Your investment in interviewing prospective volunteers will help you achieve the results you want. Your goal is to select people with the skills and characteristics that most effectively contribute to your mission. Look for:

Competencies. Two categories of competencies are relevant for nonprofit work, according to Common Good Careers:

  • Knowledge, skills and technical qualifications. Encore candidates have much to offer nonprofits (visit Strengths of Encore Talent for more). Consider ways to leverage their transferable skills.
  • Personal characteristics (behavior, personality, aptitudes). Candidates’ personal attributes impact their success. Positive attitude, collaborative style, can-do approach and a willingness to learn all contribute to a volunteer’s potential value.

Culture fit. Culture matters: Candidates with outstanding skills will stumble if they can’t work effectively in your culture. Explore their values, beliefs and style. Ask if the candidate has experience in collaborative environments and with limited resources. Applicants with for-profit work experience can thrive in your culture if they have values that match yours.

Role fit. Volunteers come with expectations: what they hope to get from the experience, how and when they are willing to work, what skills they want to use and what motivates them. Explore candidate goals and expectations. Welcome questions.

Mission alignment. Many who seek encore opportunities are passionate about mission and impact – a huge factor in engagement. As you screen applicants, probe and listen for the “why” behind the application. As you develop interview questions, consider behavioral interviewing to assess transferable skills. Because encore volunteers often bring years of experience outside the nonprofit sector, behavioral interviewing lets you know how an applicant’s work, volunteer and life experience meshes with your organization’s needs and culture.

Example: Behavioral Interview Question and Answer

Tell me about a time you accomplished a goal by building support from a diverse group of constituents.

Situation: Hunger is a major issue in our community, as is access to fresh produce. My colleagues and I at work wanted to do something about it.

Task: Our idea was to start a giving garden at our corporate headquarters. We wanted to transform a section of lawn into a garden that would be built and maintained by volunteer employees. All produce would go to local food shelves.

Action: The first thing we needed to do was get management buy-in. We persuaded management that a giving garden was beneficial to our community (providing fresh produce to those in need), but also to our employees (promoting physical activity, teamwork, and mental health). We convinced them to invest initial funds to build raised garden boxes. We encountered resistance to the idea at first. Facilities Management worried that it the garden wouldn’t be adequately maintained and would become an eyesore, and that it would add to their workload. Our legal department wanted to be sure that any legal risk was avoided. We listened to everyone’s concerns, and worked together to find solutions. We built excitement with External Relations and Employee Benefits, helping them see how the project would fit with their goals. We invited employees to sign up to help.

Results. We dug up part of our lawn, and planted our first garden crop. It was a huge success. Employees were thrilled to participate, and it was so satisfying donating all of that fresh produce. We are now part of a network of corporations supporting community giving gardens.

Tap Volunteers


Assessing Culture Fit Bridgespan’s Making the Right Hire: Assessing a Candidate’s Fit with Your Organization, identifies a list of topics including the applicant’s thinking about work style, hours, commitment levels, workplace aesthetics and atmosphere.

Developing Interview Questions This Volunteer Interview Questions Template guides the process of writing interview questions. Additional volunteer management resources are at JFFixler.com.


STAR Approach to Behavioral Interviewing

A common interview format is the STAR approach: Situation – Task – Action – Results. You share an opportunity or challenge and ask the candidate to talk about a relevant experience from her work or volunteer experience. See the sample at left and these sample interview questions, developed by Minnesota Association For Volunteer Administration.

Transferable ‘soft skills’ that nonprofits need

  • Entrepreneurial skills
  • Collaborative style
  • Resourcefulness
  • Creative problem-solving
  • Positive attitude

Source: Common Good Careers Competency Based Hiring and Transferable Skills