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Choosing the right volunteers

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Application, interviews and assessments

You should read this section alongside our general guidance on recruiting volunteers.

Throughout the selection process, the higher the safeguarding risks of a role, the more you are likely to need formal application, interview and even assessment processes.

During the application stage you may need to ask additional questions that are important to safeguarding on any application form or email or written contact with a potential volunteer. You might ask for: 

  • details of former jobs or volunteering
  • evidence of any previous work with the people they’ll be working with in this role
  • why they want to volunteer in this particular role
  • information about any close relationships with people in your organisation, so you can make sure they are not involved in the selection process

For higher risk roles, you should also make sure applications are reviewed by two people, and at least one of those people should understand the safeguarding responsibilities of the role. 

If you decide that a role has a high enough level of risk to need an informal chat, interview or assessment you should also make sure that at least one of the people involved understands the safeguarding responsibilities of the role. These are some top tips to use in interviews and informal chats for volunteers where there are specific safeguarding concerns.

  • Have at least two people from the organisation involved in the interview.
  • Don’t just talk about the organisation and the role, leave lots of time for the volunteer to talk about themselves so you can judge whether they are a good fit.
  • Ask questions about why they want the role to understand more about their motivation. 
  • Pre-prepare questions, especially questions about safeguarding, at the right level for the role, so you can assess if people will have the right attitude.
  • Ask questions that encourage views and opinions to be discussed so you can see if the persons values align with your organisation’s values.
  • Ask for real life examples so you can get a better sense of the person’s experience and attitudes.
  • Keep a record of volunteer’s answers.
  • For high risk roles, seek an explanation for any gaps in the person’s work or volunteering history or anything else in their application which seems out of place.

For a long running, high risk volunteer opportunity it can be useful for safeguarding to add an assessment activity to your process, so that you can see how a volunteer engages with the people they would be working with, at least when they are observed. It will help you identify people who need support or training to fulfil the role well more than it will help you find people who intend to cause harm.

Top tips for running volunteer assessment activities.

  • Be very clear about the activity in advance and check the volunteer does not need additional support to do it.
  • Use an activity that they would do in their volunteer role. 
  • Supervise the activity but give them time and space and make sure people present are either part of the process or working with them, not watching them. 
  • Have a structure that you will use to decide how well the assessment went.
Full Belly offers food to homeless young people. It always invites new volunteers to do an assessment shift as part of the activity. They work alongside regular volunteers, the team leader and an administrator who will join in the shift in order to observe them. They are given protective clothing, information on hand-washing, on the code of conduct for serving the young people, and what to do if any of them want to make a complaint or raise a concern. They have a clear task serving meals and clearing tables. The volunteer works hard, but often makes comments to the other servers about the young people’s appearance and speculates about why they are homeless. The team leader takes them aside for a chat. At the end of the session they ask the other servers and discover that the comments did not stop. The volunteer is not invited to join.


The more regular or long term a volunteering opportunity with higher safeguarding risks, the more likely you are to need to take references.

  • If you are asking for references you should use a standard list of questions so that everyone is treated the same.
  • You can ask for workplace references, education references and character references. You should not reply only on character references from friends or family.
  • You can take references in writing, on forms or by phone.
  • You should store references carefully and with regard to data protection.
  • Use our guide to safeguarding questions in references for some suggestions of things to ask 
Kyle applied for a role at a Calm charity working with adults with mental health issues. He was 18 years old and had never had a job. He asked if he could give two character references. The first ones he gave were both family members. Calm’s volunteer manager spoke to him and discussed other possibilities. He realised he could ask both his Minister and his basketball coach. They gave references and then he volunteered at the charity for two years and went on to take a social work qualification.

Decision making and offer

After reviewing all relevant information, you must make a clear and informed decision about a person’s suitability for the role. Consider how they approached your commitment to safeguarding and if they understand and want to work within  the safer culture you seek to build. 

Remember that you must do this if the volunteer is changing roles as well as if they are a new applicant.

For higher risk roles, you may want to discuss directly with the applicant any areas where you feel they didn’t demonstrate suitability and what additional support you could offer or alternative roles which they may be suitable for. You must then work out whether you can or cannot provide that support, and whether to offer alternative roles if you can’t.

When you offer someone a volunteer place or a new and different role, you should always make that conditional on completion of any criminal record checks identified in the risk assessment and on references if you decided they were needed. Always have a clear record of your decision making. 

Criminal Records Checks

It is important to get your approach to criminal record checks right. It is also important not to rely on them and to make sure you give at least as much weight to all other elements of the safer recruitment process.

Page last edited Jun 23, 2021

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