Making the Most of Free Time

Organizations, potential volunteers have roles to play in creating successful relationship


Volunteerism is a big deal. For instance, approximately 47 per cent of Canadians older than 15 volunteered in some capacity for a total of 2.07 hours in 2010. According to Statistics Canada, this figure was equivalent to 1.1 million full-time jobs.

Once again, statistics showed not-for-profit charitable organizations are the winners with respect to attracting volunteers.

As you might expect, our life cycle affects where we want to volunteer as well as when. From experience, I can say idealistic youth and older adults are the most frequent volunteers in a political campaign. Overall, many so empty-nesters frequently volunteer unless they themselves are caught in the sandwich generation, looking after their parents. This obligation cuts down the time open for volunteerism.

Yet, determining where you wish to volunteer your time must be thought out carefully. Similar to a job, volunteers need to ensure they hold the same values as the organization, that there will be a specific job to do, training will be available and you report to a leader who can coach, mentor and help you succeed.

Ask for a job description, learn about your tasks, the time commitment and the reporting structure before you volunteer.

On the other hand, organizations, as well as candidates, must be careful about who they recruit. Without clear guidelines and clear jobs, election volunteers in particular can easily get off track. For instance, I recall one complaint about a young person who was assigned to make telephone calls during a campaign. However, instead of calling local voters, he chose to try to connect with elected leaders in Ottawa. It wasn't until the campaign received an astronomical long-distance telephone bill that he was discovered and moved to another task.

Today, most charitable organizations have professional volunteer recruiters who conduct candidate searches in the same manner as private-sector companies. For those without a recruiter, the following tips will hold you in good stead:

  1. Develop a job description -- There is nothing worse than inviting a volunteer to attend your location and then see them standing around with nothing to do. Be sure to not only develop a job description, but ensure it is a full job that will keep them busy for the entire time of their service. Be sure the job is what is called a "whole job," in other words, the volunteer can start and finish one task to completion. If the job roles are scattered, work will not only be unsatisfactory, but quality will suffer.

  2. Develop candidate-selection criteria -- Not every volunteer is suitable for the job your agency has to offer. Therefore, you need to look at both technical and people skills, as well as attitude, personality and an affinity to your service. Ask yourself: what will make your candidates successful? These are the items you need to measure your candidates against. Be sure to add these features to your volunteer advertisement so you attract the right people.

  3. Describe the benefits -- There is quite competition for volunteers, especially when an election is at full force. So determine just why a volunteer should be interested in what you have to offer. What are the benefits of volunteering for you? Do you offer job experience, learning opportunities, a chance to continue the use of your skills or simply developing relationships and people skills?

  4. Conduct a candidate search -- Just as in the private sector, you need to conduct a formal search for suitable candidates. Look for low-cost opportunities to market the job role, and be sure to put it on your website. The next challenge is how to rate and assess the candidates looking at your opportunity. Develop a checklist and grade the candidates on a scale of one to five against your selection criteria. This rating allows you to better select the candidates you wish to interview.

  5. Develop your interview strategy -- Determine if you are interviewing independently and/or if you will have others join you. If you are doing a panel, determine who will ask which questions. Be sure to select participants who have knowledge of the job and who can effectively evaluate each candidate.

  6. Conduct in-person interviews -- Both candidates and recruiter need face-to-face interaction, along with a set of interview questions, in order to get to know each other and to make a good decision. Be sure to link your questions to the job description and to focus both on what you have to offer and what the candidate is interested in. Apply behavioural descriptive interviews that ask for real situations where a candidate was successful.

  7. Check references -- Again, as with the private sector, you need to check references. Be sure to ask the references the same questions you asked the candidates, as this provides you with confirmation of responses. It also provides more trust in the behaviour your candidate would exhibit in your organization.

  8. Psychometric assessments -- It is not common for charity organizations to independently apply a psychometric assessment, so you might find a vendor to do that for you. These tools are highly effective in confirming an individual's character, personality and communication style... all which confirm which candidate is best for you.

Volunteerism is growing in Canada. It provides a meaningful activity for people of all ages. It is a wonderful opportunity to use one's skills, learn new skills, meet new people and provide an opportunity to contribute to society. Check it out, it is worth your while.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2015 B14

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