09 Oct Six Key Reasons Volunteer Interviews Matter
Why aren’t application forms enough?
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 are being left on the table.
The Importance of Volunteer Interviews
Interviews help nonprofit leaders:
1) 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 he/she may actually bring more value to the nonprofit (and the people it serves) in a different role than the one they (or you) may have had in mind.
2) Improve 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 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 individual’s motivations and get a sense of how they would fit into your organization’s culture.
3) Better 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 yet 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 world views. By providing scenarios through role play, interviewers can gain some insight into how prospective volunteers process information in real time.
Interviews are critical for determining fit – the “interpersonal matching of the needs and interests of the volunteer with the needs and interests of the agency.”
-McCurley and Lynch, Volunteer Management (p.102)
4) Enhance volunteer satisfaction and retainment.
Few nonprofits want to put more resources into recruiting, training, and equipping new volunteers. Volunteer churn 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 sing your organization’s praises around their friends and family.
5) 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 these 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. This will help weed out those that “aren’t serious” about committing to pursuing change over the long term and boost volunteer satisfaction among those that do decide to push forward.
6) 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, share your passion for the people you serve, have a pulse on community needs and attitudes, and possess a robust understanding of your programs and procedures. Volunteers are a great pool to tap into for future staff needs, and volunteer interviews can help you make sure that members of this pool are vetted and receiving the tools they need to grow as leaders in the meantime.
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.