Selection and Screening

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When recruiting volunteers a well-planned selection and screening process is an important part of the process. Getting this right will allow you to match the needs of your organisation with the needs and skills of the volunteers. It will also prevent a volunteer from being placed in a role that does not match their wants, or that they are ill-equipped to fulfill, all of which would lead to an unhappy and unproductive experience for everyone.

General Points

  • Keep it simple; try to keep the process for your organisation the same for all volunteers. Keep it straightforward and appropriate for the role that you are recruiting for.
  • Don't fall into the trap of applying your paid staff recruitment processes for volunteers. It's not appropriate and will not work well.
  • Look at what will help you to draw out the best from your volunteer and ways to make it a fair process for all.
  • If possible, try to steer away from the more formal approach of application and interviews. This can be very intimidating for volunteers and depending on the role is completely unnecessary. There are many methods you can use, so it is worth investing time to make the process accessible and suitable to your organisation.
  • Don't let the process of recruitment become an inadvertent barrier to people volunteering!

Gathering a prospective volunteer information

It very much depends on the role you are recruiting for but it is not always a good idea to use a traditional application form. Application forms are usually used to shortlist prospective candidates. Is this appropriate for the role you are recruiting? There may occasionally be volunteer roles that you do want to 'short list', but mostly this isn't the case. There are much better ways of gathering the information you may need and much better ways of selling your volunteering opportunity.

If you do decide to go down the application form route, don't let it be the first thing the prospective volunteer sees. Have some information about your organisation, the role, etc. Remember you are selling yourself to the prospect. Also think very carefully about what information you want to gather on the application and why you are gathering it. If you do use one - it should be kept to a minimum and specifically tailored to the role you are asking the volunteer to do.

Better than a traditional Application Form, consider what information you need to gather and use a volunteer information form (Volunteer Edinburgh's information form example). Better still collect this information in person when you actually meet the prospective volunteer. This gives you a chance to assess them and just as importantly allows them an opportunity to see if you fit them. If there is information that you need to gather, contact information etc then do it then.

If you gather Equalities Monitoring information, explain why you do, what you will do with the information and how it will be used. Do not collect it if you don't use it! Ideally, equalities information should be gathered on a separate, anonymous form.

Remember application forms, whether online or on paper, can be useful for specific roles; but generally in volunteering they are a barrier and one which you don't need to impose.

Meeting with Your Applicants

We recommend always meeting with applicants and we tend to shy away from using the term 'Interview' when describing what is usually an informal meeting anyway. Over-formalising the selection process will put some volunteers off and can create unnecessary pressure. Meeting with your applicants should:

  • Be a welcoming experience into your organisation,
  • Be a chance to see what you do, who you are and possibly meet some of your beneficiaries,
  • Be a chance for potential volunteers to ask questions about volunteering with you and your organisation,
  • Be a chance for you to find out about them and vice versa.

Finding out about your applicant

Meeting your applicant is an opportunity to find out why they want to volunteer and to ask them other relevant questions. What you need to ask should be dependent on the role but some basic areas to cover should be:

  • What skills, experience and knowledge they have,
  • What interests them about volunteering with your organisation,
  • What they hope to gain from volunteering with you,
  • What level of commitment they can make (time, days and for how long).

You then need to think about what your applicant needs to know about you and your project/organisation, so consider:

  • Your organisation, who its beneficiaries are, its projects and its future plans,
  • What role your volunteers play,
  • Specifics about this volunteer opportunity (if applicable),
  • Details of any training, support and expenses offered to volunteers,
  • Time commitment,
  • The process from here, e.g., references, disclosure checks, etc.

Screening your applicants

Your responsibility to your organisation is to ensure that anyone coming into your organisation is suitable, safe and appropriate. To ensure you fulfil this duty of care, suitable screening processes should be in place. With any form of screening, it is important to make your applicants aware that this will take place at the earliest opportunity. Also, remember that you can use your knowledge of volunteers to screen and select for example using a trial period or compulsory training as a means of screening your volunteer’s suitability.


We recommend the use of references for volunteers; however, to minimise any barriers consider the following:

  • Who will you accept references from?
  • Don’t insist that one be from a former employer; these are often irrelevant for the role and difficult to obtain.
  • Don’t insist that a referee be known for a minimum of two years; again, difficult for some volunteers.
  • Do let your applicants know who you will accept references from.
  • When contacting referees, give them information about the role and your organisation and ask them specific questions; you will have more chance of receiving a reference if you give them a prompt. Better yet, use the example Reference Request Letter.
  • Consider accepting a phone call or email as a reference; this can often speed up the reference and make it easier for the referee to respond.

Some volunteer-involving organisations do not collect references at all. This is to reduce barriers to participation, particularly for younger volunteers or people who are new to the city. Although recognised Quality Standards like Investing in Volunteers do include references as part of their best practice guidance the ultimate decision needs to be what works for your organisation. References can and do give you "comfort" that the prospective volunteer is someone that you want to involve, however it is important to recognise that it can be a barrier (so strive to minimise that) and a reference is no substitute for getting to know the individual, good induction and training and good practice in how you manage the volunteer in a day to day basis.

Disclosure Checks

It is important to make clear to applicants that having a criminal record should not exclude someone from volunteering, as this is often a worry for many volunteers that enquire about roles. See Volunteer Criminal Disclosures PVG Scheme.

Saying No to Applicants

Saying no to an applicant should be something that anyone recruiting for volunteers should be prepared for. We would recommend also that if a volunteer does not suit, don’t just leave it - tell them. If a volunteer is not suitable for you it doesn’t mean that they are not suitable elsewhere, and this could seriously put them off enquiring about other volunteering opportunities.


  • What skills, knowledge or aptitudes are necessary for the role and whose lack cannot be accommodated.
  • Look at where support and/or training could help a volunteer if they do not immediately match the role’s requirements
  • If they are not suitable for the role: are they suitable for a role elsewhere within the organisation?
  • If an applicant is still unsuitable, give them the reasons why in as positive a way as possible, and help them to consider their options.
  • You can always refer them to your local volunteer centre so that they can get additional support and information.

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More help?

If you would like more help or advice please contact Volunteer Edinburgh on 0131 225 0630 or email:
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