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Last updated August 4, 2017

A volunteer starts judging their experience with you from the moment they show in an interest in being involved. So, if you are committed to providing a great volunteer experience and therefore growing a great volunteer team, you need to start by addressing your application process. A slow and clumsy process tells potential volunteers that you do not value their time. Keeping in mind that time is what they are going to invest, they will take this message very seriously.

As a rule, you have 48 hours to respond to a volunteer enquiry before they start wondering what’s going on. If that enquiry comes from a Generation Yer, you have around 24 hours to get in touch. However, if you want Generation Z to get involved, you really need to be on the ball.

Generation Zers (born between mid-1990’s and early 2000’s) expect a response within 12 hours and if that doesn’t happen they will assume you’re not interested. That may sound extreme, but when you consider that Generation Z have never known an age without technology, it makes perfect sense. They have grown up with texting, Snapchat and instant messaging and their day-to-day life is full of constant and immediate communication. As far as they are concerned, that’s what communication is all about.

So, how do you ensure potential volunteers get a timely response to their enquiries? In the first instance, it’s about making sure you have a process to follow. Too many organisations say they want volunteers, but when somebody approaches them with an offer to help, they have no idea what to do next. The first person has to talk to the next person, who consults with another and then another, before eventually coming back to the volunteer with a vague response about what may happen next. They then go away to set up that next step and all the while the volunteer is still waiting. By the time the organisation is ready for them, the volunteer has changed their mind.

Some things you may want to consider when designing your application process include:

What information do you need from the volunteer?
Personal details, skills, interests, experience, reason for volunteering, availability…

How will you gather that information?
Application form – online or hard copy, phone conversation, face-to-face, formal or informal…

What information does the volunteer need from you?
Roles available, purpose of the organisation, general expectations of volunteers…

How will you provide that information?
Website, information pack, phone conversation, face-to-face…

How will you identify if the volunteer is suited to the role they are applying for?
Interviews, reference checks, personality tests…

What will you do if they are not suited to that specific role?
What will you do if the volunteer is not suited to organisation?
Decline, find another role, refer to a different organisation…

What will you do if the volunteer does not have a specific role in mind?
How will you identify the role they are best suited for?
General application, interview, transition roles…

Are there any legal or constitutional requirements we must meet before engaging a volunteer?
Are these legal or constitutional requirements the same regardless of the role?
Are all the constitutional requirements necessary or is there an opportunity for review?
Police checks, health and safety processes, special qualifications required…

How will you keep the volunteer interested and engaged while any legal or constitutional requirements are being met?
Other roles, invitations to social events, general volunteer training, regular communication…

Who is responsible for each step in the process?
How will you communicate the process to the volunteer?
How can you simplify the process?
How can you speed up the process?

Having an effective and efficient application process means you can capture great people right from the start.

Kerri Tilby-Price
Kerri is a Facilitator / Trainer with Exult and has over 20 years experience working in and for the community sector.

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