Volunteer application process

Forms? Interviews? References? What’s the best process for you?

When potential volunteers get in touch it is important that everyone in the organisation knows how to respond to them positively. It’s good to have a standard procedure (such as sending them an information pack) and to deal with enquiries promptly.

The application process is as much about the volunteer deciding whether they like your organisation, as it is about whether you think they are suitable for the role. So it’s important to avoid unnecessary hurdles: do you need to use an application form and interview or would an informal chat do? How important are references and screening? Make sure you let enquirers know what the application process is and how soon they will know if you would like them to become a volunteer.

Application forms

Forms can be off-putting so if you use one, keep it simple, eg:

  • Name and contact details
  • The role they are interested in
  • What they can bring to the role
  • What they want to gain from volunteering
  • Names of referees

Always offer to help people fill in the form. It might be less intimidating to offer to meet people before you give them a form.


It’s standard practice to ask for two referees who are not family members. Some people might struggle to provide these, so be prepared to be flexible. Make it clear to the volunteer and the referee that references will be treated in confidence. Waiting for written references can slow things down so you could take a verbal reference from a referee over the phone.

Criminal records

Not all organisations will need to check if volunteers have a criminal record. The need to screen will depend on what the volunteer is doing or who they are working with. It’s important to realise that for many people with criminal records, the nature of their offence will have no bearing on their ability to volunteer. It’s good practice to have a clear policy on this.

This leaflet from Volunteering England has useful ideas and information, although it is a bit out of date (refers to CRB checks rather than DBS).

Interviews or informal discussions

Most people find interviews intimidating. We associate them with being tested and competing with others, so take time to explain the aim of any interview or informal chat to your potential volunteers. Reassure them that it is a chance for them to ask questions and find out about the organisation and role.

Set time aside, find a quiet room (don’t sit across a desk from someone) and try to ensure that you won’t be interrupted.

A set list of questions will help make your discussions consistent and fair. You can ask additional questions depending on the answers given. Don’t ask about a volunteer’s general health unless it is directly related to the task that they will be doing (asking without a valid reason goes against data protection principles).

When people are not suitable

It’s better to cope with a vacancy for a bit longer than accept the wrong person to become a volunteer, but how do you handle it?

  • Explain to the applicant why you came to this decision.
  • Use the volunteer role description as a guide.
  • Are there any other roles available?
  • Let them know about Volunteering Kirklees so they can find out about other (hopefully more suitable) opportunities.

Monitoring and evaluation

Knowing who is (or is not) applying to volunteer with you is valuable information. It can help you to understand what you are doing well (in terms of getting your messages out) and help identify what needs to change. It is a good idea to monitor relevant details (age, gender, race, where people live etc) in an open and sensitive way. Get in touch for further information, help or advice.