Guest post by Haley Myers, Volunteer Program Assessment
Understanding volunteer attitudes and engagement is important for any nonprofit organization. Engaged volunteers are likely to be less stressed and more psychologically healthy. In addition, they feel a sense of commitment to their organization and can foster positive relationships with paid staff, which can have implications for the organization as a whole.
Most importantly, understanding the perspective of the volunteer can provide insight into the larger volunteer program – what components are working well and what may need some attention.
Techniques for Assessing Attitudes & Engagement
The two most popular techniques for assessing attitudes and engagement of volunteers are interviews and surveys. Interviews can provide detailed and nuanced information, but are time consuming; it not only takes time to sit down one-on-one with volunteers, but combing through the resulting data can be messy and tedious. In addition, interviews can be subject to the biases of the interviewer – their interpretations of the information can be influenced by their own pre-conceived ideas of the strengths and weaknesses of the volunteer program.
Surveys represent a much easier mechanism for gathering information on volunteer attitudes and engagement. Surveys are the best way to gather information from a large number of volunteers in a short amount of time. Similarly, interpreting the results is more straight-forward than sifting through the qualitative data from interviews. Once the survey is created, it is easy to replicate on an annual or semi-annual basis, as some organizations may want to track engagement trends over time.
Creating a Volunteer Attitudes & Engagement Survey
Your organization can create your own volunteer attitudes and engagement survey. Some online platforms like Survey Monkey or Zoomerang allow organizations to administer surveys free-of-charge. However, larger nonprofit organizations may face some challenges with these tools because they cap the maximum number of responses for the free versions. In addition, the content of a home-grown attitudes and engagement surveys can lack normative information and support materials. Consulting firms can offer those materials, but will most likely create a financial burden for nonprofit organizations who are already strapped for resources – a simple volunteer engagement survey could run upwards of $10,000.
Another option is to apply for the Volunteer Program Assessment (VPA) at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. VPA is a validated, cutting-edge volunteer attitudes and engagement survey that contains dimensions suggested to be important in the current employee engagement literature. Trained VPA consultants work one-on-one with nonprofit organizational leaders to collect the data using the survey, interpret the results, and develop recommendations to increase organizational effectiveness. Above all, these services are completely free thanks to scholarships funded by grants.
Haley Myers is Co-Director of the Volunteer Program Assessment and a member of the Organizational Science Program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.