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6 min read

Volunteer Screening: Advantages of Waivers in the Process

November 20, 2023

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As a nonprofit organization, you’re well aware of the important role volunteers play in furthering your mission. They fill in the gaps where your staff can’t, helping you achieve more than your organization can on its own. Additionally, volunteers lift some of the weight of completing monumental tasks off your shoulders, helping you avoid burnout and reach more of those in need.

Over the years, perhaps your volunteer program has suffered from dwindling retention rates and rising turnover. Or, perhaps you have a loyal group of supporters, but the number of volunteers assisting you hasn’t grown with your organization. Either way, turning to technology can help you boost the efficiency of your program and recruit more volunteers who are fit for the role.

In this guide, we’ll explore how you can use digital waivers to collect data about supporters and improve your volunteer screening process, resulting in more dedicated volunteers joining your program. To kick off, let’s cover the basics of volunteer screening.

What is volunteer screening?

Volunteer screening is the process nonprofits and other mission-driven organizations use to assess prospective volunteers before accepting them into their volunteer programs. Ideally, these screenings should confirm that volunteer recruits are trustworthy and have the proper skills required to complete the responsibilities of the role. Additionally, screenings can detect potential risks ahead of time, protecting staff, beneficiaries, and fellow volunteers from safety threats.

Some common factors organizations screen for include:

  • Criminal backgrounds
  • Character and/or professional references
  • Necessary skills and/or qualifications
  • Availability 
  • Commitment levels
  • Conflicts of interest

You may also need to conduct additional, more informal screenings down the line for specific events. For example, if you need volunteers to help with your capital campaign, you’ll need help from those who have the right connections, are not afraid to take risks, and have the courage and determination to secure the donations you need. 

How do waivers fit into the process?

While the main purpose of waivers is to secure a release of liability from those who interact with your organization in a way that presents inherent risks (typically by attending events), they also allow you to gather data about supporters—including prospective volunteers. When you use digital waivers, you can store this data in a virtual file and easily search and filter for specific volunteers, dates, and more. 

Here are the top advantages of using insights from waivers to improve and expedite the screening process:

1. You’ll reach more qualified leads.

In sales, a qualified lead is a potential customer who fits certain criteria determined by the business, such as having the budget and need for the company’s product or service. Similarly, your nonprofit has criteria for its volunteers, and not every supporter will meet them. 

Instead of spending time interviewing prospects who are easily ruled out, you can use waivers from those who have attended your nonprofit’s events to uncover their:

  • Age: Many nonprofits require volunteers to be at least 18. Your waivers should feature a question requesting the participant’s birthdate to ensure your applicants are all adults. 
  • Commitment level: While a supporter’s commitment to your cause cannot be measured by a single metric like dollars donated, you can reference waiver data to understand how many of your events they’ve attended in the past. If a prospective volunteer routinely attends each of your fundraising events, for example, they are showing that they are committed to your cause and are willing to give their time to support it.
  • Impact and advocacy efforts: Many organizations include questions on their waivers asking participants to indicate how they heard about the nonprofit, whether through marketing efforts or from a friend or family member. If you see the name of a supporter pop up a few times for this question, this means they are putting effort into sharing about your cause with the community and could make great volunteers.

Keep in mind that you may not be able to include these questions in a more rigid, traditional-style waiver. For this reason, Smartwaiver’s guide to digital waiver software recommends choosing a provider with flexible templates that offer unlimited customization.

2. Your documentation will be more accurate.

When you create detailed waivers, you can ask questions that help you maintain better records about each supporter who attends an event. Some of these attendees will likely go on to apply for a volunteer role, and having accurate records of their past involvement can expedite the process.

Here’s how waivers benefit your record-keeping before, during, and after volunteer screenings:

  • Before: Fields like birthdates and statements affirming the individual has viewed  training materials can be marked as “required” on the form, meaning that those completing the waiver must answer a certain way to submit it. Additionally, you can require participants to submit forms that validate their answers.
  • During: When interviewing applicants during screenings, you’ll have an accurate understanding of which events the potential volunteer attended and the specific timeline of their involvement with your nonprofit. Because of this consistent and easy-to-access data-keeping structure, you can access the records without delay at any time.
  • After: Because your nonprofit may still require accepted volunteers to complete waivers before certain tasks or events, you can maintain an accurate record of the specific events each volunteer attends and their hours spent working. In addition to helping you calculate the volunteer’s impact, you can also total up their volunteer hours to assist them in requesting volunteer grants from their employer

Your records will also be kept safer when you use digital forms and waivers. Digital waivers are stored in virtual databases that are much more secure than traditional filing cabinets, protecting your supporters’ sensitive information.

3. You can set clear expectations.

It’s possible that potential volunteers may have never heard about your volunteer program before. They may be unaware of the specific tasks volunteers carry out, age requirements, and expectations of those who volunteer. 

To educate these prospects and ensure you don’t waste resources screening people who don’t match your criteria, you can set your expectations in waivers (a document each participant will have to complete before joining your events). Summarize details or provide links to resources about your volunteer program in the waiver, asking readers to indicate whether or not they are interested. For those who are, request that they enter their contact information so your team can follow up with them to answer any additional questions.

This will not only help you promote the program to more members of your audience but will also give them the resources they need to self-determine whether they’d be a good fit for the program.

Remember that one of the most important factors in high volunteer retention rates is to show these supporters that you value and appreciate their support. Once your volunteers have passed the application, screening, and onboarding processes, be sure to thank them for their dedication with a thank-you note. You can even use waivers to send them birthday cards or personalize thank-you letters by mentioning the past events they attended.

Guest Contributer

Written by Guest Contributer

This article was written by a VolunteerMatch Guest Contributor.