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Volunteer Power!

Volunteer Power News — Number 41
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

© 2006 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

A warm welcome to all volunteer managers—those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize volunteer workers.

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In this Issue:

1. Eight New Articles on Volunteer Power
2. Getting Volunteers to Evaluate Your Volunteer Program...honestly

Eight New Articles for Your Use--Free

We have just placed the following eight articles on our web site.

  • Getting Volunteers to Evaluate Your Volunteer Program--Honestly

The following thoughts were stimulated by a letter I received. I have edited the letter to hit the high points.

Hi Tom,

Our organization works with a lot of community service volunteers.  I would like to provide a survey or feedback form for them so they can rate their experience with  us.  We often receive comments about their positive experience, but I would like more details.  Can you provide some suggestions on how to do this?  I am afraid I won't get honest feedback if I ask them in person, or just ask them to fill out a form and give it right back to me.  I also am sure that asking them to mail it in won't work either.

Do you have any suggestions on how to get honest feedback from volunteers?  I am speaking at a conference next month and would love to be able to implement this new strategy before the conference.

I would appreciate this, Thanks


Here are some of my suggestions

  • I need your help
  • Determine what you want to know (sample kinds of questions)
  • Focus groups – how to set up and what to ask
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • SWOT
  • Percentage of response—Not everyone will respond, BUT . . .

I Need Your Help

The above letter prompted some research and thinking on my part.  Before I give some suggestions, I am wondering if our readers have used any effective evaluation methods that I can pass on.  Please send them to me with your permission to copy and send them on to our readers.  Please send to Tom@volunteerpower.com

Determine What You Want to Know

Perhaps the most important issue is to determine what you want to have evaluated by your volunteers.  Think about questions such as these:

  1. What specific feedback do I want from my volunteers? 
  2. Was it easy to get involved?
  3. What roadblocks did they face getting involved?
  4. Why did they quit?
  5. Why did they volunteer?
  6. Who was their primary contact?
  7. What kind of volunteer experience do they prefer?
    1. Virtual
    2. Team work
    3. Take home work
    4. Other
  8. What resources were or were not provided to do the project?
  9. How were they recruited (letter, e-mail, sign-up from announcement, asked personally)?
  10. What recognition was most effective?

Focus Groups

You can learn a lot by volunteer focus groups.  The purpose of a focus group is to get information.  Follow these focus group ideas:

  • Meet for about for about two hours (no longer).
  • Try to get about 7 to 12 people. 
  • Provide refreshments.
  • Sit in a circle or around a table  and have someone take very thorough notes. (Some use a flip chart for the brainstorming question)
  • Ask the 3-F questions:
    • Facts:  What was your experience as a volunteer?
    • Feelings:  How did you feel about your experience as a volunteer?
    • Future:  (Brainstorming)  What would you like to see in the future of our volunteer program?
  • Ask each person to answer the facts question first.  After everyone has responded, then ask the feeling question.  When you get to the third question, give everyone a few minutes to think, and then rather than asking each person individually, open it up for a brainstorming question.
  • You can have demographically focused focus groups or very diverse focus groups.  Both work well—it depends on your purpose.  For example, you might just want to have a focus group of people who are over 50, or under 25, or a combination of all groups.
  • Agenda:
    • Open by welcoming everyone and explaining the purpose.  Have each person introduce themselves with a 30-second intro (who they are and how long they have been a member of the organization).
    • Explain the procedure.
      • First you are going to ask each person to talk about their experience in the organization as a volunteer
      • Second, you are going to ask how they felt about their volunteer experience
      • And third, what they would like to see done in the future.
    • Go around and ask each person the first question, “What was your experience as a volunteer?”
    • Go around again and ask each person to answer the question, “How did you feel about your volunteer experience?”
    • Give each person a minute to jot down some ideas (give each person a note pad and pen) on what you would like to see the volunteer program look like in the future.  
    • Open up the discussion for a brainstorming session and record the ideas (either on a flip chart or notebook).

Appreciative Inquiry (AI)

Last month I taught this approach to facilitating to a group of managers, and the next day I heard from a very excited manager.  He told me that his group was always so negative—only wanting to talk about what was wrong.  He used the “Appreciative Inquiry” method of facilitating and when he asked the first question, “What are we doing right?  Give me an example of something that really went well this week,”  the most negative person said, “Nothing went well!”  The manager said, “I know everything’s not perfect, but lets focus on what is working well.”   It was quiet for a moment and then one member of the group shared a positive experience.  The very negative person questioned, “That’s what you call success?”  The manager did not give up.  He turned to the person who had shared the “best practice” and asked her to elaborate.  She told a wonderful story of success.  As this manager told me his experience with “Appreciative Inquire,” he smiled and said, “The whole meeting turned on that story and people began to share other experiences.   We were able to took at the successful things we were doing, and what we could do to expand on those practices.”   

How does this work?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI)  is a fairly new  approach to improving performance which allows a person and/or organization build on strengths and success.  Since AI focuses on and builds from the positive core of an organization or person, it naturally builds morale and encourages commitment and loyalty.  This system is designed to help individuals make the paradigm shift from a problem-oriented focus to a success-oriented focus.

The following are two of the assumptions from The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry by Sue Annis Hammond.

  • In every society, organization, group or person, something works.
  • The act of asking questions of an organization or group influences the group in some way.

You can use the AI questions in informal, individual interviews with volunteers or in a group setting.  The following are examples of AI questions that you could use to get feedback.

1.   Tell me about a peak experience or high point in your volunteer position…a time when you felt most alive, most engaged, and really proud of yourself and your work.

2.   Without being humble, what do you most value about…

…yourself, and the way you do your volunteer work? What unique skills and gifts do you bring to this team and organization?

. . . our organization and its larger contribution to society and the world?

3.   What are the core factors that give life to this organization when it is at its best?

4.   If you had a magic wand, and could have any three wishes granted to heighten the health and vitality of this organization, what would they be?


            Have each person answer these four questions or have each volunteer fill out the SWOT form:

            Internal Focus

                        What are three strengths?

                        What are out three weaknesses?

            External Focus

                        What are three opportunities for our organization?

                        What are three threats for our organization?

Percentage of Participation-- Not All Volunteers Will Respond – But

The only way you get 100% participation is to take the survey at a meeting.   In most other surveys, not all volunteers will respond. But for those who do, study their feedback carefully. Does their description of what they did for your organization match the description from your point of view? Do they have a positive image of your organization as a result of their volunteer experience? Are volunteers noting the same problems or concerns?

Please send to me some of your successful feedback methods you use with your volunteers (Tom@volunteerpower.com)

Volunteer Power Workshops or Key-Note Presentations
for Your Organization
Consider one of the following topics (or several of the topics) for a Volunteer Power Workshop

The Seven Deadly Sins of Recruiting

            And what to do about them to increase your active volunteers

Some Cats Got It . . . Some Cats Don’t

            How to maximize the power and passion of the volunteer organization

Ten Really Cool Things that You Need to Know about Volunteering That You Are Not Hearing

            What is new in volunteer management

They Don’t Play My Music Anymore

            Leadership Strategies During Times of Change

The New Volunteer

         New Rules for an Old Cause--Recruiting and Motivating 21st Century Volunteers Who Wants to Do It Their Way.

Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at tom@advantagepoint.com. Other articles and free resources are available at www.volunteerpower.com.