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Volunteer Performance Feedback: The Elephant in the Room

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Volunteer Performance Feedback: The Elephant in the Room

Whitney Wilgus, Executive Director


Volunteers are the lifeblood of our association’s efforts.  Their performance affects our association’s outcomes and reputation.  Despite this, associations tend to avoid giving volunteers formal feedback like the plague.  Very few associations evaluate their volunteers’ performance in their roles; most cite fear of alienating the volunteer or having difficult conversations with someone already so giving of their time and talents.  However, giving volunteers performance feedback is a critical component to an association’s volunteer program.  When done correctly, participants assess their involvement, suggest ways to improve, and explore ways the association can better support their volunteers.  Not only that, volunteers want to know how they’re doing and how their work is benefiting the organization.

Mame Porter’s Three Questions are a deceptively simple tool that can have great impact on the volunteer, the evaluator (whether board member or staff member), and the quality of service. Porter trained teachers in Texas for years and developed these three questions as a more casual way to get to the heart of the discussion around performance:

Photo source: Forbes.com

  • What did you like about what you did?
    • This gives you great insight into what they like to do.  If volunteers enjoy their role, they’re much more likely to succeed in it.  You may also pick up on the fact that a volunteer is burnt out, and you can then talk about moving the volunteer to another role or even retiring them with honor.
  • If you had the opportunity to do this again, what might you do differently?
    • This bit of self-reflection allows volunteers to admit the mistakes they might’ve made and opens the door for you to share your expertise or feedback without seeming critical.
  • What help do you need from me?
    • By asking this question, you show that you are invested in the volunteer’s success.  You may also glean from the conversation additional resources that you need to provide your volunteers.

Porter’s Three Questions allows for an honest performance review while building self-esteem, course-correcting and determining next steps to move forward.  Using these three easy questions, evaluators are able to share expertise without seeming critical, and volunteers come away from evaluations proud of volunteering for your association, reflecting on what did and didn’t work, and knowing they have your support.

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