4 Essentials for Great Evaluation and Coaching of Volunteers

June 22, 2015 — Leave a comment

When leading volunteers in nonprofit organizations it is important that you provide evaluation and coaching to those volunteers. This is especially true if you have good volunteers that you want to keep for a long time.  

4 Essentials for Great Evaluation and Coaching of Volunteers

It’s critical that you provide regular and frequent feedback. Your volunteers need encouragement, thank you’s, and even a little constructive criticism at times.
MacKee, The New Breed, p. 94

In today’s post I show you how you can evaluate and coach your volunteers as a way to keep your volunteers long term. 

I. YOU PROVIDE

When conducting evaluations and coaching with volunteers there are several things you will need to provide in the meeting.

A. Updates on the Number of People Served.

An essential part of connecting the volunteers’ work to the difference being made in the community is providing updates on the number of people served. By doing this you are reminding volunteers that their work is important and that they are making a difference in the community.

For example, I was reading the book, The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer by Jonathan and Thomas McKee (Simply Youth Ministry, 2nd edition, 2012). In the book the authors tell a story of a volunteer firefighter who used to go every week to a wall to look at the weekly numbers for how many fires had been extinguished and how many people had been helped. For some reason the person who tallied those numbers decided to stop posting that information to the board for everyone to see. This volunteer found that to be discouraging because him seeing the number of fires extinguished and the number of people helped reminded about why he was donating his time to the fire department. He enjoyed seeing those numbers so much that he went to the person in charge of the fire station and asked if that information could be shared again.

I don’t need to tell you that volunteer work can sometimes be difficult and draining. As a result you need to update your volunteers on the work they are doing and how it is making a difference in the community. When you conduct regular volunteer evaluations one of the first things you will want to talk with the volunteer about is how many people the organization (or that specific volunteer) has served.

B. Ensure Volunteers Are Getting What They Want from the Volunteer Opportunity.

Retention [of volunteers] is a function of ensuring that volunteers obtain the benefits they expect.
Warner, Newland, and Green, “More Than Motivation,” p. 392

Conducting evaluation with volunteers is the best time to check-in with volunteers about their roles and responsibilities at your organization. Ask volunteers a series of questions to determine if they are satisfied with their current position and if it might be a good time to move to another volunteer role within your organization. Here are a few sample questions.

1. Are you (the volunteer) happy in your current role and position?

2. Do you enjoy working with the other volunteers that you interact with? 

3. Do you enjoy working with the other staff that you interact with? 

4. Are there any other positions at this nonprofit that the you might like to explore and try? 

Organizations should periodically reassess volunteers’ motives and, if they are not being met, offer new opportunities for helping.
Marcia Finkelstein, “Volunteer Satisfaction and Action,” p. 16

C. Tell Volunteers How They Are Doing

Below is the process I suggest that you follow when providing feedback on how volunteers are doing. I also suggest discussing these items in the order listed. 

1. Build the Volunteers Up

It is important for volunteers to hear how well they are doing their jobs.
The Volunteer Community, p. 70

The first thing you want to do when meeting with volunteers for evaluation and coaching is to build them up. By build them up I do not mean providing fluffy and general compliments about the work of the volunteers. Provide specific and tangible examples of the good things you’ve seen the volunteer do. Below is a list.

a) Share two qualities or characteristics you value and appreciate about the volunteer.

Start with who the volunteer is. Share two qualities or characteristic that you value and appreciate about who the volunteer is. Does the volunteer always arrive with a smile? Does the volunteer have a good attitude toward clients, other volunteers, and staff? Does the volunteer show persistence when trying to complete tasks? Look for things that are inherent and part of who the volunteer is as person.

b) Share two things you have seen the volunteer do that you appreciate and value.

After sharing qualities and characteristics that you value in your volunteer you will want to move on to things you have seen the volunteer do that you appreciate. Did you see your volunteer take initiative to do a job without asked? Does the volunteer always arrive on time? Do you see the volunteer park in the back of the parking lot so that the clients can park up front? In this area be sure to find two things that you have seen the volunteer do that you appreciate and value.

c) Share two things you have heard other people say about what they appreciate regarding that volunteer.

This area is perhaps the most important. Because you are the volunteer coordinator, volunteers know that it is your job to get volunteers to do work. Therefore, when you share your compliments those compliments might be interpreted as ways you are trying to get volunteers to work harder. However, when you share compliments that other people have said about the volunteers you remove yourself and your bias from the relationship. So, when you meet to evaluate and coach volunteers share two things that you have heard other people at the organization say that they appreciate about the volunteers.

2. Coach to Improve

Coaching is more an art than science; we aren’t solving algebraic equations. Instead, coaching is more like painting. Every painting will be unique, for we are all uniquely made in God’s image and he has a different plan for each one of us. There are as many right answers about what God would have us do as there are people. We aren’t a “one size fits all”—every person needs to find out what God wants her to do personally.
Robert Logan and Sherilyn Carlton, Coaching 101, p. 28

a) Share a specific task or thing you would like to see the volunteer improve (no more than one)

Feedback on their performance helps volunteers to grow personally and professionally through their service
Jacobsen, et. al., “Motivation and Satisfaction of Volunteers,” p. 64

(1) After you have shared six things that you value, appreciate, and see the volunteer doing, then provide one thing that the volunteer needs to improve or change. Because you have already shared six positive things, the volunteer is now ready to receive what might be perceived as some negative feedback. 

(2) In order to end on a high note, summarize the six positive things you’ve already shared and thank the volunteer for their hard work. 

(3) What if there is more than one thing you need to address when working with a volunteer? Provide more evaluation meetings and appointments. If there are multiple things that you need to address with this volunteer feel free to make these evaluations regular. Schedule another meeting to provide coaching and feedback to volunteers. 

b) When looking to provide ongoing and in-depth training the coaching process and questions below might be helpful. The questions below adapted from the books, Coaching 101 and Coaching 101 Handbook. Both books  are great tools that can help you structure coaching sessions or meetings with volunteers. The suggestions these authors provide are slightly different than what I have shared above yet are still just as effective. 

(1) Relate Establish a coaching relationship and agenda.

(a) How are you doing?

(b) Where are you now?

(c) How can I be praying for you?

(d) What do you want to address?

(e) How can we work together?

(2) ReflectDiscover and explore key issues.

(a) What can we celebrate?

(b) What’s really important?

(c) What obstacles are you facing?

(d) Where do you want to go?

(e) How committed are you?

(3) RefocusDetermine priorities and action steps.

(a) What do you want to accomplish?

(b) What are the possible ways to get there?

(c) Which path will you choose?

(d) What will you do (who, what, when, where, how)?

(e) How will you measure your progress?

(4) ResourceProvide support and encouragement.

(a) What resources do you already have?

(b) What resources will you need to accomplish your goal (people, finances, knowledge, etc.)?

(c) What resources are missing?

(d) Where will you find the resource you need?

(e) What can I do to support you?

(5) ReviewEvaluate, celebrate, and revise plans.

(a) What’s working?

(b) What’s not working?

(c) What are you learning?

(d) What needs to change?

(e) What further training would be helpful?

(f) What’s next in our coaching relationship? 

II. VOLUNTEER PROVIDES

Conducting evaluations and coaching with volunteers is not a one way conversation. You will want to give volunteers a list of things to bring to your evaluation sessions. Here are some basic things that volunteers can bring to help the meetings go well.

A. Feedback on the Organization

1. What the organization is doing well.

Volunteers see things from a different perspective. They can see how things happen in the trenches doing the hands on work that you might miss because you are busy doing administrative work for the organization. Ask volunteers what they see the organization doing well.

2. What the organization can improve.

Ask volunteers what the organization can do to improve. Because volunteers often are working in different areas than you, they might see things the organization can improve which you have not.

3. How services are going.

It is very important that you ask volunteers how services are going for clients. Are clients being helped? What do clients need that they are not receiving? What are some positive experiences the volunteers have had working with clients?

4. What the organization should keep on doing.

Maintaining with the themes of the questions above it is good to ask volunteers what they think the organization should keep on doing. There might be a new project that is not showing results but should continue because it will be fruitful in the future. Or, there might be a program or service that should be cut because it requires too much funding or is ineffective.

5. What the organization should stop doing.

Volunteers might also have ideas for what the organization should stop doing. This is a decision that might be outside of the volunteers’ decision making power, but it is a good idea to still ask volunteers these questions. 

B. Feedback on You

1. What you are doing well.

Ask for volunteers’ thoughts about what you are doing well as a leader. Do not take it personal if volunteers need a couple of minutes to think of something that you are doing well. 

2. What you can improve.

This area takes some confidence on the part of you as the leader. Most volunteers will not use this as an opportunity to get every single issue off of their chests. In fact, most volunteers will be surprised that you are willing to ask this question.

3. What you should keep on doing.

Volunteers who interact with you regularly probably see the work you do. You might not realize it, but these volunteers have a good idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are (perhaps even better than you do). Use this as an opportunity to hear what volunteers think you should continue investing your time in.

4. What you should stop doing.

Sometimes volunteers can provide you the voice you need to stop doing something. For example, I once did some volunteer work for a couple of professors at a university. My job was to research 20 other universities to see what those universities were having students do for a specific project within their degree program. Before conducting my research I spoke with the two professors to get a feel for what they were expecting from me as well as some of the issues they had been facing in their regular work responsibilities. Because I was able to listen to the professors’ struggles and conduct research on their behalf, I was able to provide one really strong recommendation about what the professors should not have to do. Based on the research I had found from other schools as well the struggles of the professors, I was able to strongly suggest that the professors no longer be required to do a specific task (which, they wanted to stop doing). It was a big help to them and allowed them to free up time to focus on other important job tasks. 

III. MAKE THE FEEDBACK REGULAR 

I do not provide suggestions for how often you should evaluate and coach volunteers. There are too many variables in play such as what type of work the volunteers are doing, the age of the volunteers, etc. The one thing that you do need to do is to make that feedback regular. Find a schedule and stick to it. Whether it is everyday, once a month, or every year you need to be consistent to regularly provide feedback to the volunteers you manage.

IV. DON’T WAIT

As much as it is important to make the feedback you provide to volunteers regular it is also important to realize that there are some circumstances where you do not want to wait until a formal evaluation session to provide feedback to volunteers.

I once was managing a volunteer in our office who was sitting near a 35 year old female employee who was married with three kids. This volunteer was about 20 years old and single. At the end of his second day of volunteering with us he walked into my coworker’s office, gave my female coworker a picture of himself with his phone number on the back, and said to her, “Call me.” This volunteer had a developmental disability and thankfully my coworker did not take the situation seriously. (She thought it was cute and even felt complemented, I think.)

My point in sharing this story is that I did not wait a year to provide that volunteer with feedback on his office conduct. The next time that volunteer came to our office, he barely made it five steps into the front door before I was asking him to come to my office so we could talk.

Question: What are some other ideas or suggestions you have for providing evaluation and coaching to volunteers? 

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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