No one wants to volunteer time uselessly. One way to respect this principle is by periodically assessing how well volunteers are performing assigned work, both to applaud valuable effort and to improve or correct problems.
Call the process something other than an "evaluation," which conjures up memories of student report cards (or pay raise conferences) and emphasizes the past. Instead, use more neutral phrases, such as Mutual Assessment, Progress Plan, or the Where-Are-We? Check-in.
Think of volunteer performance assessment as recognition. Any constructive feedback you give to volunteers will help them do better...and therefore to contribute more productively. If you do not point out errors, you allow volunteers to waste their time - hardly what any of you want.
Apply the process to all volunteers fairly and equitably. Tell all new volunteers that assessment is a routine part of the work because everyone wants to provide the best services.
Be sure that the evaluation process is two-way. This is a great opportunity to learn about your organization from the volunteers' perspective. (Remember how we keep saying that volunteers bring us a fresh point of view?)
Start from the Position Description
Without a written volunteer position description to which the volunteer committed at the beginning of service, there is no basis upon which to determine if a volunteer was successful or not in fulfilling an assignment.
So start by revisiting the volunteer position description:
- What was actually accomplished since the volunteer signed on? What was not and why?
- What did the volunteer do (positive or negative) that was not in the original position description?
- How should the position description be revised to accommodate changes in the work since it was written?
- Is there need for more training or additional resources to support greater success?
Engage the volunteer in considering how to resolve any possible concerns. When possible, and if you think a volunteer would welcome it, offer some alternatives to keep things fresh: the chance to take a break and work temporarily on a special project; help to update the training new volunteers in the same role receive; advance into a leadership position; transfer to another department. Or, recommit to the assignment for another period of time.
Be Prepared to Take Action
Individual evaluations often surface unexpected issues. Are you prepared to correct poor performance? If not, you send a message to all other volunteers that their hard work is not valued. You also send a message to paid staff that they cannot expect quality standards of volunteers.
Are you ready to respond to identified needs? Can you give additional training to volunteers? What happens if the process shows the need for further training of paid staff? What if there is not enough work space or access to onsite computers? In other words, if there are obstacles preventing volunteers from doing their best, will you advocate for changes?
Look ahead, not back. This is an opportunity for re-commitment and is best approached as a form of recognition. Celebrate volunteer accomplishments! But be willing, too, to deal directly with possible problems, whatever the source.