book buzz logo
May 2009
Interviewing Volunteers
In This Issue
Featured Resource: Interviewing Volunteers, Module 3 in Training Busy Staff to Succeed with Volunteers

More Resources on Interviewing Volunteers

Book Excerpt

Quick Links

Energize Online Bookstore


Everyone Ready

Receive the
Book Buzz
Join Our Mailing List
A recent New York Times story discussed an emerging challenge for nonprofits in the US: unemployment and President Obama's call to service are producing more inquiries from potential volunteers, but many organizations aren't prepared to handle this volume of applicants. Are you ready for a possible surge in volunteer applications? Don't let skilled, motivated volunteers slip away -- prepare your organization by instituting an effective volunteer interviewing process.
FeatureBookFeatured Resource
Interviewing Volunteers
Module 3 in Training Busy Staff to Succeed with Volunteers: The 55-Minute Training Series

Featured Resource: Interviewing Volunteers Training Module
Betty Stallings has developed ready-to-present training designs on 12 elements of volunteer program management.  The "Interviewing Volunteers" Module is designed to help you help your team examine the need for interviewing and screening volunteers and to share the basic process and skills necessary to do it effectively.
Remember, the volunteer manager doesn't necessarily have to be the interviewer! Staff who will be supervising volunteers "on the ground" or experienced volunteers can conduct interviews, too. Teach them how with this excellent training tool.

Included in the module are learning objectives, suggested script and expandable activities, key concepts and notes to trainer, PowerPoint slides, handout masters, a bibliography, a workshop evaluation form and more.
Buy Now
US$10.00 for single module. Or. . .
Purchase the Complete 55-Minute Staff Training Series (all 12 modules) for only US$69.00!
ResourcesMore Resources on Interviewing Volunteers
"Interviewing, Screening and Placing Volunteers" is the next featured topic for Everyone Ready, the Energize online training program. This Online Seminar will be available from May 18 to June 13. If you already have access to Everyone Ready, be sure to view this timely presentation. If you hurry and join as an individual by May 22, you will be able to participate in this seminar.
See membership details here.
e-Volunteerism article: "Group Interviewing Techniques: Hitting the Bulls Eye Every Time"
Traditionally, most volunteer interviews take place in a one-on-one situation between the candidate and a member of the volunteer program staff. The group interview process is an inclusive one, involving volunteers and employees in the selection process. The philosophy of group interviewing, designing the group interview process, selecting and training volunteer placement counselors, the logistics of this system, and more are explored in this article. Only $3 for non-subscribers; e-Volunteerism subscribers can access full text of article here.
Volunteer Management: Mobilizing All the Resources of the Community
This excellent overview of volunteer management practices dedicates Chapter 6 to interviewing volunteers and matching them with appropriate work. You will return to this book again and again for its comprehensive examination of every facet of a successful volunteer program, from planning and organizing through measuring effectiveness. See an excerpt from Chapter 6 below.
Beyond Police Checks: The Definitive Volunteer & Employee Screening Guidebook
Contains a section on effective interviewing as an important part of the screening process.
Resources Book Excerpt
Interviewing Volunteers

From Volunteer Management: Mobilizing All the Resources of the Community, by Rick Lynch and Steve McCurley, 2006.

One of the most neglected areas of volunteer management training has been that of effective interviewing of volunteers. This is unfortunate, since good interviewing skills are essential to performing that most crucial of all volunteer management tasks -- matching a potential volunteer with a task and a working environment that they will enjoy.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that much of the management training that does exist on interviewing deals with employment interviewing, which is a totally inappropriate approach for volunteer interviewing... Employment interviewing focuses on the question, "Who can do this job?" while volunteer interviewing should focus on the more creative questions, "Who will want to do this job?" and "What can this person contribute to accomplishing our mission?" Ivan Scheier called this "the people approach" over twenty years ago, and that phrase still exemplifies the proper attitude to the process.
Volunteer interviewing is not just a simple process of comparing candidates against a list of desired job-related characteristics; it is a much subtler process of trying to learn about the person who is being interviewed, with an ultimate intent of shaping a work situation that will be satisfying to the volunteer and to the agency.

Purposes of Volunteer Interviewing
Among other things this difference in approach means that a volunteer interview has to accomplish more than the usual job interview. There are two basic purposes:

Identify a "Fit"
Finding a fit includes determining the interests and abilities of the potential volunteers, determining their suitability for particular jobs, and assessing their "rightness" for the agency, its style of operation, and its mission. "Fit" is the interpersonal matching of the needs and interests of the volunteer with the needs and interests of the agency. An examination of proper fit would include determining these items regarding the volunteer:
  1. To what extent does the volunteer have both an interest in a particular job and the necessary qualifications to perform that job?
  2. To what extent does the volunteer have other interests and abilities that might be used to create a different job for him or her?
  3. To what extent does the volunteer have a "rightness" for working well in a particular job environment?
"Rightness" means the likelihood that the volunteer will fit comfortably into the agency's working environment. In many cases, this will be the key predictive factor for success. Rightness could involve matters of style (relaxed, frenetic), personality (neat, messy; introverted, extroverted), behavior (smoking, non-smoking), political philosophy (traditionalist, radical), or other factors that would affect how the volunteers will get along, both with the agency in general and with the particular staff group with whom each might be assigned. Very often these interpersonal relationship factors become more important than factors of technical qualification, which can be learned if the volunteer is willing to stay with the agency. Quite simply, a volunteer who is happy in their working environment will make the job happen; one who is unhappy will not try to do so.

This includes answering any questions or concerns that the potential volunteers may have and letting the volunteers know that they have the ability to make a contribution to the agency and its clientele, or that they will derive personal satisfaction from helping. It is a quite mistaken belief that the person who shows up for an interview has already decided to volunteer with the agency. . .

Picking an Interviewer
Since the time available for assessing potential candidates for volunteer positions is relatively short, it is important to have a person conducting the interviews who is capable of making a satisfactory judgment. A number of abilities are desirable in a volunteer interviewer:
  • Broad knowledge of the agency and its programs
  • Personal knowledge of staff and their quirks
  • Ability to relate to all types of people
  • Ability to talk easily with strangers
  • Ability to listen attentively both to what is and what is not said
  • Ability to ask follow-up questions
  • Ability to follow the agenda of the interview without appearing to dominate
  • Knowledge of non-directive interview techniques
  • Ability to recruit and motivate while interviewing
  • Commitment to the agency and its programs
  • Ability to empathize with other people
  • Ability to say "no" gracefully
Volunteers often make better interviewers than paid staff. This is true for two reasons. First, they tend not to be "burned out" in interviewing because they may be involved in a lesser number. Conducting interviews is a draining process, and one that can easily be overwhelming. It is common in this situation to stop listening after a while. Second, volunteers tend to be better able to build rapport with potential volunteers, because, after all, they have something important in common (they both thought the agency was worth donating their time to). . .

[P]reparation is vital to the success of the interview. A successful volunteer interview is quite different from simply having a pleasant conversation. As Donna Johnston of the Volunteer Centre of Great Britain noted more than ten years ago, "An interview is often defined as a conversation with a purpose; the interviewer who relies on spontaneity and impulse will often find he has had a delightful conversation but has failed to achieve his purpose. Effective interviewing relies on self-discipline in organizing and developing a conversation."

Permission is granted for organizations to reprint this excerpt. Reprints must provide full acknowledgment of the source, as cited here:
Excerpted from Volunteer Management: Mobilizing All the Resources of the Community, by Steve McCurley and Rick Lynch 2006. Found in the Energize, Inc. Online Bookstore at

Energize, Inc.
5450 Wissahickon Ave., C-13
Philadelphia, PA 19144

Energize empowers and inspires leaders of volunteers worldwide. Our specialty is creating and selecting the most relevant, innovative resources in volunteer management. We're advocates for the power of volunteers and for the recognition of the leaders who unleash it.
About Us