Volunteers give their time freely, but they still need to deliver what is needed by your service users, and uphold your organisation’s values and reputation.

In return, you want to ensure that the volunteer will gain what they need from the role, whether it’s a sense of personal achievement, social involvement or help with their career.

When problems arise with a volunteer’s performance, it may be because there hasn’t been a rigorous enough selection process or that individuals have been wrongly matched to a role.

By selection, we mean that you are only taking on volunteers who meet the minimum criteria for a role, in terms of skills, personal qualities or availability. Selection implies that you may need to turn some volunteers down, either because they don’t meet the criteria, or because you have more potential volunteers than opportunities on offer.

By matching we mean that you are finding the best role or choice of tasks for a particular individual’s skills and interests.  In general, the more flexibility you can offer potential volunteers the better as it will allow you to benefit from each person’s unique contribution. This does have to be balanced with what your organisation is trying to achieve, and what you can realistically manage – there is nothing worse than taking on volunteers and then having nothing for them to do, or insufficient support in place.

If the selection process is a competitive one, then it is important to make that clear at the outset, as some people may assume that offering to volunteer means that they will automatically be accepted.  Some people may be attracted to a role in the knowledge that it’s only available to people with some specified skills. By being open and transparent about this, you increase the likelihood of attracting the right people, and reduce the risk that volunteers will feel disgruntled if you are unable to take them on board.

The starting point for a fair selection process is a volunteer role or task description, and a volunteer specification which sets out the skills, experience and attributes that you are seeking.  Volunteering England offers detailed advice on how to develop relevant role descriptions. At some stage in the process you will normally hold an informal, yet structured interview – more on this in our next blog.

What do you think?