How to Write a Volunteer Application That Protects Your Charity

Basics of a Volunteer Application

Elderly volunteer helping children with art project.

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Charities have somewhat different needs when it comes to volunteers. They must recruit volunteers by being friendly and welcoming. However, Nonprofit organizations also need to be careful about who volunteers for them.

There are many horror stories about inadequately vetted volunteers causing harm to a nonprofit's clients, especially when there are at-risk populations such as children or the elderly.

To protect the organization and the volunteers, a complete volunteer application form should be one of the first steps in your volunteer recruitment process.

Your organization, including its staff, and board members could be held responsible for illegal acts of volunteers unless there are adequate safeguards and paperwork, not to mention lawsuits from clients that claim abuse.

Safeguards that accompany incorporation, as well as umbrella insurance policies, usually protect nonprofits, but only if organizations properly vet and document volunteer workers.

It is tough sometimes to put volunteers who only want to help through the hassle of background checks and application forms, but this is an issue that should not be neglected.

You can quickly make your application friendlier and welcoming for volunteers by writing some introductory paragraphs that explain what your organization does, its mission, who you serve, and the contributions of your many volunteers.

Summarize some of the roles your volunteers fulfill, the training they receive, and how you make volunteering fun. After all, you want to recruit energized and happy volunteers. Your application will ask for some pretty serious information, so start with a friendly face.

Your application should not be your only screening tool. Be sure to follow up with an interview that may identify both negative and positive attributes of your potential volunteers. You would never hire a staff member without a thorough interview. Likewise, interviewing your potential volunteers not only helps you place them in an appropriate position, but also provides valuable clues about their backgrounds and characters.

Sometimes, an interview will turn up amazing skills and talents that the volunteer did not even realize might be useful to your organization. Is the volunteer a good writer, a photographer, or have artistic skills? Conversely, ask about what the volunteer doesn't want to do. Perhaps clerical work isn't his or her cup of tea, or they don't wish to perform jobs that they already do in their regular lives, but want to do something different. Perhaps they want to build specific skills or learn something. Verified Volunteers has some good suggestions for questions you can ask during your interview.

Nonprofits should check with legal counsel about necessary safeguards and to help draft or approve its volunteer application forms.

Those forms vary from organization to organization but typically have the following components.

  • Contact information, including an email address
  • Birth Date and social security number (necessary for background checks or credit checks)
  • Emergency contact; the relationship of the contact, address and phone #
  • Previous work or volunteer experience
  • Highest education level reached
  • Language/s spoken
  • Physical limitations
  • Current Employer
  • Other organizations where the applicant has volunteered
  • Description of training or experience that may be pertinent to the volunteer position desired.
  • Statement of and description of prior criminal convictions or offenses
  • Certifications such as First Aid and CPR with dates of certification and expiration dates.
  • Valid driver's license #
  • References: One or more personal references with contact information; and one or more professional or work-related references with the supervisor's name and contact information
  • Skills checklist (list skills needed in the organization's volunteer positions such as computer, tutoring, administrative skills, phone calls, teaching, supervision).
  • Preferred volunteer areas (list regular volunteer jobs that applicant can check if interested)
  • Reason for volunteering
  • How did you hear about us?
  • Hours and days available for volunteer work
  • Include any disclaimers from the organization. For instance, you could include a fair and equal opportunity statement and a list of requirements for volunteers such as reference check, interview, trial period, and required training.
  • Signature of applicant and date of signature

Some nonprofits make their volunteer applications available online. Sometimes they can be submitted online or printed out for the volunteer to mail in.

For an example of a comprehensive application, see this one from Johns Hopkins Hospital. It is a PDF that is part of the hospital's online volunteer page.

All information about how to become a volunteer and the benefits for volunteers can be quickly set up on your website. The Johns Hopkins example includes all the requirements and all the forms required. Consider such a page as part of your volunteer recruitment effort.

After the application process, you should have position descriptions for your essential volunteer jobs. Here is a guide to writing a job description.