Afraid of Losing Volunteers? Start Giving Constructive Criticism.

Guest post by Monique Goodyer

Offering Constructive Feedback is an Important Part of a Volunteer ProgramYou’ve shed blood, sweat and tears getting enough volunteers to join your nonprofit.

(At least it feel like that sometimes; am I right?)

And even when they need it the most, you are afraid to give feedback or constructive criticism. Why risk loosing your hard-earned volunteers?

This situation describes the thought process of many nonprofits. While the logic may have some appeal, this way of thinking is actually counter-intuitive and hurting your organization!

Creating a constructive feedback loop for your volunteers will make them feel more valued, as well as increase the quality of your volunteer program. In short, they will be more likely to stick around.

Formal Guidelines
The first step in providing constructive feedback is setting up appropriate guidelines and expectations prior to work. The aim is to make volunteers understand they are helping a worthy cause and they can develop vital skills through volunteering. This will make constructive feedback a normal course of their development.

Some procedures that you should consider include: establishing a chain of command, clearly defining their role, outlining outcomes and showing the potential impact of their work.

The Feedback
A useful and easy technique to master for giving constructive feedback is called: The Sandwhich Theory. This is where you ‘wrap’ the feedback within two positive statements, so the structure looks like a sandwich.

When you are giving positive feedback, make sure it is sincere and not generic. For instance, you should not say “Good work” but instead say: “I love your positive attitude, you’re always the first to arrive at work”.

When offering feedback on how a volunteer can improve, delivery is very important. Avoid any words or phrases that put others in a defensive state of mind. For instance, avoid phrases such as “you should not do X” but instead focus on phrases such as “a better way of doing X might be Y”. Your tone and manner should also be very calm and open.

By the end, volunteers should be fully aware of the areas they need to improve in as well as their strengths.

Constructive feedback is very important to develop volunteering skills and improve the quality of your operations. By implementing formal guidelines and giving feedback in friendly manner, you can forget about the fear of losing volunteers.

Do you agree? What has your experience been with constructive criticism and feedback for volunteers? Let us know in the comments!

Monique Goodyer works at Monaco Compensation Lawyers, one of Australia’s compensation law firms.

Looking to Engage Tech Volunteers? Advice from #15NTC

Computer On ButtonPro bono/ skilled volunteerism is a concept that’s been around for a while. Yes, it can come with unique challenges, but for the most part, it  tends to work well for both parties.

So why do things tend to get all murky when technology is involved?

That’s what NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference (#15NTC) set out to answer with the session Tech Volunteerism Triumphs and Challenges.

Facilitated by 501 Commons, with presenters from Microsoft, Austin Free-Net, and Breakthrough Austin, it was a session fully of lively discussion from both nonprofit and volunteer perspectives.

We’ve chosen a few of our favorite live tweets from the session, some of which include actionable advice for engaging tech volunteers. (see below).

But let’s keep the conversation going! Tweet to #VolunTech with your ideas, experiences, and advice on tech volunteerism.

Remember, tweet #VolunTech to keep this conversation going!

Beyond Intuition

When you interview volunteers, trusting your gut leads to mixed results.

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

Thumbs Up DownThis post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

True or False?

Our gut feelings about a volunteer are the best predictor of volunteer success.

Since I’m asking the question – and it’s a leading question – you’ve probably guessed the correct answer: FALSE.

Five years ago I would have answered ‘True’. The program where I have worked, Fairfax CASA, takes volunteer screening seriously. We expect candidates to complete a one hour orientation and two interviews before being considered for training, and then the staff discusses each candidate before making the weighty decision to accept or reject someone.

About those “gut feelings”
Despite all this rigor, our decisions often came down to our “gut feelings” about a candidate – even though our gut feelings were not paying off. We were having a tough time meeting our recruitment goals because so many trainees either dropped their cases or never even took one. This was a huge problem because our judges want to see a volunteer on every single case that enters the court.

The pressure to bring in qualified volunteers had a silver lining, because it forced us to take a good hard look at our recruitment and screening methods. And we were fortunate to receive help from a human resources specialist who taught us how to conduct behavior-based interviews.

A Better Way
The concept behind behavior-based interviewing is pretty simple: past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. You ask questions that require your applicants to give examples of the competencies you seek. If you need a volunteer who is reliable, you ask your prospect to describe situations where others could count on him to deliver. If a position requires good interpersonal skills, ask your candidate about a time she handled a disagreement with someone.

Questions usually begin one of two ways: “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of…” Then you assess how closely the candidate is able to answer the question. The response, or lack of an adequate response, speaks volumes about that person’s ability to handle a similar situation with confidence.

Shrinking the Gray Area
Fairfax CASA experienced some striking results from the shift to behavior-based interviewing. We shifted from a typical year with over a dozen non-engaged trainees to an average of two volunteers per year not taking a case. And the number of applicants falling into the “gray area”, when we are on the fence about someone, has become much smaller.

There are other factors that play into volunteer screening, like getting clear on the competencies you seek and spelling out expectations, but if I had to choose just one factor, I would pick interviewing. It’s one area where volunteer engagement still relies on the human resources best practices for excellence.

Want more info on behavior-based interviewing? Request your spot for the Beyond Intuition free webinar, Thursday, March 26, 2:00 pm – 3:00 (EST).

For VolunteerMatch, #15NTC Was About Appreciation

Tessa Srebro, Adam Alley, and Marlene Feil of VolunteerMatch post for a picture at #15NTC.

VolunteerMatch staff Tessa, Adam & Marlene hanging out at #15NTC.

At the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference (#15NTC) held last week in Austin, TX, VolunteerMatch was lucky enough to have a booth in the Science Fair.

Yes, the Exhibition Hall was called the Science Fair. #15NTC attendees know how to embrace their inner nerd-ness.

And we had a blast talking to all the nonprofit nerds who stopped by our booth. Before letting anyone walk away, however, we asked them to contribute to our Volunteer #AppreciationTree, a post-it fueled tree we were growing at our booth. We asked,

#AppreciationTree Supplies

#AppreciationTree Supplies

“If you could describe how you feel about volunteers/ volunteerism in just a few words, what would those words be?”

(I realize this is a difficult question to be tasked with on the spot, especially since volunteers are such a diverse group of people. So thanks for putting up with us!)

We got some great responses, such as “Big Hearts”, “Invaluable”, “Rockstars”, and my personal favorite, “Awesome Sauce.”

We added these responses as leaves to our #AppreciationTree. The names of stand-out volunteers became the bark. And we were fortunate enough to watch the #AppreciationTree grow:

Appreciation Tree Animation

So, how would you describe volunteerism? Tweet your thoughts to @VolunteerMatch with #AppreciationTree.

Going to SXSW Interactive? Come Find Us!

Southby Southwest Social Good Logo

South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive in Austin, TX is one of the biggest conferences out there when it comes to innovation and technology. This year, they’re introducing SXgood, a space for social do-gooders like you and me.

We’re excited to host a Core Conversation on Monday 3/16 on how to engage niche communities. There will be snacks and lots to talk about! Learn more about our fun, interactive session.

Also, VolunteerMatch will be spending a lot of time hanging out in The Beacon Lounge. Why? It’s going to be a great place to talk about bridging the gap between doing good and technology, network with like-minded people, and take a break from the insanity of SXSW.

We’ll be there with our partner Everday Hero during these dates/ times:

March 13 // 11am – 6pm
March 14 – 16 // 9am – 6pm
March 17 // 9am – 5pm

Also, make sure to come to our happy hour in the lounge on Saturday, 3/14, starting at 3pm for drinks snacks and LIVE MUSIC!

Whether you’re a nonprofit looking to engage volunteers, a socially minded tech company, a volunteer advocate, or something else entirely, I invite you to stop by and say hi. See you soon?