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Selecting Volunteer Officers

Daniel C. Olsen, SDAO Senior Consultant


Chief Smith was sitting at his desk, pondering the question of why some of his volunteer officers are doing well and some are not. Why do some do well, and others do not? He was proud of his volunteers. They do a great job in serving the District. He reasoned that his officers who had been selected would be effective. But not all of them were. He knows that leadership in an organization was a key factor in retaining volunteers.

What was the key? What was missing?


You may have asked yourself the same questions Chief Smith was wrestling with.

Let’s start with how you select your volunteer officers.

You may find that often selection is based on time with your organization and an interview. Time in service is an easy criterion to consider. The interview is relatively easy. Often the decision is based on who you like or the person with whom you are most comfortable. Some may say that “The cream rises to the top” or “Natural born leader will emerge” to justify their decision on who to appoint as an Officer. But is that always the case?


We are likely to select people with whom we are compatible and like. Are you likely to select someone you do not like? Most likely not. In an effective selection process, there may be additional factors which are overlooked or not considered.


When selecting volunteer officers, ask yourself three questions:

·       Question One: What are your expectations of an effective Officers?

·       Question Two: What are the Abilities, Behaviors or Qualities you want the officer to have?

·       Question Three: What is your process for selecting the best candidate?


Question One: What are your expectations?

Do you expect the person selected to be a manager or a leader?

While you may expect both, this is a distinction that is often overlooked. An officer occupies a managerial position and has a title of lieutenant, captain, etc. Common responsibilities include,  being able to organize, assign, direct, coordinate, control and evaluate.

A leader, on the other hand, is not a managerial position but has influence and followers who listen to them.

Yet often, we expect, and need, an officer to be both a manager and leader. But sometimes, they are not.

Question Two: What are the Abilities, Behaviors or Qualities you want the officer to have?

Here is a list you can use when considering a candidate. You may want to add, modify, or change some of the ones listed, but it is a starting point. They can also provide a basis when providing training or conducting a coaching session.

·       Honest

·       Dependable

·       Strong work ethic

·       Demonstrates initiative

·       Ability to plan

·       Effectively Influence others

·       Competence in being able to perform the job tasks effectively, efficiently, and safely.

·       Builds positive relationship with other individuals, groups, and other agencies

·       Communicates clearly and effectively in giving directions, feedback

·       Adapts to changes

·       Encourages teamwork

·       Presents themself in a positive manner

·       Respectful of others

·       Appreciative of other efforts and contributions

·       Optimistic viewpoint especially when confronted with challenges and obstacles.

Question Three: What is your process for selecting the best candidate?

How is your “recruiting” program for volunteer officers? You recruited your volunteers. Isn’t it just as important to recruit your Officers?

Do you “Recruit” individuals and see if they are interested in being an officer? Some may be but not everyone is interested in being an Officer.

Do you provide training and assignments to prepare the person to effectively perform in an Officer’s role?

Do you conduct a selection process that assesses the individual to effectively perform the duties they will be assigned?

Consider the following process for “recruiting” and selecting your volunteer Officers:

·       Review your current volunteers and identify who would be a good candidate.

·       Discuss with them their interest in becoming an Officer.

·       Prepare them for the position of being an Officer and to be successful.

·       Conduct an evaluation process.

·       Once appointed, do you provide coaching and feedback on how they are doing?

The question is how much time are you willing to invest in the process?

Does your selection process prepare the person for success?

How do you objectively evaluate the candidate? The evaluation process may include:

·       Written examination

·       Interview board

·       Peer review (input from members of your organization on how they perform using specific questions about desired behaviors and frequency the candidate demonstrated the desired behaviors)

·       Assessment center/simulated exercises

Keep in mind, the selection process needs to meet your needs and be tailored to your organization. You choose what and how you want to evaluate the candidate. Make it work for you and your organization.



Your Officers are an important factor in retaining your volunteers. You need to invest time in preparing them to be successful.

When selecting Offices

·       Select the Abilities, Behaviors or Qualities you want the officer to demonstrate as an Officer.

·       Decide on the process for recruiting and selecting the best candidate. Have it meet the needs of your organization.

Whatever you choose, make sure your selection and development process prepare the individual to be successful as an Officer. This process will also help to retain volunteers. Selecting your volunteer officers is an investment in time but the result is well worth the effort.