apple Screening and Intake

“I need something worthwhile to do – and what better than helping someone else learn?” (A literacy volunteer)

Volunteer Screening

Screening and intake refer to the range of activities that your organization should use to help it find the appropriate volunteers. It is about so much more than police checks! Volunteer Canada defines screening as an on-going process designed to protect the organization and all people involved with it, particularly children or vulnerable adults. Screening will help you to create and maintain a safe environment for students, staff and volunteers. It will also go a long way toward ensuring an appropriate match between volunteers and their duties.

A thorough screening process will allow you and your volunteers to have a high level of confidence in their ability to do their work. Good screening and intake processes will also help to ensure that volunteers are placed in positions that best suit their abilities and interests. It also helps volunteers to understand their rights and responsibilities.

The function of screening should be both implicit and explicit in everything that you do in your search for volunteers. It may be implicit in the wording of your promotional materials and explicit in questions that you ask potential volunteers during a telephone interview or on the application form. Some materials that you produce can allow potential volunteers to self-screen. For example, if you are looking for someone to maintain your website and have posted a notice at the post office, many people may read your poster, but those who do not have the appropriate skills will probably not contact you. Or, if you need volunteer tutors who can work during the day, your information should state the required timeframes so people not available during that particular time will know this before applying.

Also keep in mind that screening should focus on the task involved, not the individual. Screening is about identifying the level of risk attached to each volunteer task (for example, there is a much higher level of risk attached to working with children or vulnerable adults than writing a newsletter). Screening is about helping you ensure that the right people are carrying out a clearly defined job.

Volunteer screening is important for the protection of everyone involved with the literacy agency. Your organization is responsible legally, morally and ethically to protect people involved in your organization from harm. Literacy agencies need to ask themselves questions like:

  • Who in the organization is vulnerable and why are they vulnerable? For example, some meetings locations are more vulnerable than others (onsite tutoring versus tutoring in someone’s home).
  • What steps can you take to reduce or eliminate their vulnerability?

Screening is so important in fact, that over 98% of Ontario’s literacy agencies screen their volunteers! (CLO’s Volunteer Survey, 2005). Here are the ways that literacy agencies typically screen volunteers:

  • 96% hold volunteer interviews
  • 94% use volunteer application forms
  • 79% have clear job descriptions for volunteers
  • 63% conduct reference checks
  • 37% conduct police records checks

Volunteer Canada’s Safe Steps Screening Program

Volunteer Canada has developed a Safe Steps Screening Program. The program has 10 potential steps. Which steps you choose should be based on the level of risk associated with a particular task or position. For example, applicants for low risk positions may not need police checks but all ten steps should be applied to positions or tasks where the level of risk is high. This means that a volunteer who maintains your website and a volunteer who runs a family reading circle could be subjected to a different level of screening, based on the risks involved with each position.

Here are Volunteer Canada’s 10 Safe Steps:

  1. Determine the risk
  2. Write a clear position description
  3. Establish a formal recruitment process
  4. Use an application form
  5. Conduct interviews
  6. Follow up on references
  7. Request a Police Records Check
  8. Conduct orientation and training sessions
  9. Supervise and evaluate
  10. Follow up with program participants

You may find that you are already doing quite a few of the above steps in your agency. Many of the steps are sound volunteer management practices: recruitment, screening, training, supervision and support.

You can learn more about Volunteer Canada’s Safe Steps Screening Program by visiting:

The Ontario Screening Initiative

The Government of Ontario also developed the Ontario Screening Initiative. Resources produced from this initiative include information on determining the risk, position design and description, reference checks, police checks, etc. You can find out more about the Ontario Screening Initiative and download information and resources by visiting

Volunteer Intake

You should provide potential volunteers with an information package that will help them to learn more about volunteering with your literacy organization. This package could contain the following information:

  • Overview of the organization
  • Overview of the position and any qualifications or skills needed
  • Length of the required training
  • Details about the screening and selection process
  • Supports the volunteer will receive from the agency
  • A written position description
  • An overview of the expected time commitment and any other requirements
  • An application form

Providing this type of information to potential volunteers will give them a clear understanding of the position, responsibilities, qualifications, required skills and time commitment. It will also allow potential volunteers to make an informed decision about continuing with the process.

Position Descriptions

The following “Position Description – Key Elements” was developed by CLO by reviewing position descriptions from a variety of organizations, both inside and outside the literacy field. For more information on volunteer job descriptions, please see Developing Job Descriptions in Ontario’s Community Literacy Agencies.


Application Forms

An application form will serve to give potential volunteers an additional opportunity for making an informed decision about continuing with the process. Completed application forms will also provide agencies with the information required to decide whether the volunteer suits the needs of their agency.

Your volunteer application form should collect the following information:

  • Name and contact information (including email)
  • Education and employment history
  • Relevant skills
  • Availability
  • References

Here is a list of questions you could ask potential volunteers either on the application form or as part of the interview process:

  • Where have you volunteered in the past?
  • Why do you want to be a volunteer with this organization?
  • What would make this a successful volunteer experience for you?
  • What skills and abilities can you bring to the position?
  • Are you able to make the required time commitment for this position?
  • Please provide three references we can contact

To view an excellent sample volunteer application form, please visit the website of the Literacy Council of South Simcoe at

The Interview Process

For many agencies the next step in the process is to interview each potential volunteer, either by telephone or in person. It is important to have a consistent interview process and a consistent set of questions and that you explain the interview process to all applicants. An interview allows both the potential volunteer and you to explore whether there is a good fit between the needs of the organization and the needs of the volunteer before either of you invest too much time.

Make sure that you keep the volunteer informed at all stages of your screening and intake process. If the volunteer does not meet your criteria or requirements for the position, you must tell the person as quickly as possible. However, if the volunteer does meet your criteria and you mutually agree that he or she is a good match for your organization, then arrange for that person to begin orientation and training!

Questions and Activities for Reflection

  1. Who in your agency is at risk?
  2. What are some of the risks? (For example, offsite tutoring)
  3. How could you change or modify your screening or program practices to reduce these risks?
  4. Do you think that the screening process used by your literacy agency adequately protects students, staff and volunteers? If not, what additional steps could you take?
  5. Are there questions that you should ask potential volunteers during the application or interview process that would better help you to assess whether there is a good fit between their needs and yours?
  6. Do your current position descriptions meet the needs of your organization and its volunteers? If not, what needs to be changed or updated?
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