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Recruiting Volunteers Part 7: Assess Your Volunteer Candidates

By Daniel C. Olsen, Senior Consultant, Special Districts Association of Oregon

The legendary coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, knew how to build great teams.  He stated, “You must learn how to hold a team together. You must lift some men up, calm others down, until finally they've got one heartbeat. Then you've got yourself a team.” Bear Bryant was a master at assessing individual players, utilizing their talents and strength to build them into a great team.

To build your organization into a great team, you need to do the same. 

You recruit for quality volunteers. You recruit for talent (traits and abilities).  With the talent, you need to develop an effective team. This means understanding volunteers as individuals and as team members.  With your team, you seek alignment.  I will use the term “alignment”.  Think about driving a car whose front end is out of alignment.  A tough, rough, and bumpy ride.  Sometimes you may have felt that way about your organization…a tough, rough, and bumpy ride.

Why should you assess your volunteers?  You assess them to increase their opportunity for success as a volunteer and prevent “volunteer remorse”.   Volunteer Remorse is indicated by those nagging inner thoughts such as: “Did I make the right choice”, “What did I get myself into?”, “This is really not for me”.

Recruiting Principles (Screening the Candidate) and (Assessing the Candidate) involve determining how individuals best fit into your organization or agency.  The relationship between the volunteer and organization should be mutually beneficial. Carefully screening and assessing the candidate helps to achieve the goal of bringing quality volunteers into your organization.

The Principle of Assessing the Candidate evaluates candidate traits and talents. It helps identify how they can best contribute to the success of the organization while satisfying their own needs and desires as a volunteer.

While this may seem time-consuming, the purpose is more emphasis on the early stages of the recruiting process rather than later.  Moving too quickly at the beginning of the process may result in volunteer dissatisfaction and leaving the organization.

Observe, Ask, Discuss

To assess your candidate, use a three-step process: Observe, Ask, DiscussObserve their behavior, ask them questions, and listen to their responses. Observe your new volunteer and what that suggests in better understanding them.

Consider the group of volunteers with whom they will be working. Keep in mind that behavior depends on the situation.  You should consider general trends over a period of time.  Behavior of individuals is more on a sliding scale.  Consider the following:

Work style

  • Do they seem to focus more on the task at hand or relationships with other persons?
  • Do they seem to work at a faster pace or a slower pace?
  • Do they focus more on the final product or the process itself?
  • Do they seem to prefer working by themselves or with others?
  • Are they more assertive or less assertive when interacting with others?
  • Are they more formal or informal in behavior and dress?
  • Are they more extroverted or introvert in their behavior?

Communication style

  • Is their communication style more direct or more indirect?
  • Is their communication more detailed or less detailed?
  • Do the speak more and listen less?
  • Do they listen more and speak less?

Needs, Wants and Desires

  • Volunteers have needs, wants, and desires they seek to fulfill.  Often times, a volunteer leaves an organization because their needs, wants or desires are not being fulfilled.
  • What are their needs?
  • What are their wants?
  • What are their desires?  Think of desire as an increase level of want.  How do they want to use their talents as a volunteer and contribute?  They volunteer to help others.   But they may volunteer to learn, gain experience.  They may also volunteer to innovate and improve programs and processes.

Here is an example of needs, wants, and desires.  Consider a volunteer caring for shrubs in a garden or park.  There is the Need to understand watering, fertilizing and general care. There is the Want to know how to trim and cultivate them, so they are health shrubs. There is the Desire to transform the shrubs into a topiary…the art of trimming and sculpting bushes into characters.

Understanding the behavior, needs, wants and desires of your volunteers.  It will enable you to best fit them into your team and set them on the path to success and the success of your organization.

Key Points

  • Your goal is to recruit quality volunteers for your organization or agency.
  • Once a volunteer, they are a member of your team.
  • The relationship between volunteer and organization should be mutually beneficial.
  • Observe, ask, and discuss with your individual volunteers about their behavior styles to help better understand them.
  • Observe, Ask and Discuss with your individual volunteers about their needs, wants and desires.
  • Build your team so” their hearts beat as one”.


Are you trying to recruit Board Members for your agency?

SDAO has a great resource: “The Board Member Recruitment Toolkit”

Check it out at