The Volunteer from Hell: Part II

Posted on: 08/11/16 5:45 AM | by Jonathan McKee week I began a 3 post series in my blog about those ministry volunteers who make our lives miserable. How can we avoid getting ourselves in this mess in the first place?

Great question.

Let’s continue with our 3 effective ways to screen volunteers so you avoid ‘The Volunteer from Hell.’

In the first post, I addressed the importance of actually calling references. Not just asking for references… but using them. (How many of you have skipped this step?)

Today, let’s talk about the second way to avoid ‘The Volunteer from Hell’…

No. 2: The Screening Interview
Do you make it a habit of sitting down with potential volunteers and asking them questions…even uncomfortable ones?

In the last post I mentioned that I once had a ‘Volunteer from Hell.’ Our ministry was growing logarithmically and I was desperate for help (sound familiar?) I asked my existing volunteers if they knew anyone that would like to help. One of my loyal dedicated volunteers introduced me to a friend of hers that was interested in helping. A year later… we all regretted it (I share the whole story in Chapter 9 of The New Breed).

My first mistake was not calling references. I figured if my loyal dedicated volunteer had brought her to me, how could I go wrong. I asked her later, “Why did you bring me her in the first place?!!” She replied, “I don’t know. You sounded pretty desperate.”

Even with that first mistake, my fate wasn’t sealed. But then I messed up again. My second mistake was not conducting an interview.

Yes, honestly, I didn’t even interview her. I just shook her hand and said, “Welcome aboard.” And in the last two decades I’ve met hundreds of youth leaders who have done the same.

Maybe it’s because we erroneously think that volunteering is no big deal. “It’s not a real job.” So we skip vital steps, like applications or interviews.

Don’t skip this crucial step. We need to interview volunteers with the same scrutiny and attention to detail that we’d interview employees. If you are recruiting them to work with young people… even more so!

If you’re looking for positive adult role models, it might be good to make sure they are positive adult role models! The best way to do this is have them fill out a volunteer application (See a sample one here), and then sit down with them face-to-face and interview them.

Let me pause for a quick moment and remind you—these steps (the application and interview) are deep into the recruiting process, a process that starts with prayer and asking volunteers to become involved (more on that here). Don’t scare potential volunteers away by walking up to them and saying, “Hey, would you like to work with kids? Well, I need a blood and urine sample… and by the way… are you a child molester?” Screening is very important, but ease into the process.

Interviewing them doesn’t mean making them feel like a criminal. Remind them of the incredible work that God is doing through the ministry and how important it is to take precautions. In my screening interview I usually say something like, “I’m going to ask you some questions about your background that I am required to ask. Don’t be intimidated. This is for our records and I’m sure you understand why we need to ask them.”

Then don’t be afraid to ask them:

  • If they’ve ever been arrested
  • If they use alcohol or drugs
  • If they’ve ever been accused of child abuse
  • If they agree with your statement of faith

We have a sample volunteer staff screening interview guide on this page HERE with more questions you can ask.

If evangelism is an important part of your ministry, ask them to share their faith story. Then ask them to share Jesus with you as if you were a kid.

I’m pretty lenient with that last request. Sharing your faith is something I can train a believer. But it’s still a good question because it can reveal a lot about their theology and their attitude. If they feel insecure sharing their faith, notice if they seem teachable to learning how to share their faith. Are they teachable in general?

Ask them about their strengths and weaknesses. Listen carefully and make sure you aren’t trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. When you discover someone’s gift and allow them to use it, you’ll be amazed what God does through them.

Screening interviews are a must. You’ll be surprised how much a screening interview reveals about a person.

But that’s not the last way to avoid ‘The Volunteer from Hell’…

(More in “The Volunteer from Hell PART III“)

Jonathan is the author of 20 books, including THE SKINNY ON VOLUNTEERS, and THE NEW BREED which has entire chapter on the volunteer from Hell. Join him this September in Colorado for several days of training at GROUP on “Mobilizing a New Breed of Volunteers.”