Chapter 3: Volunteer Interview Questions for Better Matching

Thorough screening and proper placement of volunteers starts with asking the right volunteer interview questions. Although we often think about screening volunteers as a way to mitigate potential risk, it also provides a unique opportunity to better understand the motivations of the volunteer applicant.

When a person is at the inquiry stage of engagement, they are assessing not only the open position, but the organization’s environment and culture, as well. Their willingness to commit will depend on:

  • How friendly and efficient the application process is
  • How clearly the role is defined
  • The need for their services
  • How well the organization’s goals and services match their mission
  • If they think they can help
  • And, if the organization addresses “what’s in it for me.”

Being ready and able to address volunteers’ concerns, understand what motivates them, along with having great screening tools, will result in a well-matched placement and help you identify how you can keep them engaged.

Use Targeted Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs) to Match Volunteers

In Chapter 2, we touched on the importance of developing specialized volunteer job descriptions to recruit the right people for your volunteer positions. When developing these descriptions, it’s a good idea to make a list of Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (or KSAs) that volunteers will need to be successful. KSAs describe the competencies volunteers need for a job. They can also include key attitudes.

You can include a list of minimum qualifications a volunteer must have before being appointed to a role in addition to those that can be learned through training or mentoring. When screening volunteers, you’ll need to be able to recognize which KSAs people already have and determine if they can learn those they don’t have. It’s important to know which is which before you recruit.

There are three different “buckets” of KSAs you can list:

  • Basic skills that every volunteer should have
  • People skills which focus on interpersonal relations
  • Technical skills that are specifically tailored to the volunteer role

Focus on a few of each, but don’t overwhelm volunteers with too many. Here are some examples:

volunteer interview questions

These KSAs can be helpful when designing and reviewing your volunteer screening tools. You can use the list when looking at a volunteer’s skills on their application, to develop volunteer interview questions, or determine a volunteer’s interests on their self-assessment.

Your Volunteer Screening Toolkit

A good volunteer screening toolkit involves a relevant applicant form, targeted volunteer interview questions, a volunteer self-assessment, and sometimes a background check. Creating the right tools can transform your screening process from a rusty engine to a well-oiled machine. 

The Volunteer Application Form

Your volunteer application form should include any information you want to know about a person’s background and skills as the first step before determining whether they are ready for an interview. The application should include their contact information, availability, interests, skills, qualifications, other volunteer experiences. You may also want to include an area for references if you feel it necessary. Make sure your data syncs up with your volunteer management software so you can create accurate volunteer profiles.

Volunteer Interview Questions

Having specific volunteer interview questions targeted to the position you’re filling is a key part of the screening process. Interviews should always be conducted as a two-way conversation and are the first step in developing a potentially rich partnership. Plan to spend 50% of the time listening for the volunteer’s wishes, hopes, and expectations.

Interviews are also a great place to gently address any misconceptions or unrealistic expectations on the part of the volunteer. Make sure you have the volunteer job description they are applying for handy, so you can ask volunteer interview questions related to the expectations of the job.

Here are some critical pieces of information you might want to learn about your applicant during an interview. You can modify these and include them in your volunteer interview questions:

  • What are the causes they feel passionately about?
  • What are their “Must Have’s” and “Non-Negotiables”?
  • What brings them the most joy?
  • How do they like to be appreciated?
  • What adjustments can be made to address the volunteer’s needs?
  • Have they met your minimum qualifications?
  • What skills do they have to share?
  • How does the volunteer react to specific situations?

Volunteer Self-Assessment

Volunteer self-assessments are a great way to learn about what excites and motivates the applicant, as well as what doesn’t. Using a Volunteer Interest Worksheet that covers the topics below can help volunteers safely communicate their needs and give you an idea of what they are willing and eager to do.

You can use their completed worksheet as a starting point for discussion when asking your volunteer interview questions. You can also compare their answers to the requirements of the position. If there is something a volunteer would absolutely not want to do but is required of the position, you may want to suggest another opportunity available to them.

volunteer interview questions

Background Checks

Depending on the volunteer position or the information you glean from your volunteer interview questions, you may need to conduct a more thorough background check.

If a volunteer would be working in the criminal justice system, school, or at an animal shelter, for example, a criminal background check might be needed, and even required by law. If a volunteer would be transporting clients in a motor vehicle, a DMV record check might be needed. If a volunteer would be working with sensitive financial information or with money, they may be subject to a credit/financial check.

Or, sometimes it can be as simple as doing a social media check to see how an applicant behaves in the public arena. In some cases, if the volunteer is under 18, a parental consent form may be required.

For more information on the importance of background checks check out this post: Are You Making These 3 Volunteer Background Check Mistakes.

Volunteer Placement

Make sure you check the notes from your volunteer interview questions for clues about what motivates your volunteers. This will help you determine whether the applicant is aligned with your agency’s mission, vision, and goals. Once you’ve decided an applicant is qualified to volunteer with your program, you will want to place them in the most well-matched position.

You may even have mutually agreed that the original volunteer position they applied for is not the best match, or you may decide to amend a role to better match a volunteer’s needs and accountability. No matter what the process, you and the volunteer should feel comfortable with the role you’ve agreed on.

A Focus on Retention

Once you’ve placed your volunteer in a new role, you’ll want to get them to actually show up. You don’t want to realize you’ve spent all your time putting together great marketing materials, attracting new recruits through events and social media, and screening people with countless volunteer interview questions, only for them to be a no-show on the first day.

Research has shown that volunteers are driven by these five areas, so consider whether any are issues for you. And, if so, check out some of our recommended solutions below.

1) Competency

Volunteers must feel they have the required knowledge and skills and are adequately prepared for their assignments.

Solution: Make sure they are matched with a role that aligns with their personal characteristics & capacities and provide them with appropriate training, resources, and support.

2) Participation Efficacy

Volunteers also need to feel effective. They want their time to be well used and their work to make a concrete difference.

Solution: Celebrate volunteers when goals are reached and provide them with next-level learning opportunities.

3) Group Integration

This refers to the social aspects of volunteering and being part of the “in-group.” Volunteers need to feel they have positive relationships with peers and paid staff.

Solution: Make sure volunteers are fully integrated into the larger group and keep them apprised of emerging information.

4) Organizational Support

This mainly refers to volunteers under 40 years of age, most of which, want the ability to get help when needed, acknowledgment of work, and feedback on performance.

Solution: Make sure you have a feedback system in place to help volunteers make corrections and work more effectively.

5) Empowerment

Volunteers want freedom in deciding how to carry out assigned tasks. Volunteers who feel valued and heard tend to have better decision-making skills, have positive views of authority, set more goals, and exhibit increased cooperation.

Solution: Give volunteers a say in how they carry out their tasks and ask for their feedback on how their experience can be improved.

Build Connection and Trust

Before you invite volunteers to an orientation or begin training, build connection and trust through an introductory email or phone call. You can also buddy up a new volunteer with a current one. There is no better way to encourage connection than through other volunteers.

Welcome your volunteer with enthusiasm so they get pumped up to start their new role with you. You may want to kick off their volunteer journey by giving them a T-shirt or a tchotchke with your organization’s logo to make them feel immediately part of the team.

After a volunteer has been with you for a month, monitor their motivations by conducting a follow-up 30-day survey (see Chapter 7). Incorporate their feedback into your orientation, training program, communications, recognition, or resources. They will appreciate it!

Volunteers will perform better if they…

  • know the exact expectations of their role, have specific feedback, and easy access to info
  • are matched with a role that aligns with their personal characteristics and capacities
  • receive relevant training that increases their knowledge, skills, or abilities
  • have great tools and resources to work with
  • have good incentives
  • care about doing a good job

Download our Volunteer Interview Questions
Cheat Sheet

Use this volunteer interview questions cheat sheet as a guide to better understand the motivations, skills, capabilities, and interests of prospective volunteers to ensure they are a good fit for your organization.

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