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.

Volunteer Management Book Review

Volunteerism, a word we know well from the United We Serve campaign, working in the nonprofit sector, or hearing those that came before us encourage charity. People who give their time are crucial to organizations and yet not all of us have the tools or experience to manage volunteers.

Have no fear, a book is near! We have resources that could potentially help you. I recommend a specific circulating book – Nancy Sakaduski’s Managing Volunteers: How to Maximize Your Most Valuable Resource. The book begins with the 10 Commandments of Good Volunteer Management. My top favorite are (1) Do unto volunteers as you would have them do unto you, (2) Thou shalt not kill enthusiasm, and (3) Thou shalt not forget that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Sakaduski’s book is a comprehensive look at everything to do with volunteer management. The book is 198 pages and 40 some pages are website references, end notes, and an index. The author does well in addressing recruitment, selection, training, matching the volunteer to a task, retention, awarding, policies, and even a whole chapter on potential problems (The Over-Promiser or The Bulletproof type volunteers).

I do like Sakaduski’s use of quotes throughout the book such as:managing volunteers book

  • “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi
  • “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi.

I ponder the significance of the quotes’ meaning and it gives me a sense of what direction the author will take in that particular section. Another thing that is well done in this book is the end of chapter – “Questions to Get You Started.”

What could you do to create a better sense of empowerment for the volunteers?

  • Are there ways you might create more challenging assignments for motivated volunteers?
  • Do you have policies in place to cover areas of risk and liability?

Sometimes we need a little prompt to get going, whether it’s our first time or needing a fresh outlook.  The questions might be helpful  to ask your Board of Directors or other staff members and begin a dialogue.

*This book is available for check out at the Allen County Public Library. It is shelved at the Paul Clarke Nonprofit Resource Center. Call number 302.14 D33M or click here to view the book record. 

Governor’s Service Award Nominations Due July 19

Governor's conference

“Whether it’s through a faith-based organization, a community group or an independent service initiative, I’m confident there are many worthy volunteers and service providers who represent every corner of the state,” OFBCI Executive Director Jeff Cardwell says. “I encourage people to submit the names of these deserving Hoosiers so we can honor their work.”


Governor’s Service Award winners will be recognized in October as a part of the Governor’s Conference on Service and Nonprofit Capacity Building, a two-day event hosted by the Indiana Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI)  and SAVI Community Information System.

Nominate Now
The Indiana Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is accepting nominations for the 2013 Governor’s Service Awards honorees now until July 19, 2013.

The awards are considered to be the state’s highest recognition for volunteerism by individuals and organizations.


Award Categories
This year’s Governor’s Service Awards will be presented in eight categories:

  • Communities of Service
  • Corporate Service
  • Faith-Based Volunteer
  • Lifetime Achievement Volunteer
  • National Service Member
  • Service-Learning
  • Volunteerism
  • Youth Volunteer

Join our April 23@4 program on Volunteer Engagement

Our regular 23@4 Program series covers a variety of topics on running effective nonprofits. When the 23rd of the month falls on a weekday, at 4:00 we’re programming for nonprofits.

Coming up April 23 at 4:00, we’ll celebrate National Volunteer Week, April 21-27, with a 23@4 program on Volunteer Engagement, led by Ani Etter of Fort Wayne’s own Volunteer Center and Sandy Screeton, Volunteer Manager for the Allen County Public Library.

Is your organization thinking of starting a volunteer program or revamping an existing one?

Sandy and Ani will discuss the essential fundamentals of a successful volunteer program and how to get started.

Information about mentoring opportunities with the Northeast Indiana Association of Volunteer Administrators (NIAVA) and local resources through the Volunteer Center will be presented.

Register at this link to our registration calendar.

Nonprofit Management 101

A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals
Edited by Darian Rodriguez Heyman, former executive director of Craigslist Foundation

Peter Brincherhoff, Beth Kanter, Kay Sprinkel Grace, David La Piana, Katya Andresen, and Kivi Leroux Miller are just a few of the folks who have contributed chapters to this compendium on nonprofit management. A tome only in respect to its size (600+ pages), this practical hands-on guides offers tips and tricks founded in firm strategy. Experienced nonprofit leaders will gain a deeper understanding of roles in their organizations.

Case studies, do’s and don’ts lists, and critical skills and competencies sections in each chapter emphasize the big picture while guiding readers through the important details of specific tasks, like Individual Donor and Major Gift Strategies; Getting Your Board to Fundraise; and Online Community Building.

Click the cover to go to the ACPL catalog to place a hold.

Broken into seven core areas, with contributions from 50 leading experts, readers will find guidance on the following:

  1. The Big Picture – What the Field is All About and Where You Fit In
  2. Managing Organizations and People
  3. Nonprofit Law and Finance
  4. Nonprofit Technology and IT
  5. Fundraising
  6. Marketing and Communications
  7. Boards and Volunteers

Visit the Nonprofit Management 101 website to:

– Lettie