Finding volunteers

To quote a volunteer manager “recruiting volunteers is especially hard as they require an emotional contract not a paid one”. This makes recruiting for volunteers far more complex than recruiting for a paid role.

If you are new to volunteer management or developing a start-up volunteer program please contact us for further assistance. We have lots of resources, training and support to get you started.

Here are a set of steps for finding volunteers:

You need to give enough information and insight for volunteers to make a decision on whether they want to connect with your organisation and commit to the role being offered. You are finding out if there is a good fit.

Matching expectations before a volunteer starts with you is important! What is your organisation’s expectation, and how does it fit with the volunteer’s expectation?

Connecting with volunteers is more than just posting for volunteers. The connecting process includes:

  • Analysing the requirements of the job
  • Attracting the right people to do that job
  • Screening and selecting applicants
  • Engaging and integrating the new person into the organisation

Come alone to our Connecting with Volunteers Masterclass for successful connection techniques.

Most people who do not volunteer say that they have never been asked.  Get out into the community, tell people about the fantastic work that you do, and ask them to help. Enlist your current volunteers to help you by giving them information / inspiring stories about what your organisation has achieved and what it wants to achieve.

Volunteer Resource Centres (VRC's)

  • Your local VRC knows the local people and they provide a range of services to help you recruit and connect with volunteers. Develop a relationship with local VRCs and reap the rewards.

Word of mouth

  • Give staff, volunteers and supporters information about the roles you need to fill and ask who they would recommend.
  • Develop a Q&A sheet to help staff and volunteers to recruit others.
  • Find ways into a variety of groups, different age groups, ethnicity, disability, students etc.
  • Encourage volunteers to bring a friend/family member to award ceremonies, open days, social events.
  • Ask volunteers to tell positive stories about their experience.

Information sessions

  • Invite specific groups you want to target to a “taster” session.
  • Ask other community groups if you can present to them.
  • Be a guest speaker at one of our step into volunteering sessions
  • Have a stall at an event and give people an insight into the programs and work that you offer.
  • Use key organisation milestones (birthday, launch of a new program) or tie in with National Volunteer Week (May) or International Volunteer Day (5 December) and have an open day.

Under National and State Laws you are required to create a workplace free from discrimination and harassment. The Equal Opportunity Act (1984) basically means you can’t discriminate against people at work. This includes advertisements, the recruitment process, performance management and dismissing.

Unless there is a genuine need, Volunteering WA advice is to follow the Act and ensure you choose the right person for the role regardless of their: age, gender, pregnancy, family responsibilities, disability, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics (such as political conviction).

If you treat everyone equally, you will have no problems. Some great Factsheets: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/employers/good-practice-good-business-factsheets

Below are examples of things we must not discriminate against:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Physical / mental ability
  • Family responsibilities
  • Pregnancy / possible pregnancy
  • National extraction or social origin
  • Industrial activity
  • Lawful sexual activity or sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Colour
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Religious beliefs of activities
  • Political beliefs or activities
  • Physical features
  • Carer status
  • Breastfeeding in Public
  • Sexual orientation
There are Exceptions to the Act, mostly based on genuine occupational qualification (such as being with a person of the opposite sex), religious bodies, voluntary bodies, and charities.

Knowing what motivates each of your volunteers makes it easier when it comes to keeping volunteers engaged and recognising their efforts.

Some reasons that motivate people to volunteer are :

  • Gain new skills or knowledge
  • Help others
  • Get a job
  • Get out of the house
  • Give back
  • Do something with spare time
  • Socialise with others or develop friendships

There are many more reasons. The main thing is that you need to find out what motivates individuals to volunteer with you!  Ask your current volunteers what motivated them to join you, and what motivates them to keep coming back.  You might be surprised by the answers.

When you understand what makes your current volunteers tick, you’ll have a much better idea how to attract new volunteers and keep them motivated to keep coming back and doing a great job.

The Role Description lets everyone know what the volunteer is supposed to do. It assesses if all tasks are being done, enables effective feedback and gives validity to dismissals (if necessary). You can google for appropriate role descriptions.

Think about the type of person you need and the skills and qualities they need to have. For example, if you are looking for a volunteer carer, their qualities might need to include:  empathy, kindness, compassion. These qualities and skills would be quite different if you need a volunteer gardener:  reliable, dependable, and able to operate gardening machinery.

You will also need to consider what’s in it for them!  This is the beginning of the matching expectations (step 10) process.

Questions to consider when writing a volunteer position description

  1. The context:
    1. About the organisation and what you are passionate about/working for
    2. What you want to achieve through the volunteer program
    3. How this volunteer role will help you to achieve this
  2. Title of the role
  3. The purpose of the role and how it will help the organisation achieve its goals
  4. Who the role would report to and be working with
  5. General responsibilities
  6. Specific tasks or other outputs
  7. Skills / qualifications – needed and desirable
  8. Experience – needed and desirable
  9. Personal traits and characteristics
  10. Time and commitment – the minimum and the ideal 
  11. Where the work will be done
  12. Supervision, training, development, reimbursement and rewards offered
  13. What the volunteer will gain from working for you and in this role


Come along to our Connecting with Volunteers Masterclass to learn how to effectively develop your marketing strategy to maximise volunteer involvement.

One of the biggest complaints we receive is that volunteers have put in an application but no-one has either acknowledged it, or got back to them.  Remember, volunteers are giving up their time for you so we ask that you respect their time and respond in a very timely manner. If the Volunteer Manager doesn’t work full-time, make sure there is an out-of-office notification to manage volunteer expectations about a time frame.

To ensure fairness and consistency, develop a list of questions to ask at interview and use the same questions for all people applying for the role.  The questions you ask will be determined by the Role Description (step 6).  It is best to have no more than ten questions.  Use a combination of interview questions such as:

Performance-based questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you worked or volunteered with children. What did you do to make them feel secure and encourage them to learn?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to help a difficult person who was complaining and unhappy. What did you do to resolve the situation?
  • Have you ever been a member of a group where two members did not work well together? What did you do to get them to do so?

Skills-based questions:

  • What main skills can you bring to this role? How would you share those skills if we can make it possible for you to do so?
  • What would be your first five steps to improve our …..?

People without work experience:

Sometimes people don’t have a lot of experience, so ask them questions about the fire that burns within that brings them to choose to volunteer:

  • What personal qualities, skills or qualifications do you have that will help you in this role?
  • Why do you like helping others?

Understanding motivation for volunteering:

  • Why are you interested in volunteering?
  • How did you hear about this volunteering opportunity?
  • Why do you want to volunteer with our organisation?
  • What are your expectations for this volunteer role?
  • What was your most rewarding experience helping someone?

General questions:

  • Can you briefly talk about your experiences and how they relate to this position?
  • What is your greatest weakness? What are you doing to improve it?
  • Are you currently involved in any other organizations?

 If you need people in high-responsibility, long-term roles with clients and the public, consider asking questions about:

  • Integrity: ask about ethical behaviour
  • Passion: ask about hobbies or personal projects
  • Longevity: are they looking for something to do right now, or developing a volunteer career?
  • Positive attitude: ask about a positive customer service experience
  • Knowledge of tasks: ask specific questions about the tasks you need done.

 The answers to these questions will give you some clues about the level the volunteer is at.

Taking on new people can be risky.  We manage risk by ensuring people are qualified so we need to conduct interviews, check references and invite candidates to orientation.  It’s all to discover more about them and see whether a connection will develop. Ensure the physical, mental and emotional security of your clients, staff and other volunteers by doing the appropriate checks.  The type of check you do depends on the role.

Working with Children Checks (WWC)

WWC Check is a comprehensive criminal record check for certain people in child-related work in Western Australia. You are legally obliged to have checks done if volunteers work with children. Volunteers under 18 years of age are exempt. This legislation is very specific so you should check the website:  https://workingwithchildren.wa.gov.au/

Police Checks

Do make sure that you Police Check for roles that are high profile, deal with money or have contact with vulnerable people. However, many organisations do Police Checks as standard procedure and this practice can exclude many people from participating and this practice can also be discriminatory. More than 10% of people in the community have a criminal record, often very minor. You must not refuse an applicant because he/she has a prior conviction for an offence that has no relevance to the position. You should only refuse an applicant on the basis of a criminal past when you believe that the prior offence prevents the applicant from performing the “inherent requirements” of the position.

DLGC and WA Police have established a program enabling eligible WA volunteering organisations to provide their volunteers with a National Police Check for a reduced fee (currently $15.10). Volunteers who already have a WWC can obtain their National Police Clearance at no cost. Register your organisation:

https://www.dlgc.wa.gov.au/Publications/Pages/National-Police-Check-Volunteers-Program.aspx or call 6551 8700 or volunteering@communities.wa.gov.au.

A great Q&A sheet is available from: https://www.police.wa.gov.au/Police-Direct/National-Police-Certificates/Volunteer-National-Police-Certificates/Volunteer-NPC-FAQs

Reference Checks

Privacy Laws prevent you from talking with someone about a candidate without their permission so make sure you ask for several relevant Referees in case some aren’t available. Be on the look-out for “inconsistencies” between their CV, what they have said in the interview and what the referee says. Any inconsistencies should be questioned and discussed with the candidate.

Legal Status Checks

Make sure your Volunteer can legally volunteer in Australia. If a volunteer is here on a Visa, you will need to check that it is legal for them to volunteer in Australia. Generally, if they have the right to work in Australia, they have the right to Volunteer.  However, the only way to know for sure is to check with the Department of Immigration.  Telephone 131 881 or go to their Visa Entitlement Verification Online system (VEVO) http://www.border.gov.au/Busi/Visa

Volunteer engagement is successful not just when volunteers are placed but when they are placed in roles that match both their expectations and those of the organisation.

Matching expectations is an agreement, a partnership. Matching expectations before a volunteer starts will help with longer-term retention.

Find out a new volunteers expectations by ensuring they fully understand their role as well as your Code of Conduct.

Come along to our Connecting with Volunteers Masterclass to learn more.

Always select the person who most closely matches your selection criteria (role description).

If no-one is suitable, keep looking!  Choosing the wrong person can potentially do a lot of harm to your clients and your organisation.

If you have found an enthusiastic volunteer that isn’t right for the job, don’t dismiss them!  Think about what else they might do that is a better fit for them as well as you.

Make sure you advise the successful volunteer first.  If they drop out, you can always go to your second choice, if they meet your criteria.  Then advise all others who were short-listed. It’s nice to keep in touch with them if you think suitable roles might come up for them in the future.

For a great overview of all of the above, come along to our Key Issues of Volunteer Management workshop or for more specific information, attend the Connecting with Volunteers Masterclass to learn successful connection techniques.

Find out more about our training courses or join Volunteering WA and we can assist you to find volunteers for your organisation.