Staffing a help hotline is not a job to be taken lightly, and organizations don't entrust it to a volunteer without careful scrutiny and training. A help hotline volunteer may be subject to a background check.
Hotline volunteering may also involve an aptitude test or evaluation, similar to what you might encounter during any other employment process. The evaluation will likely look for such interpersonal skills as patience, empathy, sensitivity, the ability to think calmly in a crisis and the ability to recognize when a situation requires help that is beyond what you can provide [source: ABA]. The hotline may particularly seek volunteers who have endured traumas similar to what callers are experiencing, although people who are still working through their own psychological problems may face additional scrutiny at certain kinds of hotlines. People with a second language or with a background in psychology or counseling may find themselves particularly in demand.
If you're selected as a hotline volunteer, you'll have to go through considerable training, which may involve extensive background work on your cause of choice, as well as crisis management, conflict resolution and simulated emergencies. In some cases and at some organizations, the training will be enough to give you paraprofessional status [source: Help Hotline Crisis Center]. There may be further evaluations following this training. You may also need to go through a probationary period or an apprenticeship period before you're allowed to work on your own.
Because this is a lot of work for an organization to undertake on behalf of a volunteer, the organization typically asks for a minimum amount of work in return -- more than is often asked of other volunteers. Hotline volunteers must often pledge a one-year commitment or a minimum number of hours to their work. The organization needs to know that it -- and the people it helps -- can depend on these volunteers.
Bottom line: If you're not sure about your ability to volunteer, put in a Saturday or two at a local nonprofit and see how it feels. If you really care about a cause, volunteering for its help hotline is a wonderful way to support it.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Bar Association. "Legal Hotlines: Staffing." ABA. (Accessed 5/14/09) http://www.legalhotlines.org/standards/howto/v-b.htm
- FOCUS on Young Adults. "Reaching Adolescents through Hotlines and Radio Call-In Programs." 1999. (Accessed 5/14/09) http://126.96.36.199/search?q=cache:uTDVr12xfoAJ:www.fhi.org/NR/rdonlyres/efxl6bhjkkqv37k4jdacchgeslhhl5e2ykmm5lbfktfldbjdssng5slaeu64ctp5d6qtjiuxdrk37m/hotlinesandradiocallindec99.pdf+hotline+staff+burnout&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
- Help Hotline Crisis Center. "Help Hotline Volunteer Opportunities." (Accessed 5/14/09) http://www.helphotline.org/volunteer_opportunities.html
- Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. "Get Involved: Staff the Hotlines." RAINN. (Accessed 5/14/09) http://www.rainn.org/get-involved/volunteer-for-RAINN/ohl-volunteer
- Shapiro, Joseph. "Study: Tolerance Can Lower Gay Kids' Suicide Risk." NPR (Accessed 5/28/09)http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98782569