How to turn down a volunteer

Volunteer selection and screening is a sensitive, time-consuming process. If you intend to accept all those who apply, there is no point in taking the time and trouble to screen them in the first place. Careful volunteer selection will result in turning down some people. This is unpleasant, but necessary for the welfare of your programme and your organisation. The alternative is to get a reputation for accepting anyone who applies and therefore open your organisation to inadequate service to your clients or visitors.

Good programme ethics declare that the volunteer deserves to be told the truth. It is never easy to turn down a potential volunteer, but it is a necessary part of building a good quality volunteer programme.

In the same way as not every person interviewed for a paid position expects to be hired, potential volunteers will not expect to be accepted for the demands of certain volunteer position, for which they do not have the necessary qualifications.

Never indicate to a volunteer that a position will be available at your organisation without having assessed his or her suitability. Promises only sharpen the disappointment of a turndown later and are harder to explain to the volunteer. Provide opportunities for the volunteer to screen himself out of the process.

Graceful Exits

* If you have a diverse programme, you can offer a volunteer who is unsuitable for the post he or she has applied for, another post that you feel is more appropriate. Then, if the volunteer refuses the new role, he is turning you down, not the other way around.
* Keep a file of other volunteer opportunities available in your area and refer the volunteer to an organisation that might suit his interests more appropriately. That way you are affirming that he has something to offer and can contribute (just not with you).
* Do not allow a potential volunteer into your programme before he has completed the necessary induction and training sessions. If the volunteer has to wait a long time before getting the chance to take part, he may join an alternative organisation and thus screen himself out of the process.
* Many organisations have a probationary period to test out potential volunteers

How to say “No”

Be honest with the potential volunteer. If their skills or qualifications do not meet your needs, tactfully tell them so. Give them positive feedback regarding their strengths and try to refer them to another community organisation or local Volunteer Bureau.

You might try saying the following:

“Your skills or qualifications do not meet our needs, but let’s think about what you have to offer. Organisation X may be able to utilise your talents and can let you have their contact details”

“The amount of time you are willing to give does not meet our needs for that particular role, but here are some alternative roles we have to offer”

“Your qualifications do not meet our needs for this particular role. Unfortunately, that is the only opportunity available at the moment, but I know how serious you are about volunteering and feel you are anxious to get involved quickly. I would like to refer you to the Volunteer Bureau. They have a computer listing of volunteer positions at a variety of organisations in this area. Here is their phone number. I hope you find a suitable position soon”

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