The importance of volunteer screening and training

Volunteer screening and training is an essential component of volunteer programs.

“This seems like a lot of paperwork!” “I have a college degree! Why do I need to attend hours of volunteer training?” “I just want to volunteer, why are you making it so difficult?”

Have you heard any of these? Maybe you have had these thoughts yourself. It’s understandable—time is one of our most precious commodities and we want to be certain our time is valued. Once you understand why volunteer-driven programs have these requirements, we hope you will appreciate the importance of quality screening and training.

Michigan State University Extension believes screening is an essential component of volunteer programs. This may include an application, reference checks, background checks and interviews. Each part of the process provides different information that helps a program determine if the applicant is a good fit for the program and position. It’s sad, but true, that some individuals apply to volunteer in an effort to gain access to vulnerable people. Many non-profits serve vulnerable populations including children, youth, senior citizens and persons with disabilities. It is vital programs protect clients against persons who might want to harm them.

Why not just do a background check? This would be easier, but not every person with ill intentions has been convicted of a crime. It’s also important to note that programs are not just concerned about crime. Many volunteer positions are just as important as a paid position—placing the wrong person in a position can be difficult for the volunteer and the program. Screening allows the program to consider a person’s experiences, expectations and other information gathered throughout the process to make a determination and place a volunteer in the right position.

Now let’s talk about training. There is an abundance of research related to the importance of training volunteers prior to placement and providing ongoing training throughout service. Volunteers with inadequate training often leave their position prematurely or have difficulties that take considerable staff time to manage. A quality training program is designed to teach the skills needed for the position and allow time to practice those skills.

Consider the volunteer position to be a job—whether you are paid or not, the work is important. While past experiences are helpful, you need to understand the program you are working with and the role expectations. In fact, those prospective volunteers with related educational and work experience often need the most direction to understand what they should and should not do in the volunteer role.

Volunteer screening and training processes are designed to keep clients safe and ensure accepted volunteers are placed in positions that best fit their skills and expectations. 

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