14 Feb 2023 | 2 min read


Get ready for an unpopular opinion. You should make it challenging for people to join your volunteer team. Read on to see our argument on the issue.



The following is an excerpt from our new Volunteer U Textbook: VOL U 101 Introduction to Volunteering. You can purchase the full edition HERE.



This step always makes people do a double take. It goes against every instinct in a volunteer manager’s body. Shouldn’t we make it as easy to volunteer as possible? More volunteers mean more work done, right?



Not always.



The term “Barriers to Entry” is common in the business world. The phrase describes obstacles that keep too many competitors from entering the industry. Difficulties that prevent new competitors could be high start-up costs or rigid regulations. We use this same terminology for volunteers when encouraging organizations to make it challenging to join a volunteer team. This weeds out any undesirable candidates. And it allows you to shape your volunteer crew into a dream team that will work for your organization.



An easy way to gauge who would be a good fit for your team is to put them through an application or interview process.



You want to give yourself a way to filter through ill-fitting volunteers. And it’s not only to protect your organization. It is also the perfect time for a possible volunteer to figure out if they want to pursue the role on your team or not.



Finding volunteers who fit your organization is a lot like dating. You might go out with a few oddballs before finding Mr. or Mrs. Right. The reality is that matching volunteers to a role is messy. It isn’t always a perfect fit, so both sides should consider it carefully before committing. Your organization may not be a good match for the potential volunteer either. Be open and honest in the early stages. Don’t be afraid to say no to potential volunteers who won’t be a good fit for your team. It will be much easier for everyone in the long run if you are honest upfront.



You should never try to filter based on discriminatory factors like age, gender, or race. But an interview or application process is a great way to learn more about someone. You can learn about their personality, interests, passions, and values. Get a feel of how they would interact with other team members or how they would do in a particular role. Learn if your volunteer opportunity is something they are interested in. Or if they would be a better fit somewhere else. This is the time for the organization and the potential volunteer to see if this will work.



“But I work for a nonprofit. I don’t have the luxury of being picky. I’ll take whoever I can get to volunteer!”



We hear this often. And our answer is always the same. You are better off building your team slowly – even if it is at the cost of producing less work. A small group of dedicated, passionate members is more valuable than tons of high-maintenance slackers.



Who you have on your team matters.



Protect your team and be careful who you allow on it. It is much more challenging to get the wrong volunteers off your team than to screen at the beginning. A protective screening process at the start of a volunteer’s journey is much easier. Make the barriers to entry difficult at the front end, so you do not suffer later.