Volunteer Motivations and Expectations – The Interview

Staff who manage volunteers often suffer from “terminal niceness”. We find it very difficult to say “no”. But sometimes it necessary for the good of your agency and the volunteers themselves. People mean well. They come into volunteering with great enthusiasm and diverse expectations. Some are a great fit and some just don’t quite seem to match the needs of the agency. You’ll only learn their motivations, expectations and talents with an interview. A formal interview shows that your organizations takes the volunteer’s involvement seriously. That’s extremely important when it comes to recruiting and retaining quality volunteers.

Interviewing is a learned skill and it takes time and finesse to draw out the information that you will need for a proper volunteer placement. But on top of getting information, you’ll want to give the volunteer sufficient information to make a decision about volunteering for the organization. The decision to volunteer should be a 2-way street. After this exchange of information, both you and the volunteer will have a better idea of whether there is a match between what is needed/offered by the organization and the volunteer.

By the end of the Interview you should know if you want to engage the volunteer or not. From the volunteer you will learn what he/she expects from working with your organization, and why they want to get involved.

We interview volunteers for a number of reasons. We want to make sure the volunteer is going to be a good fit with the organization so, we use the interview as a way to gather information. But on top of getting information, we want to give the volunteer sufficient information to make a decision about volunteering for the organization – the decision to volunteer should be a 2-way street. After this exchange of information, we’ll have a better idea of whether there is a match between what is needed/offered by the organization/volunteer.

You should also ask the right questions to learn if the tasks are appropriate and the best match for the volunteer. An interview should reveal the volunteer’s interests, skills, knowledge and experience. Are there are any limitations that might influence what tasks? Is the volunteer available?

What open-ended questions might you ask during the interview? Here are some examples.

  1. Why are you interested in volunteering with our agency?
  2. Tell me the story of how your chose your education program OR career path OR life work?
  3. What did you enjoy most about your experiences?
  4. What interested you about this volunteer position?
  5. Have you volunteered in the past and what was the most enjoyable?
  6. Are you involved in other organized activities or groups?
  7. What special skills would you like to utilize as a volunteer?
  8. Are there tasks that you do not want or do want to do as a volunteer?
  9. What would you say are three of your strengths?
  10. Do you prefer working independently or with a group?
  11. What would be the ideal volunteer job for you – and why?
  12. What are your expectations of our organization?
  13. What are your personal goals for this experience?
  14. Do you have any concerns about what we expect of you?
  15. Are you interested in some training pertinent to this position?
  16. Are you willing to provide training in your area of expertise to other volunteers or staff members?
  17. Do you have any questions that you would like to ask us?

Screening volunteers for emotional intelligence (ability to perceive, reason with, understand and manage emotions) is often thought of as a key indicator of success in a job or volunteer position. So it’s key to ask questions to help measure emotional intelligence during the volunteer interview and “read between the lines”. Questions might include:

  1. How will this role help you to achieve your goals?
  2. What makes you laugh?
  3. What activities energize and excite you?
  4. How good are you at accepting help from others?
  5. How good are you at asking for help?
  6. What aspect of your work are you passionate about?

It’s important to know that asking just standard yes/no questions will not get the results that you want. Leave some room for the prospective volunteer to speak freely and let them guide the conversation. Listen closely to follow up with enough questions for you to make an educated decision. It’s not just what they say, but how they say it- and what they don’t say too.

On top of your interview you might consider doing personal reference checks. Talking to individuals that know the candidate on a more intimate level can go a long way towards helping you understand whether a potential volunteer would mesh with your organization.

You might also suggest that this prospective volunteer join in one-day projects. You and the volunteer will then both have an opportunity to see if this is a good “fit”. The goal is to build a volunteer base that stays with your organization and builds capacity. But the interview is vital and well-worth the time.


jeanWritten by Jean Joley,
Executive Director of Volunteer Center
for PCNRC.

2 thoughts on “Volunteer Motivations and Expectations – The Interview

  1. Hello, We were unable to attend the breakfast on June 27, but were wondering if there was any information distributed that morning that you could email or snail mail to us? We are a small not for profit learning center looking for just one or two regular volunteers willing to help us with a couple of specialized projects a couple of hours each week. Thanks in advance for any local information you might be able to share! Sincerely, Jeanne Widdicombe Executive Director Specialty Tutoring 12603 Coldwater Road Fort Wayne, IN 46845

    Sent from my iPad



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