviews give your team a chance to better understand an individual’s motivations and get a sense of how they would fit into your organization’s culture.
3.Interviews help you to gauge emotional intelligence, cultural competency, and critical thinking abilities.
Even volunteers with the right credentials and certifications may not be the best fit for your organization. For example, a registered nurse that has worked exclusively with affluent white populations may not have the cultural competency to work with low-income Medicaid patients in minority communities. There is also a significant difference between “book smarts” and “street smarts.” Some individuals may excel in academic settings, but they lack the experience needed to make hard decisions in difficult situations or respond appropriately to people with different backgrounds or worldviews. By providing scenarios through role play, interviewers can gain some insight into how prospective volunteers process information in real time.
4.Interviews enhance volunteer satisfaction and retainment.
Few nonprofits want to put more resources into recruiting, training, and equipping new volunteers. Volunteer turnover is a HUGE problem for nonprofits, particularly those that rely heavily on transient populations (e.g., college students). Therefore, putting the RIGHT individuals into the RIGHT roles at the beginning is critical. Interviews can help your team discern what makes a volunteer tick and provide them with the resources and responsibilities they need to thrive. Happy volunteers are not only more likely to stick around but become financial donors and promote your organization to their friends and family.
5.Interviews set expectations for prospective volunteers.
After hearing a convicting sermon about the plight of foster children or reading a gut-wrenching article about the realities of human trafficking, many individuals feel compelled to take action. This isn’t a bad thing – this prick of the Spirit is often the first step needed for consistent, ongoing engagement. However, some of these prospective volunteers don’t yet understand the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burdens that come with working with marginalized populations over the course of several months or years. Interviews give the staff a chance to elaborate on the complexities of the work and correct any unchecked expectations the interviewee may have.
6.Interviews help you identify and develop your organization’s best future leaders.
While there are certainly times that you will want to hire outsiders to bring new perspective or insight to the team, many organizations will hire from within for several reasons:
- Those that have been part of the nonprofit for some time will already understand and participate in the culture you have created.
- You know he/she shares your passion for the people you serve.
- Employees are more likely to have a pulse on community needs and attitudes as well as a robust understanding of the organization’s programs and procedures.
Volunteers are a great pool to tap into for future staff needs, and volunteer interviews can help ensure that future employees are vetted and receiving the tools they need to grow as leaders in the meantime.
AN INVESTMENT WORTH MAKING
Interviewing prospective volunteers – whether it be over the phone, over a web platform, or in person – does require time and resources. However, interviewing volunteers should be seen as nothing less than an investment. By making sure that your volunteers are well prepared for their roles and are happy with the work they are doing, you will experience less turnover, greater cohesion as a team, and amplify community transformation.
I am the lead data and research analyst with The For the City Network and joined the team in February 2018. I help volunteers, pastors, nonprofit leaders, and business professionals better understand the characteristics and dynamics of their communities so that they can more effectively pursue human flourishing together. I earned my master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas - Austin and continue to live in North Austin.