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3 Common Screening Practices That Might Be Barriers To Finding Great Volunteers

Posted By Melina Condren, Director of Engaging Organizations, March-24-16
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Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

In my last blog post, I shared my thoughts on a common requirement that we see in position descriptions that acts as a barrier to lots of potential volunteers: fluency in English. I’d like to continue the discussion about reducing barriers to volunteering by outlining some common screening steps and why they might not always be the best option for finding the right volunteer for the right position.

First, I want to acknowledge that having a defined screening process and following all the necessary steps for every applicant is important. I’m not suggesting that you should skip screening steps or modify them based on the applicant’s needs, just that you should consider whether all the screening steps you’re using are actually necessary for the role. If not, you may be excluding a lot of potential volunteers.


Police Reference Checks:

Police checks are a very common screening step for volunteer positions, but they should only be used when necessary. In fact, it’s a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code to base selection decisions on a criminal record unless it’s a bona fide requirement of the position; to learn more about Police Checks and the OHRC, check out our online course on the subject.

Police checks can be a barrier to many people for many reasons. People who are new to Toronto won’t be able to provide a police check from the area. People may not want to disclose information necessary for a police check, such as a name change, that is completely irrelevant to the position. And really, people just may not be willing to go through an unnecessary invasive process. Police checks are important for certain positions, but if they’re not necessary for the one you’re recruiting for, skip them.


Professional References:

Professional references can be a good way to learn about an applicant’s work style, and their strengths and weaknesses in a work context. But for applicants who are underemployed, new to the city, new to the workforce, or retired, providing relevant professional references can be a challenge. Think about whether you can get the information you’re looking for another way. Can you ask for a sample of relevant work to judge the quality for yourself? Can you find out about their reliability through a personal reference? If there’s a valid alternative to asking for professional references, consider making some changes to your screening process to make it more accessible to people who aren’t in the workforce.


Phone Interviews:

Sometimes a phone interview is used as a quick, convenient way to screen applicants. Although this definitely has its benefits, it can be difficult for some people to understand what’s being said and communicate clearly over the phone. Rather than removing phone and video interviews completely, you can be more accommodating to people’s needs by offering alternatives, such as an email or instant message interview, or a quick in-person interview.


Screening applicants is an incredibly important process for making sure you have the right volunteers in the right positions. By making sure that you remove as many barriers as possible from your screening process, you’ll be opening the doors of your volunteer program to a whole new pool of applicants.


Photo of Melina CondrenMelina Condren oversees all of Volunteer Toronto's services for organizations, including our training program, volunteer management conference, subscriptions program, and new Grassroots Growth project. Her priority is to ensure our services are effectively helping non-profits build capacity through volunteer involvement and continue to meet the ever-evolving needs of the voluntary sector.

Tags:  barriers to volunteering  finding volunteers  how to find great volunteers  leaders of volunteers  volunteer management  volunteer managers  volunteer screening  volunteer screening best practices 

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