The accepted wisdom on volunteer management says that we should all be using application forms as part of our selection procedure. That’s what we do here at South Derbyshire CVS. But some volunteer managers are starting to question this flagship of good practice. They are coming round to the view that an application form could present an almost insurmountable barrier for some potential volunteers.
When I started out in volunteer management, I read the books, attended the training courses and I used application forms because I thought that’s what a good volunteer manager did.
Now I’m not so sure.
If we look at application forms through the eyes of potential volunteers, do we really need them? For every opportunity?
Why do we use them? For paid jobs, the answer is simple; we use application forms to shortlist candidates because we don’t have the time to interview everyone who expresses an interest in the job.
But volunteering is different. I suppose that there could be some lucky (or brilliant) volunteer managers who have so many people wanting to volunteer for them that they have to ruthlessly select.
However, very few of us will in the enviable position of having a pool of potential volunteers to choose from. Quite the opposite. I talk to many volunteer coordinators on the edge of panic because no-one is applying.
Then there is the recognition that volunteering is very different from employment. If we are able to recruit for a job, there will normally be only that job on offer, with no scope for variation or flexibility at the recruitment stage. But the majority of volunteer roles are inherently adaptable to suit the volunteer’s skills and interests. Even if our volunteer roles are not particularly adaptable, we can often come up with an alternative role, a referral to another organisation or back to us at the Volunteer Centre.
So if we are going to meet with all potential volunteers, why don’t we just ask them the questions on the application form when they come in. After all, it’s much easier to put people at their ease, ask questions in a non-intimidating way and offer prompts of they seem to be struggling.
Would scrapping the application form als remove a barrier to involvement by people with mental health problems, learning disabilities, asylum seekers and refugees, young people, ex-offenders and homeless people?
All of these groups are under-represented as volunteers and in my own experience, many people from these groups struggle to fill and forms. It’s not always about their command of English, but about confidence and self-esteem.
If I was faced with a form with a huge blank box asking “What can you offer us as a volunteer”, any of us could start to feel that we aren’t good enough.
Anyway, how much does a form filled in by a support worker tell you?
Certainly we need procedures to safeguard our clients, the organisation and the volunteers themselves, but does this have to be an application form?
I know that some volunteer managers have taken the logical step and scrapped application forms. I’m still struggling with this issue.
What do you think?