National Center for Charitable Statistics

The Nonprofit FAQ

What should I look for at an agency where I might volunteer?
The Volunteer Center of San Francisco says in its "Helpful Hints for Volunteers"

VISIT THE AGENCY you are interested in before committing yourself. Get a
sense of the staff, clients, and overall environment you will be working with
and in.

BE REALISTIC AND CLEAR about the amount of time you can commit. It is
easier to start small and increase your commitment than to have to back out
because your schedule is overwhelming you.

FIND OUT WHAT THE AGENCY'S PURPOSE IS and how your role as a
volunteer fits into that mission. Sometimes, what may seem as an
insignificant contribution to you makes all the difference to those people or
that program you are serving.

ASK FOR A JOB DESCRIPTION of your volunteer work. It helps you decide
if the work is an appropriate "fit" for you, and provides a set of
standards or
expectations when you do volunteer. Nothing is worse tha setting aside time
to volunteer at an agency, only to arrive and find there's nothing to do. A
description goes a long way towards allleviating these blues.

ASK ABOUT TRAINING and/or supervision. If an agency is asking you to
perform a task, will they provide the necessary back-up for you to be

professional growth as well. Don't be reluctant to request an evaluation of
the work you perform, or a letter of recommendation, should you decide to
list your volunteer service as a future work reference.

ENTHUSIASM IS THE KEY. If you are not excited about a program, the
chances are you are not going to be thrilled with giving up time in your
day to
go there.

GO FOR IT! You get out of your volunteer work what you put into it.
Volunteering requires no special degree or prior experience. It's simply a
willingness to want to help. The rest will take care of itself.

Susan Ellis says in "Advice for Volunteers" on ImpactOnline:

(ImpactOnline is now; earlier content is for the most part no longer available on that site. --Ed.)

Expect to complete a written volunteer application form.

If the assignment involves working with children or other vulnerable
populations, it may be a legal requirement that the
agency ask for references and do a child abuse or other criminal background
check. Don't be insulted! It's the law.
Besides, aren't you glad that children and the elderly are being protected?

Based on the assignment under consideration, it is also possible that you
may be asked to sign a confidentiality
statement, take a tuberculosis test, show proof of automobile insurance, or
agree to attend a training workshop. If you are under age 18, you will
probably need to have a parent or guardian sign a consent form.

Feel free to ask questions about any of the procedures requested by the

Copyright © Energize, Inc., used by permission.

Nan Hawthorne says in "Get the Most out of Volunteering!" on the America
Online Online Campus on February 25, 1997:


I. Recruitment

- clear on what positions they have available

- communicate what they're looking for in their recruitment ads

II. Screening

- do "screen out" when necessary: use tools and techniques to eliminate
potential problems (especially when working with children, etc.)

- but also see applications, interviews, etc., to "screen in": determine
the best match for you and what extra training you might need to be successful

- respect your right to interview them. Here are some good questions to
ask at an interview:

  • Do you have insurance that covers volunteers?
  • Can you reimburse me for out-of-pocket expenses?
  • To whom will I directly report?
  • Will I receive training?
  • May I have a job description to which to refer?
  • Is there anything I can do to make on-going communication between us
    easier for you?
  • Are clients and paid staff oriented to the volunteer program so they
    understand what I can and cannot do?
  • What resources (reference materials, a mentor, counseling, backup) are
    available to me?
  • How will I know if I'm doing a good job?

III. Training

- have some form of training, whether formal or on-the-job. Do not accept
a volunteer position where you will receive no training!

- clearly outline their expectations of your performance

- give you a job description for every position you take

IV. Placement

- makes sure you are given a volunteer position where you are needed and
where you have every opportunity to achieve success

V. Supervision and Evaluation

- give you someone to turn to for training, feedback and answers

- let you know how you're doing

- give you satisfactory feedback on your performance

- checks in with you to see how you're feeling about your work

5. Recognition

- makes sure you know your work is valued on a regular basis

- has some sort of organizational "thank you"

Reposted with minor changes 8/22/98; again 3/24/05 --PB