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Hotline Volunteering

Applications are now being accepted for our August 2020 class!

Classes will take place remotely or in our office on the following Saturdays in San Francisco for a total of 24 hours of classroom training:

  • Sat 10/10/20: 10am-5pm
  • Sat 10/17/20: 10am-5pm
  • Sat 10/24/20: 10am-5pm
  • Sat 10/31/20: 10am-5pm
  • Sat 11/7/20: 10am-5pm

Following the first week of class, we will pair you with a mentor for a separate 8 weeks of mentorship, which is an additional 40 hours of training on top of the 24 hours of classroom training. Mentorships are 4 hours/week on a shift that fits your schedule.

All applications for the August Cohort are due by Sunday September 20, 2020. You may miss a maximum of 6 hours of the training class. Please be patient as we process all submitted applications. We will contact you if we would like to interview you.

How to Apply:

Click here to fill out an online, form application.

For other questions unrelated to the status of your application, contact Jackson Ly, Volunteer Coordinator, at [email protected].

About Becoming a Hotline Volunteer at San Francisco Suicide Prevention:

In order to provide the best service to our clients, there is a mandatory interviewing, reference-checking, and training process for all incoming volunteers. Here is the typical time-line for volunteering at San Francisco Suicide Prevention:

    • Application accepted: 2-12 weeks before classes begin
    • Interview scheduled: 2-6 weeks before classes begin
    • References checked: Week following interview
    • Acceptance into training cohort: One week following interview, or after last (of 3) references are contacted.
    • One-on-one mentoring shift scheduled: 1st-2nd week of classes.
  • Classroom Instruction: 4 weeks.
    • For express classes, 4 weekends of classroom instruction followed by eight weeks of 4-hour mentoring shifts.

For standard classes, eight weeks of Tuesday night classes from 6pm – 9pm, attended concurrently with 4-hour mentoring shifts.

Minimum volunteer commitment: One shift per week for the following 52 weeks, or 200 total hours of service. This immediately follows completion of training.  All shifts must be completed at our offices.  In addition, one shift volunteered on a holiday, and attendance of one continuing education seminar (hosted by SFSP).

Completion of minimum volunteer commitment: Minimum 1 four-hour shift per month to maintain volunteer status.


All prospective volunteers must complete an application indicating their work/volunteer experience and relationship with suicide, along with an attached resume. We are looking for caring and reliable individuals who are willing to commit to emotionally challenging work for a year following training. Additionally, all candidates must be at least 20 years of age in order to volunteer.

SFSP receives many more applications per training cycle than we can accept or even interview. Qualities that increase the likelihood of receiving an interview offer are:

  • Long-term volunteer experience
  • Professional, volunteer, or personal experience with mental health issues
  • Some relationship with suicide, including having had made a suicide attempt or having had suicidal ideation.  Knowing others who have had ideation, attempts, or died by suicide are also helpful qualities for supporting our callers.
  • Comfort in discussing emotionally charged content
  • Demonstrated reliability
  • Multilingual abilities
  • Open availability, especially for early morning or weekend shifts


Volunteer candidates must attend an interview in order to determine aptitude for the training program and volunteer commitment. The exact SFSP location is kept confidential until an interview is offered, but it is in downtown San Francisco. Interviews are generally 20 – 40 minutes long, and focus on interpersonal skills and experience with suicide.


As mandated by our accrediting agencies, we require 3 references to be contacted per volunteer. These references may be friends, coworkers, significant others, supervisors, professors, fellow volunteers, etc. They may not be family members or therapists. The best people to list as references are people who have known the candidate for a long time, can speak to their ability to handle crisis situations, emotional stability, and reliability. Also essential is that the references are easily contacted by phone.

 One-On-One Mentoring:

Every new volunteer will be paired up with a senior volunteer or staff member in order to be mentored in crisis line skills. This four-hour weekly mentoring will be an opportunity to practice taking calls in a safe, supportive environment.

For the ‘express’ classes that take place on weekends, one-on-one mentoring takes place during the six weeks following classroom instruction. For standard Wednesday night classes, the mentoring ‘shift’ will be completed concurrently with class attendance. Scheduling for this shift is flexible, but will fall into the usual crisis line shift schedule, and is also dependent on mentor availability.

 Classroom Training:

Volunteers will be trained in many elements of crisis line work through the duration of classroom training. Training classes are composed of up to 18 students, and consist of a mixture of lecture, small group activities and call simulation.

The class takes place at the same place where interviews are offered and calls are received, in downtown San Francisco. There is an eighty dollar ($80) training fee, to be paid right before the first class in cash or check. New volunteers may miss up to one class per training cycle (3 hours maximum), and will still be required to make up the material during the following training cycle.

Topics include:

  • Basic Counseling Skills
  • Suicide Assessment
  • Emergency Procedures & Mandated Reporting
  • HIV/AIDS Counseling
  • Online Emotional Support
  • Social Services Referrals
  • Grief Support
  • Challenging Call Scenarios

 Minimum Volunteer Commitment:

In order to be accepted as a volunteer to SFSP, all candidates must sign a contract committing to a minimum of 52 weeks (at 4 hours per week) of service. If a candidate will not be able to commit to a year, we will accept individuals who can agree to complete more than 4 hours per week of service, as long as they commit to a minimum of 200 hours.  Active volunteering must be started as soon as training is completed, and all volunteer shifts take place in the call room at our main offices in downtown San Francisco.

Potential shift blocks are available at the same times seven days per week.  They include: 7am – 11am, 11am – 3pm, 3pm – 7pm, 7pm – 11pm, and 10pm – 2am.  People who would prefer to come in once every other week are welcome to do our overnights, which are 11pm – 7am.  Shift availability is dependent on holes within our current schedule, but is usually pretty flexible.  We do not offer shifts outside those times. All volunteers must be willing to work within those hours.

All volunteers must also agree to volunteer on one holiday for four hours, and attend one continuing education seminar. SFSP continuing education seminars have covered topics such as cultural diversity, LGBTQI concerns, working with youth, domestic violence/sexual assault training, emergency services, and graduate school selection.

Volunteers are permitted and encouraged to take time off, but they must make up this time at another point. For every missed shift, a volunteer agrees to take an additional shift at another point. Available ‘make-up’ shifts are distributed weekly by the volunteer coordinator.

*FOR GRADUATE SCHOOL HOPEFULS: SFSP will only write letters of recommendation for volunteers who have completed 200 hours of service. We love to write letters of rec for people, but we need to have an extended history with volunteers in order to best speak to their abilities.

Following Completion of Minimum Volunteer Commitment:

Due to the fulfilling nature of the work, most volunteers choose to continue at SFSP after their 200 hours of service. Either they will continue doing one shift per week, or will decrease their commitment to once per month. All continuing volunteers must do at least one shift per month to stay active.


  • If I’ve completed a hotline training elsewhere, do I still have to go through SFSP’s training?
    • Yup!  Sorry, different suicide hotlines have different protocol, and we want to make sure we’re on the same page.  We’re sure there’s stuff that’ll be familiar, but a lot of things will be new, too!  That said, we’d love to hear your perspective on how things were different at your former agency, and maybe use your expertise to improve our own protocol.
  • What’s the difference between counseling as a volunteer and as an intern?
    • It’s very similar, but interns participate in our clinical supervision group once a week on Thursday nights, from 6pm – 8pm.  This internship is reserved for individuals collecting hours for MFT licensure.  We have support groups and continuing education to provide guidance for volunteers who are not on their way to licensure, but would still like additional clinical insight.
  • Can I take calls from home?
    • No, all of our calls are taken from our call room in downtown San Francisco, there is no way to take calls from outside our agency.  This is vital to protecting confidential client information, and allowing staff to monitor calls for quality evaluation.  Volunteers who have done other call work from home have commented on how much better it is to take calls in a call center, mostly because the supportive community is vital to preventing burn-out.  Call content is heavy, and debriefing with shift partners helps our volunteers maintain enthusiasm for the work.