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Everything You Need to Know About Volunteer Performance Management

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Your volunteers love to know the impact they make. At the same time, volunteer leaders don't want to spend the time and energy leading a team of volunteers without understanding what works, what doesn't, and where improvements can be made.

That's what makes volunteer performance management such an important part of running a volunteer program. It's a delicate process; after all, volunteers do not owe your organization the work they're doing. At the same time, when done right, it can play a vital role in growing your volunteer program and making an impact.

In this guide, we'll review the nuances of what evaluating your volunteer performance entails, including the metrics you'll want to track to make it count. We'll go over some volunteer evaluation best practices as well, helping you put in place a comprehensive program to manage and improve performance over time.

What Is Volunteer Evaluation and Performance Management?

Volunteer performance management means setting up a process focused on evaluating volunteer performance in an objective and reliable manner. It can happen in two ways;

  • Informal, like checking in with volunteers on how they feel their work is going and where they can improve.
  • Formal, including planned and scheduled evaluations via volunteer surveys, audits, and interviews.

Evaluating volunteer contributions is difficult in part because volunteers don't owe the organization anything. Any effort has to be done in a way that can help all parties. That's what makes performance management in this area a delicate subject, and one that requires careful thought and strategy.

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4 Volunteer Performance Metrics Every Organization Should Track 

The best way to start volunteer performance management is to get the backend processes right. That, in turn, begins with understanding exactly what it is you actually want to track. Four key metrics that can help you with that process include:

  • Total volunteer hours during the evaluation period (usually a year)
  • Volunteer satisfaction, usually rated on a scale of 1 to 5
  • Number of stakeholders reached or impacted through volunteering
  • Perceived impact of the volunteering effort, both by the employee and the organization

Of course, there is complexity behind these numbers. For example, if you can measure the perceived impact your volunteers thought they had and compare it to the perceived impact the organization thought it had, you can gain valuable insights into where those perceptions might differ and why.

The 3 Rs of Volunteer Performance Evaluation

Because of how delicate performance management is within a volunteer program, a strategic approach is essential. One way to accomplish a careful process that keeps everyone's best interest in mind is a common concept: The 3 Rs of Performance Management.

Each of these 3 Rs speaks to a different aspect of evaluating your volunteers in a way that benefits them in the long run:

  • Respect - Respect should inherently be placed in all volunteer work. Volunteering by definition means doing something you don't have to, and a base level of respect has to flow through all performance management efforts.
  • Recognition - Highlighting specific volunteers who have stood out in terms of the hours worked or the impact they've made. It's a core piece of volunteer appreciation that emphasizes the positive outcomes of the evaluation process.
  • Reward - Rewards can become an incentive for volunteers to strive to do their best. Rewards may be tangible (like making a well-performing volunteer a team lead) or intangible (like presenting awards at annual volunteer events).

Combined these three Rs provide a framework in which the evaluation process becomes more positive and more employee-focused. It can begin to drive the strategy and steps you'll take for the actual performance evaluation.

How to Conduct a Volunteer Performance Review With Everyone's Buy-In

Performance reviews should be a core part of all volunteer management practices. Getting them right means following a few steps that help you get the most out of your volunteer performance evaluations while keeping everyone in a positive and productive spirit:

  1. Establish a consistent timeline for performance reviews. Annual reviews are most common, but if volunteering is less frequent, every other year might work. Whatever the case, set the review period and stay consistent.
  2. Determine the metrics on which the volunteer evaluation will occur. Some of the above metrics can help you get started. In addition to the more quantitative metrics, you'll also want to hear how fulfilled your volunteers feel.
  3. Be transparent about the review with all of your volunteers. Let them know exactly what to expect, and what to come out of it. Even telling them how long the evaluation will take, or the length of the survey they'll fill out, can help to set expectations.
  4. Clearly communicate the point of the review early in the process. Make sure your volunteers know that an evaluation is not to disqualify them from future work. Instead, talk about how it helps you improve the program and recognize high achievers.
  5. Tie evaluation outcomes directly to volunteer training. Adding a tangible outcome like training to the review helps everyone understand the reason for undergoing the process. If a volunteer feels they need help in a specific area, direct them to the right training to get started. 
  6. Continue to optimize your review process over time. Nobody is perfect, and even the most strategic volunteer performance management programs won't be fully polished right out of the gate. Every year, look at your program and strategy to determine what you could do better in the future, then implement those changes to continue improving over time.

Managing your employees is a complex process, especially when considering pieces that are as sensitive and nuanced as volunteer performance reviews. You have to approach this topic just right in order to maximize the value both you and your volunteers can get out of it. 

Fortunately, the right approach can make all of the difference. Follow the right process, track the right metrics, and keep the 3Rs of performance management in mind as you build a strategy designed to improve your volunteer program over time.

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