Screening and Supervising Volunteers
The screening process for volunteers must be taken very seriously. Establishing a formal screening process will accomplish many objectives. By properly screening candidates, the program is more likely to select qualified volunteers; the formality of the process will impress upon the candidates the importance of their commitment. Screening procedures are also necessary to help protect Dreamers, staff members, other volunteers, and the Project from risks posed by individuals with improper motives for volunteering.
There are several components to a comprehensive screening process, which are listed below. Keep impeccable records at every step of the screening process to document thorough efforts to screen every candidate should any problems arise. One helpful method is to create a file folder for each applicant and a checklist to record the completion of each step in the screening process.
First, every candidate should complete an application form requesting basic biographical data, work and volunteer experience, reasons for volunteering, interests, and availability. It is also helpful to provide the candidate with a job description for each volunteer position.
A sample application form can be found here.
Another element of the screening process is references who can comment on the applicant’s character and potential for working with young people. References are essential for mentor candidates. Programs typically require at least two references and some require up to six personal references for mentor candidates. Employers, supervisors, and people familiar with the individual’s prior volunteer experiences are good references. Family members are not acceptable. Contact all references regarding the applicant. References and personal interviews with the candidate are often the best sources of information about the applicant’s personality, work habits, and commitment. Most programs send an email to the references explaining the IHDF program, accompanied by a standardized form requesting information about the applicant. If any information in the reference raises questions or appears incomplete, follow up with a phone call to the reference and keep careful records of these conversations. A sample reference form can be found here.
Personal interviews provide further insight into a candidate’s background and stability. If possible, have at least two different IHDF personnel conduct interviews with each candidate. The Program Coordinator or whoever is responsible for managing volunteers should be one interviewer. Depending on availability and the Program’s structure, a second interviewer may be the Executive Director or a board member, but parents and Dreamers can also be involved. In Los Angeles, potential volunteers are reviewed by a Dreamer committee; no volunteers are accepted until the committee approves their application. Some possible topics to discuss in the interview include:
- The applicant’s motivation for volunteering
- The skills and qualities the applicant can offer to IHDF
- The applicant’s prior volunteer experiences or experiences with children
- Ways that the applicant would handle difficult situations with a child or react to a child with a different background from the applicant
- Any concerns the applicant has about becoming a volunteer
- The applicant’s placement preferences
In the case of mentors, the interviews are an extremely important step. Some programs conduct one of the screening interviews in the candidate’s home. PCs in Los Angeles meet with the Dreamer, a parent, and the potential mentor for a “getting to know you” interview. A match is made only if all parties agree to it after the initial meeting and a week-long waiting period.
In addition to personal interviews, invite potential volunteers to attend some IHDF events or the after-school program. This will give the volunteers a better idea of the type of work they may be doing.
Programs must consider whether they need to conduct a criminal history background check of applicants for certain volunteer positions. State law governs private youth-serving organization’s access to criminal record information on their volunteer applicants, so procedures for conducting background checks will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Background checks may be conducted through a name search or a fingerprint search. Typically, a state law enforcement agency acts as the mediary for nonprofits seeking access to criminal history information. There are fees associated with conducting these checks that range from state to state. The time required to process criminal history requests also varies from state to state, but it can take several weeks to two months. Some programs pay these processing fees themselves. Others ask the volunteers to pay the fee. Consult with legal counsel to determine what a particular state’s laws require or allow with respect to accessing criminal histories of prospective volunteers. An established volunteer organization in the program’s community may also be able to provide guidance on how to conduct background checks of volunteer candidates.
Training volunteers serves two primary goals for “I Have A Dream” programs. It acquaints volunteers with the IHDF Program, and it prepares them for their job responsibilities. These are some suggested topics to cover in a volunteer orientation:
- The history of the “I Have A Dream” Foundation
- The history of the particular local program
- The goals and mission of the program
- General background on the Dreamers such as their age, current grade levels, neighborhood or public housing development, the schools they attend, and a general socioeconomic profile
- An introduction of the Program Coordinator and staff
- An organizational chart, office telephone number, and emergency phone numbers
- A site visit to tour the facilities and observe an activity in progress
The best way to achieve the second objective—preparing volunteers for their responsibilities—will vary depending on the volunteer ‘s role. Programs often tailor their trainings to particular types of volunteers. Formal training sessions should always be provided for mentors and tutors.
The topics commonly covered include:
- The job description
- Rules of conduct for volunteers and Dreamers
- Lesson plans and activity ideas
- Information on children’s developmental stages
- Discussion of multiculturalism and socioeconomic diversity
- Building self-esteem
- Confidentiality of Dreamer information
- Proper handling of emergency situations or suspected cases of abuse or neglect