Three volunteer engagement pros weigh in on behavior-based interviewing

Still on the fence - Twenty HatsReaders of my blog know that I am a big fan of behavior-based interviewing — and that’s because it works. Using this particular model means you engage volunteers who are a good fit from the get go, making supervision easier and increasing your odds for retention.

But don’t take my word for it. This week, I interviewed three volunteer engagement professionals who all use behavior-based interviewing and experience their own positive results. Here are their perspectives:

Keeping things objective

Priscilla Jahanian, a supervisor at Fairfax CASA, likes the behavior-based approach because it is competency-based and not subjective. “It takes the burden off of me making a decision based on my personal feelings about an individual. It gives me confidence because I know when to zero in for clarification.” Priscilla finds the method especially helpful for pinpointing interpersonal skills.

Great for skills-based volunteers

Working at the national level of the American Red Cross, Volunteer Relationships Manager Kim Gube sees behavior-based interviewing as a…

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Trudy - Twenty HatsThat’s Trudy, on the left. She is 51 years old, lives in Fairfax VA with her software exec husband, Lance, and her youngest daughter, Angie.

Angie is headed off to college in the fall and Trudy is trying to figure out what to do when she becomes an empty nester. She used to be a school teacher before raising her daughter – she loves children – but she has not worked in many years. She is wondering if there is a way she can volunteer that involves children and will challenge her – she wants to do more than read to children or tutor them.

Why am I telling you about Trudy? Because she’s not real.

Trudy is a persona that I created while at Fairfax CASA to represent my ideal volunteer. For years, she gave me guidance on how to craft my messaging and direct my marketing. It’s Trudy who kept me focused on inspiring prospective volunteers who were a lot like her.

Old practice, new application

Creating personas is nothing new. Like so many of my favorite…

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On any given day I can receive multiple calls from students looking to volunteer at our agency in order to meet community service requirements. Like many students, Sarah was very eager to get started when she first called.

By all definitions, Sarah was a very well rounded young lady –a good student, an athlete, involved in theater at her school and motivated to make a difference. Yet somehow, she let the better part of her school year get away from her without making a plan as to how she would complete her 25- hour community service requirement. Despite this looming deadline, I invited Sarah in so we could talk about her volunteer goals and how we might work together to reach them.

Happy friends gardening for the communitySo, why do students wait until the last minute to make a volunteering plan? Sure, most kids these days are pulled in a thousand directions, and it’s easy to overlook items on the “to-do list”. Over the years, I’ve found that students (particularly those with a lot on their plates) need flexibility.

At Family Centers, we allow students the option to…

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Guest blogger Lisa Lunghofer, Ph.D., tackles one of the Twenty Hats we wear and sometimes avoid, demonstrating program outcomes.


Let’s face it. A lot of people are afraid of program evaluation. There are countless explanations we use to rationalize not evaluating our programs. How often have you heard (or said):

  • “I’m not an evaluator.”
  • “Evaluation is expensive. We don’t have those kinds of resources.”
  •  “Participants love the program, so it must be working.”
  •  “Our program is complicated; it’s impossible to measure outcomes.”

To make matters worse, lack of staff expertise in evaluation is sometimes accompanied by fear that perhaps the program won’t show the results we expect. Then what?

I understand the reluctance and the fear.

Yet as concepts like results-based accountability become the norm and funders increasingly require evaluation plans in grant proposals, it’s important to step back and consider what can be gained from program evaluation. Most importantly, evaluation provides critical information about whether or not your program is achieving desired results.

We all know resources are limited. Isn’t it better to know sooner rather than later if those resources are being used effectively? And for those whose work…

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When you interview volunteers, trusting your gut leads to mixed results

True or False?

Thumbs Up DownOur gut feelings about a volunteer are the best predictor of volunteer success.

Since I’m asking the question – and it’s a leading question – you’ve probably guessed the correct answer: FALSE.

Five years ago I would have answered ‘True’. The program where I have worked, Fairfax CASA, takes volunteer screening seriously. We expect candidates to complete a one hour orientation and two interviews before being considered for training, and then the staff discusses each candidate before making the weighty decision to accept or reject someone.

About those “gut feelings”

Despite all this rigor, our decisions often came down to our “gut feelings” about a candidate – even though our gut feelings were not paying off. We were having a tough time meeting our recruitment goals because so many trainees either dropped their cases or never even took one. This was a huge problem because our judges want to see a volunteer on every single case that enters the court.

The pressure to bring in qualified…

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When you facilitate an orientation, remember it’s you running the show.

Do you hold an orientation for new volunteers? If you do – and if you have held a bunch of them, you have probably seen it all.

FacilitatorI know I have. As someone who has led over 65 prospective volunteer orientations (and counting!), I remember the early days of hosting these events. Back in the day it was not uncommon to witness:

  • Audience members who dominated the conversion, leaving everyone else to shift around in their seats impatiently.
  • Speakers who veered away from their talking points, creating misconceptions about the program.
  • Presenters who droned on so long that there was no time left to cover all the material.

All of these scenarios undermined the impact of my orientation – something I could not afford, as my program needed a great many volunteers. So instead of refining my agenda or choosing different speakers, I chose to develop the one ability certain to turn things around, my facilitation skills.

If you are new to facilitation, or if you seek to hone your skills, here…

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FormulaRecently, I had the privilege of leading a training hosted by Volunteer Fairfax for RSVP workstation managers on the art of the elevator pitch.

I love the idea of the elevator pitch, because it is another way to use stories to engage prospective volunteers, but this time with the spoken word.

Basic Elements

Just like written stories, a good elevator pitch starts by examining your prospective volunteer’s needs and goals and connecting that information to your volunteer program.

Once you frame your pitch in this manner, the words fall right into place. Here is an example from the RSVP training, created by Alacia Earley of Cornerstones in Reston, Virginia.

“You mentioned that you enjoy working with children one on one. We have a volunteer position you might be interested in. Our Homework Help volunteers come in once a week for a few hours to work one-on-one or in small groups with students at our community centers in Reston. Regular volunteers often tell me how rewarding it is to see the students come…

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BlueprintHave you ever found any of these things to be true?

  • You want to create a brochure, but you’re not sure what’s most important to say.
  • Your wonder how to promote a special event in a way that stands out.
  • You and your co-workers talk a lot about branding, and you wonder how that translates in social media.

Your marketing skills are probably not the issue here. You may simply need a road map to carry out your project.

For any marketing project within a nonprofit, I recommend starting with something the advertising pros use all the time – a creative brief.

What is a creative brief?

The creative brief is a blueprint for your project. The brief helps you clarify your messaging by asking you questions about your target audience, your purpose, your resources, your time frame. Then it walks you through all the steps to completion.

Creative briefs are especially helpful for team projects. The brief sets a common goal for everyone’s work and details each person’s unique role in making that happen.

Take a leap of faith

I wrote my first creative brief…

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Don’t frustrate your prospects with a confusing info page.

frustrationWe have devoted several blog posts to the process behind story writing for nonprofits. That’s because the story is the emotional hook that engages readers and gets them curious about getting involved in your cause.

But that’s just the beginning of the journey.

Your goal with stories is to lead your reader to take action – to volunteer, donate, attend an event, purchase a product.

Let’s stick with the goal of bringing new volunteers into your program. You want your visitor, now inspired by an intriguing story, to click over to your ‘Volunteer Now’ page. So you embed within your story a hyperlink to your volunteer opportunities page. Or, you might choose to end the story with a button containing a clear call to action.

The content on the ‘Volunteer Now’ page needs to be clear and compelling so the visitor continues on. After all – to borrow language from the sales world – your story is your ‘teaser’ and your opportunities page is where you ‘close the deal.’

If your information page…

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Put yourself in your reader’s shoes and write a great volunteer story

POV post - Twenty HatsIf you’ve been reading past blog posts and doing your homework, you have a good foundation of preparation for writing a great volunteer story.

Now it’s time to park yourself in front of the keyboard and start to write. As you craft your piece, ask yourself who you are writing for –

— You, or your future volunteer?

When we write up a profile, the natural tendency is to write from our point of view.

Let’s say you manage a mentoring program. Perhaps you value your volunteer because she turns in her reports on time and is willing to pick up other tasks, like answering the phones. While these things may be important, and you may decide to touch on them, they will not excite your readers and encourage them to read on.

You have already interviewed a volunteer to profile who resembles the volunteers you most want to recruit. Now you need to flip your perspective and write the story from the…

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