How to (If Your Need to) Interview Volunteers

Recruiting, screening, and interviewing volunteers is vital for the success of most nonprofit programs and church ministries. Sometimes when recruiting volunteers it might be necessary to interview volunteers in order to discern where the volunteer would be most helpful. In today’s post I give you some tips on how to interview potential volunteers.

How to Interview Volunteers

Photo Credit: Hashoo Foundation

I. Formal interviews and screenings are not always necessary for an effective program.

This research highlights an alternative approach to attracting and retaining volunteers which emphasizes informality and flexibility in a creative environment. Traditional recruitment and retention strategies have tended to emphasize screening, interviewing, training, supervision, evaluation, and recognition (Crompton 1999), and follow what Meijs and Karr (2004) describe as a ‘programme management’ approach. In the traditional approach, the host agency sets the agenda, volunteers are recruited to fill predetermined roles, control is maintained by the agency, and volunteers maintain a supportive role with a focus on service delivery. In contrast, the collaborative approach followed at DGP followed a different process and pathway. Agency-led managerial practices and controlling mechanisms, such as requisite forms, interviews, and training, and preset roles, were minimal if not nonexistent. Rather, individuals were encouraged to bring ideas forward to the park which allowed for more inclusion because ‘all park users’ were potential volunteers.
Barnes and Sharpe, “Looking Beyond Traditional Volunteer Management,” p. 184

It is important to note that formal interviews and screenings are not always necessary for effective volunteer management programs.

Last summer I read two articles featuring nonprofit organizations that intentionally did not screen or interview their volunteers. Instead, these nonprofits created several listings of what volunteer opportunities existed, what needs there were in other areas, and also provided potential volunteers the ability to jump in and help with anything else the volunteers thought might need to be done. These nonprofits showed great success by eliminating interview/screenings and instead empowering volunteers to do the work.

I realize this would not be suitable for some organizations such as a shelter for abused women or an emergency crisis line (volunteers positions where volunteer background checks and trainings are required), but the point I want to convey to you is that you do not have to interview and screen all volunteers for all positions.

II. Why You Should Consider Interviewing Volunteers

A few basic reasons that you should interview volunteers:

  • to protect clients
  • to maintain the agency’s reputation
  • to keep morale of paid staff and volunteers as high as possible
  • to prevent the volunteers from suffering in a misplaced opportunity (Marlene Wilson, The Effective Management of Volunteer Programs, 122).

III. In the Interview Be Clear and Specific

If you decide to interview your volunteers you must be clear and specific to share information with the volunteers about:

  • roles and responsibilities of the volunteer position
  • time requirements
  • liability and photo releases
  • client confidentiality

IV. Know These Pieces of Information when Interviewing Potential Volunteers

A. Older volunteers are more dependable than younger volunteers.

B. Women are rated as more dependable than men.

C. Women indicating that religion is important to them have the greatest impact on volunteer programs (“Motivations and Effectiveness of Hospital Volunteers,” p. 32).

D. Hispanics are less likely to volunteer formally, but more likely to volunteer informally.

E. Women are 6 percentage points more likely to volunteer than men.

F. Membership in both religious and secular organizations has a positive impact on volunteering. Members of religious organizations are 12 percentage points more likely to volunteer.

G. A person’s family situation usually does not have a strong effect on volunteer participation. This includes:

  • marital status.
  • parental status.

The only difference is that a person with children is 3 percentage points more likely to volunteer.

H. People with a Bachelor’s Degree (a four-year college degree) are more likely to volunteer.

  • They are 15 percent more likely to volunteer both formally and informally. (“Formally” is volunteering with a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization while an example of “informally” is volunteering to help a neighbor or friend repair a car.)
  • They are 6 percent more likely to volunteer formally.

I. Employed college graduates are less likely to volunteer versus unemployed college graduates.

K. A higher household income increases volunteer rates. (Research shows that as household income increased by 1 percent, people were 3 percent more likely to volunteer.)

L. When comparing formal (“I volunteer one day per month with Habitat for Humanity”) and informal volunteers (“I fix my neighbor’s car for him every time it breaks down”), formal volunteers are more likely to:

  • own a home
  • have associated memberships
  • live with a spouse or partner
  • have children
  • have higher levels of income
  • have higher levels of education
  • be a non-minority group
    • African Americans and Hispanic/Latino are more likely to participate in informal volunteering. (Lee and Brudney, “Formal and Informal Volunteering,” p. 168)

Question: What other tips do you have for interviewing and screening potential volunteers?

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at