How to Deliver Effective Feedback to Volunteers
Posted Thursday, May 17th, 2018 by Sterling Volunteers Staff
Volunteer managers have to juggle many things when it comes to managing their volunteer programs — from procuring volunteer engagement funding to creating a positive volunteer recognition program. Most do not have the time to give feedback to volunteers, nor do they feel comfortable doing so. Others believe that volunteers should not be criticized because they give freely of their own time.
Beth Steinhorn, President of VQ Volunteer Strategies, understands the importance of effectively giving volunteer feedback. In the webinar, “How to Deliver Effective Feedback to Volunteers,” she shares the biggest challenges for providing feedback to volunteers and tips and tools to overcome them in order to set your volunteers up for success.
To overcome the challenges to providing volunteer feedback, it’s important to understand how sticky situations with volunteers can often be avoided by taking certain steps before the sticky situation begins to emerge. The steps to consider are:
- Develop Strategic Volunteer Roles: Providing a specific position description for the role is a critical first step in the process. Volunteer managers should ask themselves if the volunteer’s role is strategic, attractive and fills a need in the organization.
- Conduct Careful Screening and Placement: Volunteers should be properly recruited, vetted and placed in the organization.
- Ensure Effective Onboarding and Training: Onboarding is expectation-setting. Volunteer managers should give clear expectations and sufficient training to their volunteers including tools and knowledge for success. Onboarding should include giving context for the work, teaching the policies, schedules and processes, training and meeting the team.
- Check Progress and Feedback: Organizations should create a culture of feedback with their staff and have it developed with the paid staff and managers before the volunteers are brought Feedback provides information about how an individual is doing in their efforts towards achieving a goal.
Feedback provides information and tools to help a volunteer reach a goal while keeping that individual on track. It also helps to maintain or fuel motivation and a team spirt. Feedback should be specific and thorough training should be given to the volunteer manager as far as when and how to deliver feedback.
So, when is the best time to give feedback to a volunteer? Feedback should be given “in the moment” and preferably in person. This is the most impactful, especially on the positive feedback side. For negative feedback, timeliness is most important. Volunteer managers must try to have these discussions in private and not in front of others.
Signs When Volunteer Feedback is Needed
Giving feedback to volunteers is great at any time, but a volunteer’s performance can clue you in as to when feedback must be given. Poor/declining performance, tardiness or not showing up altogether, and loss of enthusiasm are some signs that it’s time to deliver feedback to the volunteer.
Sometimes, volunteers ask for feedback from the staff. If that happens, volunteer managers should give the feedback as soon as possible. It is important to not avoid giving feedback, which can contribute to the problem. In fact, it is helpful to invite feedback back from the volunteer as well. It encourages ideas, reinforces partnerships, models desired behavior, and you might learn something!
Strategies for Navigating Sticky Situations
Volunteer managers need to be able to get past “the muck” and deal with sticky situations. When evaluating volunteers, it is good to ask yourself what is really happening in the situation, whether you, as the volunteer manager, are contributing to the problems in any way, and what steps can be used to improve the problems and ensure success. McCurley and Lynch created the three-step RAP method:
REVIEW the Past: Look at past communications to make sure that expectations were clearly communicated. Also, check to see if the same behaviors have happened before.
ANALYZE the Present: Get the details of the problem to discover the key issues and find out the impact of the behavior on others and the organization.
PLAN the Future: Work with the volunteer to set expectations going forward. Set up a follow-up date and decide what will happen if the behavior hasn’t changed.
To give effect volunteer feedback, it is critical to give clear expectations, provide effective training and check-in regularly with the volunteer. Don’t be afraid to provide and ask for feedback from your volunteer; in the long run, effective feedback will help power the organization and help you reach your goals.
If you missed the Sterling Volunteers’ webinar “How to Deliver Effective Feedback to Volunteers,” you can download it On Demand at any time.