Keys to a Good Electronic Volunteer Application Form

The translation of a paper application process to an online/automated approach provides an excellent opportunity for improvement. Sometimes, seeing your “old” application “on-screen” feels shocking.

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The translation of a paper application process to an online/automated approach provides an excellent opportunity for improvement. Sometimes, seeing your “old” application “on-screen” feels shocking. It may reveal just how onerous the previous process actually was. Conversely, it illuminates the aspects of the application process that have been indispensable and helpful. In short, the conversion from a manual, human-driven process to self-managed and more automated process is a rewarding challenge. Once you get through it, you should always feel confident that you have taken a big leap forward.

1. Eliminate "Nice to Know" Questions

Eliminate any questions from your application form that are not absolutely necessary -or- very helpful. Asking lots and lots of questions just for the sake of “It would be nice to know” can and will drive volunteers away during the registration process. It places a burden on the volunteer and creates a barrier to engagement.

  • Absolutely Necessary – You cannot safely or effectively place a volunteer without knowing this information. Examples might include their name, email address, telephones, address, date of birth, emergency contacts, and health restrictions.

  • Very Helpful – This is data that assures your volunteer’s experience is as good as possible AND helps you to better understand the types of work in which your volunteer may be interested. Examples include skills, interests, schedule preferences, and T-shirt size. A great litmus test for whether or not a question is “very helpful” versus “good to know” is how you have used this data in the past. For example, if you had been collecting this information in the past, did you actually use that data in any meaningful way?

2. Eliminate Open-Ended Questions

Your application form should have as few “write-in” fields as possible. If your application process requires the volunteer to write out a narrative, carefully consider whether or not this is an absolute must – especially if you are working with any volunteer born after 1980. And it doesn’t mean you have to eliminate the questions entirely (although please do so if it’s not absolutely necessary or very helpful). Instead, provide the volunteer with options from which they may choose. For example, rather than include a text box for “Please describe your skills”, instead provide a list of skills that are important to your volunteer organization and have the volunteer choose one or more from the predefined list. You can always include an “other” option if you missed anything.

3. Only Reveal Questions When Relevant

A good online registration form can hide fields until they should be revealed based on how the applicant responds to certain trigger questions or when related to certain types of volunteer work.

4. Don’t Put Too Much or Too Little on A Page

Sometimes people can feel overwhelmed with an application form just by the way it looks. Too many questions on a single screen will turn people away, especially if those questions look like they may be time intensive to answer (see open-ended questions above). This process is more art than science. You are trying to find balance between not having too many “steps” or pages but also to not have too many questions on any one page. Additionally, you must also consider what else we may be asking the volunteer to complete beyond the “application form”. For example, background check forms, online training, reference checks, document uploads, signing agreements, etc. As a general rule, it’s best to keep any application to 5 steps/pages or less and no more than 20 questions in any given page/step. The fewer the steps, the better. The fewer the questions/prompts within a page/step, the better.

Mark Hopwood
Mark Hopwood
President and Co-Founder

Mark Hopwood began their work experience in 1997 as the founder of Rosewood Computing Solutions, LLC until 2001. Mark then co-founded Synergenic, LLC from 2001 to 2002. Since 2003, Mark has been the President of VolunteerMatters.

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