Guest post by Kayla Matthews
Busy nonprofits need volunteers, right?
Well, not always right. Volunteers add value to your organization, just as paid employees do. Whether they are counseling, fundraising or performing any of the many tasks nonprofits do, they need to be able to do it, do it well, and do it when they say they will.
What happens when volunteers can’t perform their tasks or can’t perform them well enough to help? What happens when they don’t show up when they say they will?
The results can lead to overstretched employees and poor provision of services. In the worst-case scenario, the results could lead to chaos.
Nonprofits love their good volunteers — but that doesn’t mean they have to take in everyone who wants to volunteer.
Volunteers need to be properly interviewed, just like employees do. You need to assess what they want to do and what they have done successfully in the past. You need to screen out any potential volunteer who isn’t a good fit with your organization.
It’s a good idea to have an application process. Set up a system where potential volunteers have to submit an application form or resume that gives an overview of:
- Experience and skills, in both jobs and volunteering
- Specific reasons for wanting to volunteer with your organization
- Hours available to volunteer
Once you know these, you have an overview of what a prospective volunteer might offer your organization. You’ll also be able to develop good interview questions.
With VolunteerMatch Premium, you can implement volunteer questionnaires or send custom greetings to volunteers who express interest in your organization, helping you save time by vetting volunteers up front.
What You Should Look for in a Volunteer
There are certain qualities your ideal volunteer will have. These include:
There’s no substitute for a volunteer’s experience and skills, just as there isn’t any substitute for them in a paid position. Is there a match between the work you need done and what the volunteer has done? If there’s not a match, can they be trained relatively easily?
You need to consider what training is required. Are there people in your busy organization who could train without being stretched too thin?
Education can be relevant or not matter at all, depending on your organization and the volunteer role. Many organizations rely on student volunteers. If you do, is there a particular school program right up your alley? These volunteers can create a win-win, where you receive great volunteers who’ve undergone training through schooling, and where the volunteers receive valuable experience to leverage in future job hunts.
- Specific Reasons for Wanting to Volunteer
Asking your potential volunteer why they want to help will allow you to place them appropriately. It also helps you get to know the person. Are they fundraising for breast cancer research because a beloved aunt died of the disease? Are they volunteering for college credit? As with paid employees, knowing motivations will help you manage appropriately.
- Hours Available to Volunteer
You need to get a sense of availability, so it’s good to ask about the hours potential volunteers can dedicate.
Bear in mind that volunteer availability can change. Student schedules, for example, change every semester. Some nonprofit managers count on people being available 50 percent of the time they say they can be available, so they don’t come up short. Many people do not adhere fully to their volunteer commitments.
When Should You Turn a Volunteer Away?
Just as you need to interview potential volunteers, you also need to ask for references and screen them. If they don’t pass muster, turn them away.
It goes against the grain of many nonprofits to turn away labor for a good cause that won’t tax your budget. However, think of the potential perils of saying yes to someone who really shouldn’t be in your organization.
If you say yes to someone whose resume and references indicate they simply won’t be good at the job, you will potentially create a situation that’s painful and frustrating for everyone. Just because someone wants to fundraise or talk to people in crisis doesn’t mean they’re good at it or won’t put your mission in jeopardy
If you say yes to someone whose schedule indicates they can’t comfortably make it to their assignments, you are potentially going to leave your program staff scrambling for coverage. You may be — even unintentionally — setting the volunteer up for failure as well.
Worse yet, if you say yes to someone whose background indicates they may harm the people in your nonprofit, you are potentially hurting the very population you are trying to serve! And you can even open your organization up to soft or hard risks.
For example, news headlines tell us that people who have volunteered to coach Little League sometimes turn out to be serial sex abusers.
You must screen, especially if you work with vulnerable populations. Failure to do so can permanently affect your nonprofit’s reputation and even open you to lawsuits.
Busy nonprofits do not need to accept every volunteer. Interviewing, getting references and screening volunteers will ensure both you and your volunteers have a positive experience.