Archive for the ‘Volunteer Management’ Category

Recognize Gender Differences in How Volunteers Work

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

screening volunteers, volunteer background check

As much as we’d like to think there are no differences between the genders in the workplace—or in volunteer positions—the truth is that there are. Understanding the fundamental differences can help any organization run more smoothly, and with less tension and stress.

Some of the ways men and women view the workplace differently follow. Of course, these aren’t hard-and-fast rules, but general observations.

Men and women communicate differently: This will come as a surprise to practically no one. Men are more competitive and are more likely to interrupt one another. Women are more likely to weigh in after others have already expressed their opinions. Women also don’t raise their hands to speak as much, so they’ll often need to be asked their opinions. Both styles are valuable, with women viewing problems more broadly, and men being more narrow in their focus.

Women work more toward consensus: Women are more apt to exchange information, ask for consensus, and bounce ideas off of a larger group in order to create a broader agreement. Women prefer to gather feedback and are more likely to show concern that others are included in decision making. This interest in others can gain them more trust and create a more productive work environment. Men, on the other hand, want a quick decision, and more often come to them on their own.

Work-life balance: This is where misunderstanding can cause issues. Women are more accepting of the diverse needs of volunteers and workers, while men are more comfortable with doing things the way they’ve always been done. Traditional management styles and organizational cultures tend to favor the way men prefer to work. Women in positions of leadership are more likely to notice people’s needs.

It’s difficult for women and minorities to advance in places where an “old boys’ club” exists, but happily, that’s more the norm in corporate America than in non-profit America.

How to do Reference Checks on Volunteers

Friday, July 12th, 2013

volunteer screeningThere is no question that a consistent practice of screening volunteers can make your organization, clients and the public safer. Gathering and checking references from volunteer applicants should be part of the screening process.

References can confirm or deny whether the applicant will be a good fit for your organization. It’s much better to find out before they start their volunteer duties!

Here are several tips for doing volunteer reference checks:

  • Ask applicants for references who are familiar with their work—employers, previous volunteer managers, etc.
  • Remember that applicants often think their references won’t be contacted. So don’t assume that they will only provide positive references.
  • Call or email each and every reference.
  • Ask each reference the same set of questions. Don’t neglect to ask any of your questions. You may hear a glowing report on the applicant, until you ask certain questions that trigger concern. Plus, you’ll get a much better picture of the applicant by asking the same things of each reference.
  • Don’t ask leading questions, or “yes” or “no” questions. For example, “Don’t you think Mary would be a great driver for our organization?” Give references the time and space to answer in their own words.
  • Clearly describe the position for which the person is applying and ask whether he or she can successfully handle the tasks.
  • In terms of vulnerability, clearly describe the people the applicant will be serving and ask whether the reference would be comfortable with it.

Consistency and clear communications are very important when doing volunteer reference checks. Make them a standard part of your volunteer screening process, and you’ll have higher quality volunteers who better fit with your organization!

Manage Risk the Smart Way

Friday, June 7th, 2013

volunteer screeningBringing dozens, even hundreds, of volunteers through your organization’s doors every year puts it at a risk of loss, damage or harm to your clientele. But volunteer managers can also manage the amount of risk the non-profit is subjected to by following a few steps.

First, identify each volunteer position and its associated level of risk. Your organization chart should have all positions clarified, but if not, you can easily add to it. Think about risk in the amount of contact the position has with confidential information, money or financial information or with vulnerable populations.

  • Low risk means no contact.
  • Medium risk means supervised contact with vulnerable persons, and no contact with confidential information or money.
  • High risk means unsupervised contact with vulnerable populations and/or contact with confidential information and/or money.

Then, prepare job descriptions that establish guidelines and standards of behavior for each position. Make sure the role’s title, responsibilities and duties are clear. Establish goals, as well as boundaries. Mention any qualifications or skills required, as well as the amount of time needed to successfully fill the position.

Each job description should include any training required, supervision required or provided, conditions such as driving, lifting or standing, and tasks it takes to meet the responsibilities.

Finally, establish standards for volunteer screening, according to the level of risk for each position. Low-risk volunteers may simply need an identity check to make sure they are who they say they are. Medium risk would include the identity check as well as require a criminal background check, including sex offender status. High risk would include a top-level identity, criminal background, sex offender and credit check.

It’s important to note when volunteers change positions or move around on the fly. Be cautious about allowing low-risk volunteers to switch into a high-risk role—even for a day—without conducting a deeper background check.

The alternative is to conduct the highest-level volunteer screening on all potential volunteers. Then, you don’t have to worry about a registered sex offender or convicted drug dealer having contact with children, the elderly or the vulnerable.

Dos and Don’ts for Successful Volunteer Interviews

Friday, May 24th, 2013

volunteer screeningJust as in the for-profit world, the importance of interviewing cannot be overstated. Non-profit organizations are placed in a delicate position, because unlike employers, volunteers may feel insulted if put through their paces in the interviewing and screening process.

However, bringing in the right people is vital to the success of any organization. And successful volunteer recruiting requires successful interviewing. Here are some dos and don’ts that can make the interview process more effective:

  • Don’t be swayed by others: Often, volunteers recommend their friends and acquaintances. In fact, current volunteers are great recruiters for your organization. But when it comes to the interview process, focus on the applicant and the facts, not on what you’ve been told. Jane or Justin might not be the solution to all your problems, no matter what has been said.
  • Do pay attention to language: An interviewee who is unaware or uncaring about the language he or she uses with you is likely to continue in that realm around board members, clients and the public when representing your organization. People can be easily offended by vulgar, sexist or racist language, so if you hear any during the interview take it into consideration.
  • Don’t judge by appearance: We all tend to form impressions based on limited exposure to a person—it’s human nature. But the best-dressed and most clean-cut people can still be dangerous to vulnerable populations. Only a complete volunteer screening and background check will tell you whether a prospective volunteer is safe to serve your organization’s clients, drive its vehicles and handle its funds.
  • Do allow plenty of time: You may not have ample time in your day to interview potential volunteers, but this important task should not be shortchanged. Squeezing interviews between other meetings or being ill-prepared will likely result in a bad decision. You could either miss important red flags about a volunteer or overlook qualities and skills you need to accomplish your goals. Neither results in an effective volunteer workforce.

Get Your Volunteer Files in Order

Friday, March 29th, 2013

volunteer screeningIt’s always a good idea to have your personnel files in good shape—and that includes volunteer personnel, as well. Some federal and state grants and other funding require employment documentation and reporting, while other funding sources may want to inspect your records. Besides, many state and federal laws require recordkeeping.

Here’s what every employee and volunteer file should contain:

  • Original employment or volunteer application.
  • Resume.
  • Original signed authorization for pre-employment background check or volunteer background screening.
  • Any written notices from the records check. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that the applicant be given copies of the notices.
  • Tax forms, such as the W-4 for withholding federal and social security taxes.
  • Any state-required tax forms.
  • Hiring documentation, such as signed offer letters.
  • Performance evaluations, change forms (for job titles, raises, job changes, benefits plans, etc.)
  • Direct deposit authorization.

Confidential paperwork, such as drug test results, background check results or medical information should be kept in a secure file.

Employment eligibility verification forms (Form I-9) for all employees should be kept together in a separate file.

Keep all personnel files in a locked cabinet and restrict access to two or three people; for example, the HR person, the volunteer manager and the executive director. Keep a log so when an employee’s file is reviewed it can be noted with the date, person who reviewed it, and reason.

Take care when destroying confidential records. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act of 2005 requires all employers to burn or shred all applicant, employee and volunteer personal information, such as Social Security numbers, addresses and telephone numbers, as well as any information reported to a consumer reporting agency for a background check.

Can you trust every person who volunteers for your agency? Conduct background checks on all volunteers. Rely on for your volunteer screening services. Protect your staff, clients, and your community with volunteer background checks.

Improve Your Organization’s Culture With Improv Training

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

volunteer screening, volunteer credit checkWho knew that learning improvisational comedy—like every Saturday Night Live and Second City comedy troupe alum has done—could improve work performance for mere mortals? Not only does improv teach you how to think on your feet, but it boosts confidence, too.

That’s why many workplaces are incorporating improv into their training mix. Those who undergo comedy training find it’s an asset in their professional life, along with their social life. Companies find it improves the entire workplace culture.

Nonprofit organizations could take a cue from the corporate world. Since every staff member and volunteer also serves as a spokesperson for the organization, it makes sense to help them polish their presentation skills. Participants are more comfortable speaking up in meetings, too, and often more work can get done in less time.

Improv workshops are also great for team building and icebreaking. Helping a new group of staff and volunteers get to know each other, or doing an annual comedy retreat for staff, can really help the bonding process. Even a single workshop can help.

Learning improv skills together removes barriers between people. Participants are encouraged to tell true stories, and are therefore almost always humble and even vulnerable. They let their guard down, and show their true selves. Others share their similar experiences, and everyone finds common ground—so important when building a team to further your charity’s mission.

Essential business skills like creativity, leadership and quick decision-making are all part of improv. Learning these skills in a fun and different way has been successful for countless companies. You might want to try using it for your volunteer and staff training.

Can you trust every person who volunteers for your agency? Conduct background checks on all volunteers. Rely on for your volunteer screening services. Protect your staff, clients, and your community with volunteer background checks.

Performance Reviews for Volunteers and Employees

Friday, December 21st, 2012

screening volunteers, volunteer background checkAre performance reviews effective? Many non profits conduct them with staffers, but not volunteers. But most people can benefit from a periodic review of their work. Performance reviews can even inspire people to improve on the job.

But performance reviews can be tough, especially if a) your subject is not getting paid, but is volunteering their time; b) you’re supervising those who do menial tasks; or c) you have long-term employees who know their jobs and perform them satisfactorily.

Maybe it’s time for a new approach. Instead of supervisor/subordinate, look at collaborations, commitments and accountabilities. Try starting from the beginning. Gather all employees and volunteers together and have the leadership team take them through the organization’s mission, vision and goals. Tell stories of how the nonprofit changes lives, impacts the community and makes the world a better place. And let the team know what you need from them to achieve success.

  • Then let the team know how they are doing overall—not individually. Review the deliverables that must occur for the organization to thrive, from bringing in donations to providing quality services. Teach them how they can improve.
  • Set measurable goals together. Encourage feedback and team-led initiatives to establish steps to meet the goals. Support the teams with time to get together and hold meetings and brainstorming sessions.
  • Ask for commitment from all staffers and volunteers. Each person can make promises about what they will do to contribute. As a manager, your role is to follow up, offer encouragement, solve problems, and offer tools to help them achieve success.

More Details About Teens and Volunteering

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

volunteer screeningWhen it comes to volunteering, young people have definite motivations and favorite causes. A recent study by offers some great insight into the way teens and young adults think.

For example, we talked about how having friends who volunteer is a big influence over teen volunteer rates. But they’re self-motivated, as well. For young people, making a difference on an issue they care about is their #1 stated reason for volunteering. For girls, they say that volunteering is its own reward, as well, while boys were more likely to state that getting into college or landing a good job are also important reasons.

The top five issues that young people are most interested in volunteering for are:

  1. Animal welfare
  2. Hunger
  3. Homelessness
  4. The environment
  5. The economy

In reality, young people tend not to volunteer with groups dedicated to animal issues. They are, however involved in fundraising. Nearly 39% of young people who volunteer have fundraised for charity. If you’re running a nonprofit organization, you may not have considered recruiting teens to help with all-important fundraising. Maybe you should!

Guys tend to volunteer in physical ways, such as environmental cleanup or working with kids in sports or recreational programs. Girls tend to do more fundraising and working with marginalized populations. Girls also volunteer more frequently, with 51% volunteering once per month or more, compared to 45% of guys volunteering once per month or more.

Anyone who volunteers know how rewarding it can be. With youth, it’s just as true as with adults. Young people who volunteer score about 24% higher on a life satisfaction. The following activities offer the most satisfaction, according to the survey:

  • Working with young kids in a sports program    71% Happiness Scale
  • Helping at a library or cultural or historical group 69% Happiness Scale
  • Fundraising 68% Happiness Scale
  • Working with sick or old people 63% Happiness Scale
  • Working on a political campaign 60% Happiness Scale
  • Do not volunteer at all 51% Happiness Scale

New Survey Offers Insights into Teens’ Volunteering Habits

Friday, October 26th, 2012

volunteer screening, volunteer background checkThink teens volunteer in their communities because it makes them feel good, or because it looks good on college applications? Or do you think teens sign up for volunteer tree-planting projects because they want to save the environment?

A new study by reveals some interesting insights into teens’ reasons for volunteering. Over 4,300 young people aged 13 – 22 were surveyed across the country, and here are some of the results:

  • 93% of teens say they want to volunteer, but a far smaller percentage actually do.
  • Teens’ volunteer habits are primarily influenced by having friends who volunteer regularly. Over 70% of teens with friends who volunteer also volunteer themselves.
  • Many teens (40%) don’t volunteer through traditional organizations, but rather through clubs, friends and family, or on their own.
  • Teens want volunteering to be fun, like a party. Make it social, and they will come.
  • What’s on teens’ minds? Number one is paying for college. Next is getting into a college.
  • The biggest reason teens don’t volunteer is lack of time.
  • Many teens want to be anonymous, or help from a distance. They also want to volunteer with people their age (but not necessarily the same gender).
  • Religious teens’ volunteer habits are not determined by the importance of religion in their lives, but by how often they attend religious events, including youth groups.
  • Young volunteers want opportunities that are close to home, but not at home.
  • Short activities that allow for different levels of engagement are preferred by teens.

It looks like the influence of their friends is most motivating when it comes to teens and volunteering. We’ll be sharing more insights from this interesting survey in coming weeks.

Keeping Teens Healthier With Volunteering

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

volunteer screening, volunteer background checkAccording to Volunteering in America, youth in this country volunteered 377 million hours of volunteer services in 2010. The number of teens aged 16 – 19 who gave all of these hours was an astounding 4.4 million, which represents 26% of all youth in that age group.

An older study showed that among the larger youth age group, 12 – 18 years old, 15.5 million kids contributed more than 1.3 billion hours of service. Young people volunteer more than adults, and they do it out of a sense of altruism. Making the world a better place and helping others are very important to young volunteers.

Teens can be a valuable source of new volunteers for any organization. Not only do they provide labor, but they can also give older folks a focus. Matching young volunteers with older mentors can create mutually beneficial and even long-lasting relationships.

Adolescents who volunteer typically perform better in school than their peers. Studies show they are also less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Plus, volunteering helps kids feel good about themselves. All of this adds up to healthier, happier and safer teens.

Volunteering can also lead to the release of endorphins in the brain. Ever heard of a runner’s high? A similar effect can come from doing good things for others. Endorphins reduce stress, which helps build a stronger immune system. They can also reduce head and back aches, depression and blood pressure.

If you’re recruiting volunteers, arm yourself with these facts and present them to youth groups at local schools or churches. Spread the word through social media about the positions your organization has that are appropriate for teen volunteers.

Get youth involved in your organization. You’ll be doing them, as well as yourself, a favor!