Screening Volunteers for Attitude
Involving volunteers only to get work done or to save money are ideas that have long ago jumped the shark. The modern volunteer manager involves volunteers for much better reasons: The reality is that the modern organization involves volunteers because the organization is trying to build relationships, not just to get work done.

When an organization involves volunteers in high-responsibility, long-term roles, volunteer turnover can be a program killer. It's vital that organizations continually look for ways to ensure that volunteers are well-supported, that volunteers feel their concerns are heard and addressed promptly, that volunteers feel respected and valued, etc., but screening is also vital to help screen in the right people for high-responsibility, long-term volunteer roles, particularly those where the volunteer will work with clients and the general public, and to screen out people who may be better in shorter-term assignments or assignments where they would not work with clients or the general public, or who would not be appropriate in any role at the organization.

While volunteer managers are much more than HR managers, there are resources from the HR management world that can be helpful in the new paradigm of volunteer involvement / community engagement. For instance, this article from on screening and hiring employees with an eye to their attitude can help volunteer managers seeking to create a screening process that will keep turnover low for high-responsibility, long-term volunteer roles.

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The article notes that the idea of hiring for attitude has been made famous by such companies as Southwest Airlines and Nordstrom. One CEO of a real estate services company in New Jersey, which traditionally has a high-turnover rate, used various books about this model to develop his own test to measure five qualities among potential candidates. Such an assessment tool could easily be adapted at nonprofit organizations looking to reduce turnover and create a particular type of culture among long-term, high-commitment volunteers.

The recruiter or hiring manager administers the test verbally, face-to-face or by phone. One of the qualities sought is demonstrated integrity, measured through a series of questions about ethical behavior. Another quality sought is passion, which candidates can demonstrate through a hobby or a personal project where the candidate succeeded (not just through a paid or volunteer role).

The third quality test—longevity—determines whether the candidate is looking for a job or a career. Adapted for a volunteer model, the goal could be to see if the volunteer is looking for a long-term relationship with an organization or cause through volunteering.

The fourth step measures positive attitude and asks candidates to describe a positive customer service experience. It also asks how the candidate’s friends would describe the candidate’s personal characteristics. The final element of the test measures the candidate’s knowledge of tasks that are relevant to the job and the company’s mission and role.

What could the assessment questions actually look like? Some very general ideas:

As creating an accommodating, welcoming and diverse volunteering program is also a vital role for the volunteer manager, I do not recommend this entire test be used for all volunteer role screening. You do not want to create an assessment that excludes people: Different volunteer roles require different screening. Yet another reason why volunteer managers aren't exactly the same as HR managers...

Also see:  Return to my volunteer-related resources

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