All posts by Lori Gotlieb Consulting

Reduce Risk to Your Association with the 10 Steps of Volunteer Screening

Is a volunteer screening process necessary for everyone?

Are all volunteer roles considered equal?

How do you ask volunteers to go through a screening process if they are volunteering their time?

How do we say no?

How much time do you spend dealing with the interpersonal issues amongst volunteers?

Do any of these questions keep you up at night?

Screening volunteers is a key step all associations should consider implementing for their members. Doing so can ensure your organization has the right people in the right role. Volunteer screening also means you have done your due diligence in protecting your association’s reputation and assets, minimizing liability.

10 Steps to Volunteer Screening

The following reviews the 10 Steps of Volunteer Screening. The steps help provide clear guidelines for developing volunteer screening polices and best practices to ensure the commitment and safety of all volunteers matches your organization’s needs and values.

  1. Assessment: Identify and assess the risks presented by each volunteer position by rating the risk as high, medium or low.
  2. Position Descriptions: Ensure all volunteer positions have clear descriptions of responsibility, scope and accountability, and that volunteers review and agree to the role.
  3. Recruitment: Use a consistent and transparent means of recruiting volunteers, including key information to make informed decisions.
  4. Application Forms: All volunteers are required to complete application forms with standardized information to ensure you have the required content to support the volunteer and protect the association / organization.
  5. Interview: All volunteers should go through a transparent and consistent interview process, asking the appropriate questions to ascertain the volunteer’s abilities to fulfil the role.
  6. Reference Checks: Check references in accordance to the pre-determined skills required for the role.
  7. Criminal Reference Checks: Based on the risks of the role, a criminal reference check may be required.
  8. Orientation and Training: It is important that all volunteers receive clear information on the mission, vision, policies and procedures related to their tasks and the position’s scope.
  9. Support: Ensure there is a support mechanism in place so the volunteer knows who they need to reach out to. There must also be an ongoing process for performance feedback so volunteers have an opportunity to regularly provide feedback on their role.
  10. Evaluation: Ongoing review of the volunteer role, expectations and outcomes are key to understanding what is working and what requires further review to minimize risks. Ensure that all stakeholders have an opportunity to provide feedback.


These 10 steps of volunteer screening are a starting point for ensuring you have a solid risk management process in place. The steps also ensure you have the right people in place to regularly monitor volunteer activities, building support tools and resources, and providing education and support to all the stakeholders.

You will no longer be kept up at night, fingers crossed, if you follow these 10 steps and undertake a proper volunteer screening process.



Is your volunteer program becoming an antique?

The following article, published in Charityvillage  January 2017,gives some insight into how to bring your volunteer program to the forefront and focuses on tips to advocate for yourself, make your program current and be creative:

Volunteer programs need to adapt to changing trends and environments – or else be prepared to struggle with the recruitment and retention of volunteers. Volunteer programs should be dynamic and not static; they should focus on both the needs of the organization and the community at large.


As a leader of a volunteer program, it is your role to develop strategies for your volunteer program to address current trends and not be an aging antique in the new digital world.

These strategies should embrace:

  • Better access to resources through technology
  • A committed and highly skilled volunteer force that want some control of their experiences
  • Diversity of skills and knowledge through the many different generations of volunteers
  • Social awareness of the value of volunteerism and engaging in your community

Approach your work with creativity

Ask yourself the following:

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Where are your opportunities and threats?

Creativity is key to answering these questions, which, in turn, will help you to develop volunteer engagement strategies that are exciting to your existing and potential volunteers.

Volunteer programs need to stretch the imagination in order to engage with their:

  • Staff, including senior leadership
  • Board and committee members
  • Leadership volunteers
  • Influencers in your organization and community

Creativity is also vital in sharing your stories about volunteer engagement with these important decision makers, and only by getting the word out about your program’s impact and return on investment will you be able to impress upon them the value that your program brings.

Become your own advocate

Do you have an elevator speech to start that conversation with those stakeholders listed above? If you had 60 seconds in the elevator or lunchroom with your CEO or ED, what would you talk about?

Consider the following as you create your speech:

  • What highlights are you most proud of for your volunteer program in the past 6 months?
  • What stories have you heard from your volunteers, clients and staff?
  • What numbers have you increased over the year?
  • What “new” kinds of volunteers have joined the organization that are different from the year before?
  • Have you created any volunteer partnerships that your leadership may not be aware of?
  • Did you implement a new process or activity that your CEO may not be aware of (e.g. new recognition activity)?

Also, think about what accomplishments you would like your leadership to know about. You could also consider something you’ve been dreaming of implementing.

For example, your elevator speech might discuss how your numbers of youth volunteers have grown in the past year and that you are thinking of developing a youth-centred recognition program where they hear from the leaders in your organization with advice about their career path.

If you don’t know have a plan, now is time to create one. This is a key door opener to larger conversations.

Keep your program current

So, how do you prevent becoming an antique in your own organizations? Here are some quick tips:

  • Develop that elevator speech with highlights.
  • Start to evaluate your volunteer program for both quantitative and qualitative stories.
  • Conduct a SWOT and PEST analysis of your program.
  • Create an annual work plan that focuses on one area of the volunteer management cycle that you have put on the back burner.
  • Go to workshops and take some courses to re-energize yourself and learn new skills.
  • Take the time to read the newspaper and stay up on current affairs because you never know where you’ll find that next great idea or inspiration.

Finally, ensure that you are building a volunteer program that is interesting to your volunteers and that provides opportunities for volunteer growth and succession planning.

Volunteer Programs Need On-Going Engagement to Thrive

When examining your volunteer programs, what does your best practice model of volunteer engagement look like? Do you think your program is reflecting the best practice standards in Canada?

Volunteer engagement is a cyclical relationship that starts with your members’ interest in further engagement and never really ends. Thriving volunteer engagement programs within associations are built on solid foundations and guiding principles and standards of practices. Some of these standards for volunteer programs are outlined in The Canadian Code of Volunteer Involvement.


Engagement Standards for Engagement in Volunteer Programs

The following 14 standards are related to best practices in volunteer engagement through:

  1. Mission-Based Approach: Board of Directors and senior staff support the roles of volunteers in achieving the mission and that volunteer roles are linked to the mission.
  2. Human Resources: Volunteers are valued and appropriate resources are in place to support their involvement.
  3. Policies and Procedures: A policy framework clearly supports volunteer involvement and defines expectations and boundaries of all parties.
  4. Volunteer Administration: That there is a key person designated to support volunteer involvement.
  5. Risk Management and Quality Assurance: Risk processes are in place to assess, manage and mitigate potential risks to volunteers and members.
  6. Volunteer Roles: Clear and concise role descriptions are developed and communicated to all participants in volunteer programs.
  7. Recruitment: Strategies are built to attract a diverse audience to your volunteer programs from your membership and abroad.
  8. Screening: A transparent and clearly communicated screening process is in place that is aligned with your risk management approach.
  9. Orientation and Training: Comprehensive orientation and training is provided to minimize risks within your volunteer programs.
  10. Support and Supervision: Levels of support reflect the roles and a performance feedback mechanism is in place to give and receive feedback regularly.
  11. Records Management: Current legislative requirements and forms are documented and stored in a confidential way.
  12. Technology: Using technology to support and engage volunteers in meaningful ways.
  13. Recognition: Volunteer contributions are acknowledged through formal and informal methods.
  14. Evaluation: An evaluation framework is in place to assess both the volunteers’ activities, as well as the effectiveness of the volunteer engagement strategy


The Risks of Volunteer Engagement

What can be at risk here, and where are your red flags? Here are a few to think about:

  • Risk to reputation
  • Ethical and moral risks
  • Inappropriate screening methods or inconsistent screening
  • Improper use of equipment and branding material
  • Unclear policies and procedures that are not clearly communicated
  • Incomplete application process and forms not complete
  • Risk analysis of roles not reviewed
  • Poor succession planning
  • Insufficient role descriptions and/or terms of reference
  • No mechanism for feedback

Is this overwhelming or are you confident that you have it all in place?

I get asked all the time, what makes a strong volunteer program and my response is always the same. Ensure that you have a strong foundation and process in place to minimize risk. Find the right person for the right role. Support your volunteers in a meaningful way and evaluate annually where your strengths and weaknesses are.

And keep moving the ship forward inch by inch.


Does your Association have a solid volunteer risk management plan

Have you considered what is at risk to your association and your volunteers ?
Do you provide a comprehensive onboarding and screening process?
Do you have terms of references and role descriptions for your volunteer roles?
Do you have policies and procedures for your volunteers to follow?
If you answer “No” to any of these, this workshop is for you.
This is just the tip of the iceberg…we will look at have to minimize risk to your association and your volunteers and look at your Association gaps and share from each others successes and lessons learned.

The article below has some important things to think about…..sign up for the workshop and learn from your colleagues.

Getting the best from your volunteers through the SAVE approach

Getting the best from your volunteers through the SAVE approach

Managing a volunteer program can be a very rewarding and exciting role. We are matchmakers, facilitators, social workers, marketers, sales people and sometimes disciplinarians. This last role is usually the least comfortable for us – and the one that many of us try to avoid. But the fact remains, it is also part of the job.

The ‘new’ volunteer is looking for ways to engage your organization that fit into their own busy schedules and they are looking for guidance and support more than supervision and recognition.

Creating a solid volunteer management system that is well communicated and reinforced will go a long way towards minimizing the need for disciplinary actions – including the need to fire a volunteer. However, should you find yourself in this position, having a structured volunteer management system will ensure that you will have put the appropriate measures in place.

How the SAVE Approach can help

By using the SAVE Approach, you can proactively ensure that best practices are in place for onboarding new volunteers, providing guidance to existing volunteers and, when necessary, end the volunteer relationship.

The SAVE Approach is:

S (Screening, Structure, Support and Supervision)
A (Attainable, Attention)
V (Validate, Value)
E (Evaluate, Encourage, End)

Screening volunteers by collecting and evaluating information about potential volunteers will help you to determine the right fit for each volunteer and will identify any red flags that might prevent the volunteer from being the best choice for the role. By not screening volunteers, you are immediately putting your volunteer program at risk of having to remove a volunteer. The purpose of screening is to protect both the volunteer and the organization (and the organization’s clients) and prevent inappropriate placements. Remember that screening begins at your first encounter with the potential volunteer.

Structure helps you to set goals for the volunteer that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound (SMART). By building the infrastructure of the volunteer program to include performance management, proper documentation, training of both staff and volunteers, and linking the performance to recognition, leadership roles and evaluation, you will minimize risks.

Supporting volunteers requires flexibility. Also, it is not just your role to support the volunteer but also the staff and senior leadership of the organization. They too will need to learn to provide support and encouragement to volunteers. Some strategies for support could include shadowing and mentorship, training and de-briefing sessions. Developing a system to support your volunteers will allow you to guide your volunteer’s relationship in a positive and meaningful way.

Supervision requires open communication between all parties. It is key that there is an ongoing feedback and evaluation process that includes all supervising staff as well as input from clients.

Attention and Attainable requires you to get to know your volunteers and revise roles to ensure that they are SMART. Providing new opportunities for keeping volunteers involved and motivated ensures that volunteers are getting the ongoing support and education that they require.

Value refers to the way that we can connect the volunteer’s role to the organization’s mission and vision by setting clear expectations through policies, procedures and best practices and communicating this to the volunteers. All volunteers need to be treated with respect and should know how they fit into the big picture.

Validating the volunteer experience occurs through feedback, 360-degree performance management systems, and open dialogue. It is also important to provide motivation to stretch beyond their comfort zone and be a positive role model for other volunteers.

Encouragement focuses on the ability to keep volunteers motivated and engaged in their work. By matching volunteers with their interests and skills you can encourage high-level performance outcomes.

Ensuring that the volunteers are regularly supported, educated and thanked is going to build on their comfort level and keep the lines of communication open. It is also important to identify training needs, celebrate successes and publicise the contributions of the volunteers to your stakeholders as well as creating a volunteer-friendly atmosphere within your organization.

Evaluation is a necessary component of the volunteer management cycle that will reinforce the structure that you have built.

The key components include knowing the benefits of effective performance management and ensuring that a process exists. It is important to set goals with the volunteer and follow through on them so that you can move volunteers towards success.

Ending a volunteer relationship

Finally, if you do need to END a volunteer relationship, it is important to do so in a respectful and structured way.

Dealing with a difficult volunteer requires an objective and timely process that relies on the volunteer position description for framing the conversation and identifying the expected behaviour of the volunteer. Indicating a shared commitment to finding a solution will help to create the parameters to address and ultimately solve the issues that are concerning.

If you must remove the volunteer from their position, the first step is to ensure that you document everything. Keeping thorough records is a best practice that should be adopted for all of your volunteer transactions, not just when disciplinary action is being considered.

You should create a progressive dismissal process that is well documented in your volunteer manual and communicated to your volunteers and staff.

It is very hard to predict how the volunteer will respond to the end of their relationship with the organization. Where possible, we want to encourage volunteers to continue to be philanthropic and engaged in community support.

Volunteering is a very personal choice and we are an important conductor on the volunteer’s journey. Taking the time to develop screening and support tools and communicating these both internally and externally, with volunteers and staff, we can feel confident that we can SAVE the difficult conversation for another time.

From passion to professionalism: How to move your volunteer program from one to the other

Volunteer programs are as unique as the organizations that they support, not to mention the people who manage these programs! Administrators of volunteers come from many different backgrounds and with many different experiences, but what they have in common is that they are charged with providing expertise in a wide variety of areas.

The foundation for success as a manager of volunteers comes from both a passion to work with people, as well as the ability to manage a variety of projects and activities that focus on the ever-changing landscape of an organization’s strategic direction and program goals.

So how do we take this passion and turn it into a top-rated volunteer program? Being an administrator of volunteers requires a very diverse skill set, which I’ve outlined in more detail below, and it is important to be self-reflective about where you naturally excel and where you might need to spend a bit of time improving your skills. Though each sector has their own focus and priorities, these areas of expertise are present in the role description for all managers of volunteers. If they aren’t at your organization, they should be!

Matchmaker and forecaster: 

  • Understanding and being able to build on the diverse and always changing needs of volunteers.
  • Reading between the lines of the role descriptions to understand the how the skills of the volunteer can compliment the needs of the organization. Providing the appropriate screening, training and support to ensure a successful match.
  • Staying up-to-date on economic, social, technological and environmental trends to keep your volunteer program current and relevant.

Human resources:

  • Keeping up with pertinent legislative changes and connecting with Human Resources to ensure consistency of policies and procedures for both staff and volunteers.
  • Providing appropriate and timely training and evaluation of volunteers on an ongoing basis.
  • Ensuring that a performance management system is in place so that best practices and risk management practices are re-enforced and followed up on.
  • Working with and educating all staff on best practices on how to work with volunteers, whether they are supervising volunteers or just engaged in a a more superficial way.
  • Developing and reviewing the goals and objectives of the volunteer program to ensure that they are in line with the goals and objectives of the organization.


  • Understanding and developing target marketing strategies annually to connect with the appropriate volunteers.
  • Annually ceveloping both a marketing and a communications plan based on your organizational activities and evaluating these plans on a regular basis to track success.
  • Ensuring that current marketing trends and technology are used to reach diverse audiences.
  • Gathering both stories and hard data to ensure that you are appropriately marketing your volunteer program and impact stories both internally and externally.

Special events:

  • Planning interesting and relevant special events including recognition and educational opportunities for staff and volunteers.
  • Learning about how to best plan special events, including the use of project management tools to keep on budget and on track.
  • Developing a model of volunteer leadership and succession planning for committees and events volunteers.


  • Researching and learning about coaching, mentorship and relationship management so that you can bridge the gaps that sometimes occur when working with all the diverse groups of volunteers and staff.
  • Building relationship support resources such as evaluations, exit interviews and focus groups to ensure that you are current on the issues that both volunteers and staff are dealing with.

Supervisor and catch all:

  • Understanding best practices in supervision, including 360 degree evaluations.
  • Spending the appropriate time in the lifecycle of the volunteers to ensure that they are provided with the appropriate support for their role.
  • Developing tools and resources, including data management tools, to track the volunteers’ experiences and capture all necessary information. Using both qualitative and quantitative data to both support the volunteer but also to tell the story of their impact.

As you can see, we are charged with wearing a variety of hats in our role of leaders of volunteers and we must approach all of these roles with equal seriousness to ensure a seamless volunteer experience.

Vital to the success of a volunteer program is ensuring that you as the leader of the program understand the different roles that you provide and ensure that you have the appropriate support, training and education to perform your role at an optimum level.

The next steps

I have included some takeaway ideas for you to consider, which will be key to your understanding of the diversity of your role and, ultimately, to the success of your volunteer program:

  • Consider recruiting a Human Resource volunteer who can help with developing resources and training for both volunteers and staff.
  • Develop a performance management system for volunteers including a 360-degree feedback mechanism. Remember to carefully consider role descriptions.
  • Consider adding key competencies to volunteer leadership and high skilled roles so that volunteers understand the soft skills that are expected in the delivery of their role.
  • Take the time to read and stay current on sector trends so that you can adjust your program to reflect the community in which you work.
  • Look to project management tools to keep you focused and meeting timelines.
  • Sign up for current information on marketing and social media, human resources best practices and communication techniques from national or reputable companies and media outlets. There is great information available in blog posts and monthly newsletters.
  • Find a colleague that you admire and consider asking them to coach you. Everyone can benefit from someone to bounce ideas off of, work out some problems and be a cheerleader for your program and your work.

Finally, write down some of the best practices that are mentioned in this article and fit them into your annual work plan. There is always room for growth and learning new ways to manage your volunteer program.