There are some simple fundamental truths about recruitment:

  • The most effective method of recruitment is word of mouth from current volunteers
  • People don’t volunteer unless they are asked
  • It is far more effective to retain a satisfied volunteer than to recruit a new one
  • One volunteer, who leaves after a poor experience, will do more damage than the good done by ten excellent recruitment campaigns.

There are six stages to the recruitment and selection process:

Develop volunteer roles

The first step in recruitment is to develop volunteer roles. Consider the following issues:

  • Clarifying what it is the volunteer will be expected to achieve
  • Identifying the boundaries of the volunteer role
  • Identifying and preparing supervisors for the role
  • Developing effective communication processes around the role
  • Establishing a suitable place of work for the volunteer
  • Identifying and obtaining necessary resources to enable the volunteer to fulfil the role
  • Ensuring relevant work is available for the volunteers to do
  • Developing suitable support mechanisms for the volunteers and the role
  • Identifying and implementing appropriate supervision

Write the volunteer job description

Once the volunteer roles have been identified, you need to develop volunteer position descriptions. Volunteer position descriptions are essential in defining the role of the volunteer in the organisation. They provide a clear process of communicating to the volunteer what the expectations and responsibilities of the role are and set the parameters and boundaries in which the volunteer is expected to work, in order to maximise their skills, knowledge and abilities.

As a guide, position descriptions should include the following elements:

  • Title of the role: what is the actual name of the position? (e.g. volunteer lifeguard, interpretive guide, receptionist)
  • The need for the role: what is the purpose of this role? Why does this job need to be done?
  • Time commitment: how much time and over what periods is the volunteer required to undertake this position?
  • Reporting/supervision: who will directly support the volunteer and who will the volunteer be accountable to? Who will the volunteer report to? Who will the volunteer work with?
  • Details of duties/activities: what are the specific tasks, functions and key areas of responsibility of the role?
  • Impact of the role: why does this role exist and how will it contribute to realizing the organisational mission and/or values?
  • Selection criteria: what skills, knowledge abilities or qualities are required or desirable to undertake this position? Do they need a special qualification, licence, suitability notice to undertake the role?
  • Benefits of the role: what skills can the volunteer gain from undertaking this role?
  • Training/education opportunities: ‘Professional Development Opportunities’. What opportunities are available to increase the volunteer skills, knowledge and abilities through training opportunities?
  • Considerations specific to the role: does the role require volunteers to be working on their own? What will the working environment be like?
  • Potential pathways: what opportunities does this role give for potential mobility, growth, transferability and leadership?

Develop your message and advertise

Once you have your job descriptions you can develop your message. You need to decide what you want to tell the potential volunteer about the organisation and what will encourage people to become involved. In your message you should try to address any fears that potential volunteers may have.

You can then broadcast your message through many means, including:

  • Online (through sites such as Volunteering Qld)
  • Newsletters - your organisation’s and others
  • Newspapers - local community newspapers can be very effective in targeting potential applicants from the local community and can also often be very cost effective
  • Social media and new media (e.g. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Myspace)
  • Word of mouth
  • Community billboards
  • Community announcements (radio and television)
  • Magazines
  • Local employment centres
  • Advertising

Remember to have a process for volunteers to apply and ensure you nominate a contact person who is responsible for dealing with initial enquiries.

Interviewing volunteers

Interviewing should not only be viewed as a process to ascertain the suitability of a potential volunteer or as a job matching exercise, but should also maximise the opportunity to explore the potential and capacity of the applicant to ensure they have a meaningful experience of volunteering.


The first step of the interview is to ensure the potential volunteer feels comfortable and to build rapport. Do not proceed until the volunteer is comfortable.


The second step of the interview is to gain information from the potential volunteer and give them the chance to tell of their interests and their story. Some questions you may wish to consider are:

  • What is your reason/motivation for wanting to volunteer?

Understanding the reasons why people want to volunteer is useful in identifying and maintaining volunteers’ motivation and making an appropriate work match.

  • What are the things you like to do or are confident/comfortable doing?

Here you try to explore the current skills, knowledge, interests and potential of the volunteer.

  • What are the things you would like to do or have an interest in learning?

Too often interviewers only focus on current skills and abilities, without realising the enthusiasm and commitment of volunteers to learn new skills and abilities. If you wish to focus on capacity and potential, this question is critical.

  • What are the things you do not want to do and are clearly off limits?

Here you can identify what volunteers don’t like, or  don't want to do, but may feel too awkward to raise.

  • Do you have any special needs or requirements in doing this work?

This is an important question in determining whether the volunteer requires additional support. It is important any questions regarding this topic focus only on requirements that relate to the specific volunteer job and are not general in nature. To do otherwise could be discriminatory.


During this step of the interview, you should provide the volunteer with information regarding the organisation and the volunteer jobs.


The final stage of the interview is to ensure that both the individual volunteer and the organisation have had the opportunity to gather information and address any questions. At this time you need to summarise any decisions that have been reached and inform the potential volunteer of what will happen next, for example a reference check or setting an orientation date. The end of the interview also provides an opportunity to thank the potential volunteer for their time.


  • Make sure you allocate an appropriate amount of time for the interview conversation
  • Read the potential volunteer’s application prior to the interview
  • Find a comfortable place free of interruptions for your conversation
  • Provide information about the organisation
  • Clearly and honestly define the requirements, expectations and benefits of the volunteer position/s
  • Treat potential volunteers with respect and assess their capacity on an individual and objective basis
  • When asking questions of the potential volunteer always try to ask open ended questions that encourages the applicant to provide information. Open ended questions usually start with what, how, where, when, why or who
  • Remember the 70/30 rule where the potential volunteer should do seventy percent of the talking during the interview
  • Listen to what the potential volunteer is saying and what they are not saying
  • Explore what the potential volunteer would like to contribute to the organisation
  • Encourage the potential volunteer to discuss their experiences


Selection involves some process of matching the person to the role. While an organisation seeks volunteers to meet its needs, volunteers similarly seek an organisation which meets their needs. Matching therefore involves focusing on a win-win outcome for the organisation and the volunteer. The organisation must be able to look at themselves, the roles they have to offer and the way those jobs and the organisation are promoted through the volunteer’s eyes. Organisations need to be able to tell potential volunteers when the work they have available does not and never will approach the goals the volunteer has identified for themselves in volunteering.

Organisations have a responsibility to their clients and to potential volunteers to select the right people for particular roles. This may relate to legislative or organisational requirements but certainly relates to best practice volunteer management. It is essential that those responsible for selecting volunteers recognise the need to be able to say no to a volunteer’s request to work in a role for which they are not appropriate, and to reject some volunteers’ requests to work with the organisation in any capacity.


Finally, the organisation needs to consider appropriate screening mechanisms.

Screening covers the processes used to verify the background, qualifications, skills and experience of individuals prior to their appointment to a volunteer position.  Screening is an important part of an organisation’s risk management strategy. It complements, but by no means reduces, the need for good practice in the recruitment, selection, training, supervision and support of volunteers and paid workers. Effective screening is especially important in those organisations where there is involvement with children or any other vulnerable group.

Screening may involve reference, police, driving record, blue card, yellow card or other checks as deemed necessary for the particular role or organisation. Screening promotes and maintains internal security. Any screening undertaken by an organisation must be done within state and federal legal requirements.

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