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  • Mar20Fri

    Volunteer Reviews

    March 20, 2015
    Filed Under:
    Policies and Procedures

    Literature on volunteer management strongly recommends annual performance evaluations for volunteers. Plan to Protect® recommends that volunteers be provided an opportunity on an annual basis to give feedback and receive review of their unique contribution to the organization. A review is one component of a strong screening process. Our recommendation is that the Supervisor do Volunteer Reviews annually, over a cup of coffee, tea or better still demonstrate your appreciation with a meal. Celebrate!

    Jill Friedman Fixler, founder and former JFFixler Group president (an organization of senior level strategists on volunteer engagement) says , “The majority of volunteers today are employed, and are, therefore, familiar with the review process. They want their volunteer experience to be different from their employment, to be fun and challenging, and to have an impact. They do not want a lot of administrative bureaucracy; nor do they want their volunteering to be reminiscent of their workplace.”  Whether you call it an appraisal, performance evaluation or review, these scheduled get-togethers do provide an opportunity to discuss service, followed by documentation on performance and are used in coaching and counselling.

    Performance Evaluations can seem like a monotonous task for a supervisor of volunteers – and the volunteers themselves may not want to take more time (time where in a employment setting they would get paid for) to participate in the review. This is one reason we are avoiding the term performance evaluation.

    Therefore, we recommend an informal, friendly approach to volunteer reviews. The Volunteer Review is not to be punitive in nature, nor should it be an opportunity for the supervisor to criticize the volunteer, or vice versa. The review process should be a positive and helpful experience for the volunteer and the organization. Allow the volunteer to participate by offering an opportunity for self-review and feedback.

    However, don’t lower the bar so much that both parties do not recognize they have a duty of care to each other. One way of demonstrating duty of care is for both parties to provide candid feedback on the volunteer’s engagement.

    The benefit of a one-on-one volunteer review is two sided:

    Volunteer:  It will provide an opportunity for them to share highlights of the service they are providing, the impact they think they have made and areas of personal growth they have realized. Volunteers love to tell stories because they often volunteer in areas that they are extremely passionate about. The review provides an opportunity for them to voice areas of concern as well, which may be troubling them. They also can use this opportunity to voice areas where they feel unsafe or at risk. Providing your volunteers with an opportunity to share their feedback helps them feel valued.

    Organization:  A Volunteer Review provides an opportunity for leadership to individually communicate appreciation for the volunteer’s contribution. It should not replace publically honouring your volunteers, but is an opportunity to provide individual verbal affirmation for the service the volunteer has been involved in. A Volunteer Review also provides an opportunity to voice areas of concern, i.e. commitment, confidentiality, adherence to policy, etc. Consider it an opportunity to invest in the life of your volunteer, through mentoring and coaching.

    Volunteer Reviews can also be:

    • A natural time for volunteers to review whether or not they wish to remain with the program.
    • An opportunity for the supervisor to encourage alternative or additional program functions.
    • A time for soliciting general suggestions about the program.

    Organizations should be cautious, but not afraid, when providing a review. Volunteers may be concerned about failing the organization they serve; supervisors may worry about giving negative feedback to someone who works for free. However, providing truthful, gracious reviews will continue to demonstrate the care that both parties have for each other.

    We would recommend you schedule the review outside of regular volunteer hours. Schedule a face-to-face meeting for 30-60 minutes at a coffee shop or restaurant or park. The meeting should be held in public, neutral and safe setting. 

    Be truthful as to the purpose and intent:  Example:  “I would like to schedule a time to meet with you. Our volunteer reviews provide an opportunity to hear from you highlights from this past year, how you have grown in the role, and areas of concern you may have. This is your opportunity to share with us how we can better support you as a volunteer. I also would like to share with you the highlights of your contribution and service and areas of opportunity for growth. We can also use this opportunity to discuss continued service. We are trying to do this with all of our volunteers this year, because we could not accomplish what we are doing without the contribution of our volunteers, like you.”

    Avoid formalizing the review so much that it robs volunteers of the joy of serving. However, at the beginning of the meeting, set out goals for the time you are together. Don’t hide the fact that it is a Volunteer Review, but affirm it is two-sided. Example:  “I want to respect your time so if it is ok with you, let’s spend 30-45 minutes together to discuss your role as a volunteer. I want to hear from you as to how we can better your experience and care for you as a volunteer. I also have been considering ways we can better serve the community. Once we are finished, I want to capture our conversation on paper and will send you notes from our time together. Don’t hesitate to add to the email if you feel I missed something. Together we will determine any next steps we should take.” 

    We don’t want to formalize or make this a difficult task for the volunteer supervisor – instead, look at this as an opportunity to invest in your volunteers. You could provide the types of questions you’d like to ask to your volunteers in advance so they know what to expect and come ready with some answers. Our recommendation is that you ask a series of open-ended questions: 

    • What has been the highlight of your service this past year?
    • How have you grown as a person by volunteering?
    • What do you believe to be your greatest contribution?
    • Are there areas of service you are not currently involved in where you would like to be involved?
    • Do you have any concerns that you want to share with us, i.e. risk, health and safety, policy, etc.
    • Do you have suggestions on how we can better the program?
    • Can we continue to count on your continued involvement for the next calendar year?

    Once a volunteer has an opportunity to voice their feedback and review, the Supervisor should also provide positive, life-giving appreciation for the involvement of service. Though the Supervisor may also wish to provide feedback on areas of concern, sandwich words of affirmation and appreciation with notable areas of growth.


    • Respect a volunteer’s schedule;
    • Be positive;
    • Listen;
    • Be encouraging;
    • Be organized (plan ahead of time what you are going to say);
    • Be truthful;
    • Keep confidential information, confidential;
    • Be appreciative; and
    • Document the outcome of the meeting, date, time, location, bullet points of the conversation;


    • Spend all the time talking yourself;
    • Be defensive;
    • Talk about other volunteers or staff members;
    • Disrespect organization leaders;
    • Be punitive (punishing);
    • Focus on trivial issues;
    • Be critical;
    • Avoid difficult topics of discussion;
    • Get distracted from the purpose of meeting; and
    • Forget to show your appreciation and take the time to affirm the volunteer. This is your opportunity to invest in the life and growth of your volunteer.


    “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

    Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948);


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