Interview Questions for Volunteers

Some events call for specialized volunteer positions. You may need someone with a background in the medical field, experience with children, or strong communication skills. If you are coordinating an event with positions like these, you may consider holding interviews for your volunteers.

Before getting started planning for these interviews, first identify why you may need them:

  1. Required, specialized skills. Working with children, aiding in medical work, and handling money are a few examples. 
  1. Limited positions. Sometimes you can just do an announcement for when your site opens for sign ups, but you might need to interview for any leadership roles.  
  1. Working with a small team. It is important that team dynamics and expectations are understood by new volunteers. Interviewing candidates ensures you are doing that. 
  1. Higher level of commitment needed. If this is not your average volunteer shift, it is good to make sure expectations are clear right from the start so you don’t end up short-handed.  

Here are 10 questions and tips to find out if your candidate is good fit:

  1. Why are you interested in this position?
    • This is a fairly basic question, so if they can’t answer it, that’s not a great sign. Make sure to know what kind of answer you are looking for. Is it enough if it looks good on college resumes? Or do candidates need to show more heart than that?
  1. Describe a time you would change a decision you made.
    • No one is perfect, and it is important that everyone on your team is able to be conscientious, self-reflective, and honest about their work.
  1. What is your past volunteer/job experience?
    • Even if you have resumes to look at, it’s always best to hear it from the candidate directly. This helps you better understand their attitudes toward their history of work experience, as well as their aspirations.
  1. What are your 3 best qualities?
    • This can give you good insight into what the candidate thinks is important. Maybe you need someone that is a people person, or good under pressure.
  1. What amount of time are you able to commit to the position?
    • This is just logistics. Know the dates, times, and hours weekly you’ll expect from them. Then, ask what they’re able to commit to.
  1. Pose a situational question.
    • The actually question will depend on what position you are interviewing them for. You could ask about a time they had to work with a difficult child or parent, or were short in their cashier drawer. It will help determine how they will handle tricky situations on the job. 
  1.   How would you describe your communication style? 
    • You may already have some ideas of their communication strengths and weaknesses, based on the interview itself. However, give them a chance to express it in their own words. You may discover something insightful!
  1. Confirm they have the certifications, or other requirements needed. 
    • Do they need to be bilingual? CPR certified? If so, take the time to verify that information.
  1. Identify a handful of their volunteer interests. 
    • Maybe they are applying to volunteer in one department, but they are better suited for another department. The interview process allows you to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, then place them in the role best suited for their strengths and preferences.
  1. Save time for the candidate to ask you questions. 
    • The interview process really goes both ways. This lets them get a feel for if the position is really the right thing for them too! 

It is very important not to ask questions that could be considered discriminatory. Do not ask about a potential volunteer’s gender, race, political beliefs, relationship status, financial status, or religion. That includes asking where they were born, where their parents were born, if they own a home, or if they have children. Although some of those questions may seem innocuous, or like you are just trying to make a connection, the interview process is meant to see if they meet the qualifications you are looking for. Save the more personal chit-chat for later on.

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Great Expectations: Communication Tips for Volunteer Coordinators

As a volunteer coordinator, you have expectations of your volunteers. You expect they arrive on time for their shifts, act respectfully to other volunteers and participants, and perform their jobs well. Although we may lose sight of this from time to time, volunteers also have expectations of volunteer coordinators!

Although volunteer coordinating comes in many different (and equally fabulous) styles, one thing separates a good coordinator from a great coordinator: effective communication. Of course, communication comes in many different styles as well. And, in the last decade, technology has facilitated countless new channels of communication – emails, texts, DM’s, and more.

Volunteers expect you to uphold timely, informative communication.

No one likes to feel in the dark or out of the loop, so keep your volunteers informed! Volunteers need to know what to expect, what to prepare for, and what to deliver on at every step in their volunteer journey – at least in the beginning. Offer guidance to your volunteers at every stage, and they’ll feel safe and confident in their new role in the organization.

Make sure you use the appropriate communication channels, too.

As technology has woven itself into our social fabric, we’ve all adopted certain assumptions and expectations of various digital communication channels. For volunteer coordinators, here are some quick guidelines…

Email: Unless you observe push-back from younger volunteers (Millennials and Gen Z), use email communication as much as possible. This establishes a professional tone. An extra handy tip – in VolunteerLocal, you can automate confirmation emails, schedule reminder emails, and send broadcast emails to volunteers in an entire event, or even a specific shift in the event. Of course, attach documents, links, or pictures if you like, too!

Phone Calls: This is a great way to touch base with your volunteers, especially with new updates/news. There are some things to be aware of though!

  • The younger the volunteer base, the less comfortable they often are with phone calls (especially from unknown numbers). The older the volunteer base, the more comfortable they are with a phone call.
  • You may hope that the phone call is brief, but some folks like to chat! Make sure you keep track of the time so you don’t suddenly find yourself an hour behind schedule.
  • A phone call is not a written record. Sometimes it’s helpful to have important information in writing so it may be reviewed later.

Text: Considering that text messages are widely accepted as an informal mode of communication, remember to keep your texts professional. Texts might be helpful for sudden updates/announcements. Another handy tip – VolunteerLocal also allows you to send texts to volunteers, without leaving the platform. Sudden thunderstorm? Tell your volunteers to seek shelter, stat!

Although you may want to give your communication style and channels some thought in the beginning, it usually becomes very natural once you’ve established a system for communicating with your volunteers. Your volunteers will sincerely appreciate the effort, too. With consistent, informative communication, they’ll be well prepared and ready to volunteer! Remember, VolunteerLocal has a whole tool belt to help you pull this off. Never leave a volunteer hanging – jump in with immediate, scheduled, or automatic emails and texts, whenever you need.

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Handling Tricky Volunteers

Let’s be honest, some volunteers aren’t the best fit for your organization. Did a new volunteer just say a profanity at or near a guest? Do you have a volunteer who opted to play on his phone for an hour instead of setting up the merch table?

Poor performance isn’t always grounds for firing; so we’ve put together a handy guide for how to deal with the not so helpful volunteer.

The Easy One

If a volunteer does something so terribly inappropriate that your mouth falls open when you find out… it’s definitely fair to let them go. If more than a few volunteers or attendees report that they can’t work with a certain person… it’s decision time again! Use your best judgment, but if you’re floored by a volunteer’s behavior and they’re a risk or detriment to your event, just get let them go. It’s tough, but warranted.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

While volunteer coordinators may be the smartest people we know (we’re biased), they’re not mind readers.

You may have not foreseen a certain characteristic or (lack of) skill in a volunteer that would become problematic in their volunteer role later. How could you have known? There is nothing wrong with admitting you put someone in the improper spot. Just find a new position that is a better fit for them! This will make your volunteer feel more fulfilled and your team work more efficiently.

Walk it Off

What may be an easy two hours of standing for one person could be an agonizing lifetime without a snack break for another. Pay attention to when your volunteers might not be faring well and know when it’s time to offer them a break. Maybe that cranky volunteer at the check-in table is just hungry or struggling through a sugar drop.

Overall, we usually suggest avoiding firing a volunteer unless they have done something truly unacceptable. At the end of the day, volunteers are there to support your cause. They have a variety of strengths and skills, and they may shine better in certain areas than others. Nurture open, honest communication with your volunteers and put yourself in their shoes from time to time. Where would they be most comfortable, confident, and pleased? That might just be the perfect spot for them.

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Volunteer Coordinators: Identify Your Strengths!

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some of us have a natural knack for numbers, words, or remembering obscure fun facts. It is no different for volunteer coordinators!

You could be a rock star at finding locations, or perhaps networking to recruit volunteers. The trick is to find your strengths and leverage what comes naturally for you. Take our quiz and see what are your top strengths! 

  1. On a wintery Saturday night, where are you most likely to be? 
    1. On a couch staying warm! I might invite a couple friends to watch our favorite show together.
    2. Planning my next vacation somewhere warm!
    3. Hosting a murder mystery night! 
    4. Bundled up, trekking around downtown for a fun night out. 
    5. Usually having dinner or coffee with a friend you haven’t spent much time with recently. 
  2. You are in your element the most when: 
    1. You are called on to do something you didn’t really want to do. The sense of duty brings out your best qualities. 
    2. You have plenty of time to plan for whatever is being thrown at you. 
    3. Everyone else is at a loss as to what to do. You can take charge and give directions 
    4. Flying by the seat of your pants. Whatever happens you can figure it out. 
    5. When there is too much to do in one day. You make sure the most important things get done. 
  3. Your favorite outfit could be described as:
    1. Stylish and expressive
    2. Practical 
    3. Business casual
    4. Simple. 
    5. Well-coordinated, most of your closet goes well together.
  4. Your favorite house hold chore is: 
    1. Cooking
    2. Dishes
    3. Vacuuming 
    4. Mowing the lawn 
    5. Laundry 
  5. Your biggest pet peeve is: 
    1. When people say “pet peeve”. 
    2. Dishes in the sink when the dish washer is dirty and not full.
    3. When people look at their phone when you are talking to them. 
    4. When people say they can’t do something, but really mean they won’t.
    5. When people are late.
  6. What is your favorite part of coordinating an event? 
    1.  Working with all the volunteers and coordinating their shifts. 
    2. All the planning to get your site up and running to make sure it is easy for volunteers to sign up.
    3. Having a list of what needs to be done and making sure someone is doing it. 
    4. Making decisions and changing anything last minute to make sure your event is running smoothly. 
    5. Working out a schedule before the event and accounting for all the multitasking you and your volunteers will need to do. 

Mostly 1’s – Communication skills 

You are a people-person that has a knack for getting your point across without rubbing anyone the wrong way! Though occasionally you have to make some people unhappy, they don’t resent you for it. You are able to listen and understand almost any view point. This can make it tricky to be decisive sometimes, but you always seem to make the right choice. If only it could be a little faster. 

Mostly 2’s – Organization 

Spread sheets, color coding, you are ready for some serious planning! You have thought of EVERYTHING, and you have back up plans for your back up plans. It’s not all about being prepared – although that’s most of it. It’s more about avoiding unnecessary work. If you get it all organized and right the first time, you’ll have less work next time, so you probably have some of that time management sauce too. 

Mostly 3’s – Delegation 

You have learned that you can’t be everywhere at once and have become a master and delegating. It takes a lot of trust in your volunteers to know they will handle each task well. It also takes a lot of security because you relinquish a lot of control. Good job for harnessing the ability to relax and not micromanage. Communication is also key, so you’ve probably got a bit of a knack for that as well. 

Mostly 4’s – Adaptability 

You are the kind of person one may describe as unflappable. Running low on water? Or pens? Or someone not show up for a shift? You have the answer and make any situation work. Need a sign? 10 minutes later you have Macgyvered something no one else would have thought of. 

Mostly 5’s – Time management

Nothing bothers you more than wasted time. That doesn’t mean you don’t take a break. It just means when you are working on something, you are working hard and efficiently. Once you set yourself to a task you will finish it in one go, or nearly.  

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Should Volunteers Manage Their Own Data?

Technology continues to evolve, and consumers are getting more and more accustomed to doing things both online and by themselves. No longer do you need to hire a travel agent to plan a vacation. Instead, you can utilize sites like Priceline or Kayak to book your own airfare, hotels, and make the perfect itinerary. While this is usually a welcomed new way of doing things, other processes that push the onus onto customers aren’t as widely accepted. For example, some of us are resistant to going completely paperless – while others frown upon having to log-in to a web portal to update their address or contact information.

So, how does this all fit into volunteer management? Well, technology solutions like VolunteerLocal have made it easier to recruit and manage volunteers as well as events. But when it comes to actual volunteer data, who should control it? Should volunteers be able to update their own address or phone number? Or, should organizations be ultimately responsible for making any updates? We believe that there is no right answer to this question, and it usually depends on your organization’s unique situation. However, we thought we’d lay out some pros and cons to these two approaches. 


Volunteers Self-Schedule (and Complete Registration) Online

  • This approach reduces manual work for you and your staff. Not having to reach out to volunteers to make sure their information is accurate can save a significant amount of time. 
  • Allowing volunteers to control both the registration process and their shift assignments gives them control (and ownership) of the schedules they build. Allowing users to manage their own information can be empowering.
  • Accuracy is improved. Consistently collecting new and updated information from your volunteers helps counter (sometimes) changing variables like t-shirt sizes, mailing address, or marital status.


Administrators Manually Input Data & Assign Volunteers

  • This approach gives you (the coordinator) total control of volunteers who are entered into your database, and the role(s) or shift time(s) they’re allowed to work.
  • Different organizations have different requirements for acceptance and admission to the volunteer program. Holding a little tighter to this volunteer data gives you the ability to fully vet and, when necessary, cross-check volunteer data to ensure that there is no false or misleading information in their profiles.
  • When you’re manually adding and assigning volunteers, you’ll naturally have better recall of your volunteers’ personal information, especially if you’re seeing someone’s profile picture each time you open his/her profile in VolunteerLocal. Who doesn’t want to be that coordinator extraordinaire who remembers every volunteer’s name, birthday and unique preferences?!

We hope these thoughts have been helpful to you! Please share in the comments what strategy you’ve chosen and why you made that decision.


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Diagnosing and Curing “Volunteeritis”

Volunteer management is a significant part of my community relations role at a medical school. Our students are incredibly brilliant, generous, and hardworking people. I’m fortunate to have a highly motivated volunteer pool, but I have come to realize that my success in coordinating them corresponds closely with the other stressors in their lives (biochemistry tests, for example).

If we have a big event on the eve of an exam, there is likely to be an outbreak of “volunteeritis,” as I’ve dubbed the disease of last minute “something came up” cancellations from my volunteers. Here are a few tactics I’ve come up with to prevent this event-crippling disease:

Photo Credit: GettyImages

  1. Pad your volunteer slots – slightly. Deciding upon the right number of volunteers in a job is as important as administering the right dose of a medication. Too many in a position and your volunteers feel like you’re wasting their valuable time and might not feel they’ve had a good experience. Too few and you’re in panic mode. Volunteer atrophy happens, so adding an extra spot or two can help offset last-minute cancellations. I also keep e-mails from people who are interested in volunteering but didn’t have a chance to sign up before the slots filled as a virtual waiting list.

  2. Send a couple rounds of volunteer detail messages. An outbreak of volunteeritis typically strikes a few minutes after I send out the details confirming where to check in, what to wear, etc. I like to have all of the details before I communicate them to volunteers, but sometimes everything doesn’t come together until a few days before the event. I’ve begun to send volunteer details a little more than a week out, whenever possible, and then a second e-mail a day or two before the event that’s been fine-tuned to address questions that have come in, or offer a better map or additional information on the event hashtag, etc.

  3. Set expectations on finding replacements. I’m fortunate that my volunteer base is well-connected with one another, both in person and in a Facebook group specific to sharing campus volunteer opportunities. I try to set up an expectation that volunteers seek a replacement whenever possible. I think this also sets student volunteers up to have stronger professionalism skills when it comes to making career commitments.

I’ve begun to address “volunteeritis” at our big orientation meal packaging event training, which is a kickoff to service for the school year. The med students humor me by laughing when I tell them I’m going to share information about a secret disease they won’t find in their medical school textbooks, but addressing the issue at the start of their experience at school has definitely helped me as they seek out opportunities to make a difference in the community.

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Mind the Gap: Managing Generational Differences in Your Volunteer Force


While this tactic might work to gather young folks to learn about your cause, it probably won’t be a selling point for older generations. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as enough pizza. As baby boomers begin to retire and have more free time for contributing to their causes, and younger generations feel more connected and civically-minded, it’s crucial to make all ages feel engaged when volunteering.

It’s true that most folks volunteer thanks to a genuine desire to help their communities. However, research suggests that motivations vary by generation.

How can a volunteer manager bridge this gap, pointing out individual successes while cultivating a community that brings everyone together?

Step one – be creative. Flyering in a coffee shop and making a Facebook event might not cut it. Talk to current volunteers about what events they are attending and ask them to help you recruit there. Reach out to new media sources and venture to new parts of town. Utilize your organization’s network – if they’re passionate about your mission, they’ll be thrilled to help!


 Step two – be deliberate. Once you’ve got a solid crew of volunteers, learn as much as you can about them. Consider personality types – who is going to be a great leader of a committee, and who has the technical skills to get work done fast? Establish a clear problem-solving protocol so that your volunteers know from the get-go that they can be honest with you and their teams.


Step three – be gracious. Consider your volunteers’ motivations when expressing your gratitude. A young volunteer might like to know how her contribution directly impacted the organization’s mission, whereas an older volunteer might like to know how his contribution made you feel. When possible, let each volunteer know that you are paying attention to them and are thankful for their specific abilities.


The benefits of age diversity in your volunteer group are obvious: more perspectives, more community engagement, and a better network. But it goes beyond that. One study on age diversity suggests that having people of different generations making complex decisions together leads to higher work performance and self-reported health.  Thinking beyond the free pizza to engage volunteers of all ages is a great step for your organization and for your community.

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