Most volunteer managers agree that volunteer retention is one of their major challenges. Even as they implement just about every strategy to keep volunteers coming back, many still find themselves struggling to refill volunteer positions.


One particular strategy that many volunteer managers avoid is volunteer performance evaluations. In fact, in his article for VolunteerHub, Shaun Kendrick notes that “the majority” of volunteer managers avoid them because making volunteers submit to judgment seems “unfair and even unappreciative.”


However, Kendrick, along with many other nonprofit professionals, encourages volunteer managers to establish streamlined volunteer evaluation systems, saying that they’ll likely improve retention. Jill Friedman Fixler, of the JFFixler Group, even takes it a step further, and suggests that nonprofits drop the ‘e’ and simply call it a “valuation” system. Doing so gets rid of “the stigma of performance evaluations” and motivates volunteers through praise of their accomplishments.


We thought this was a great idea and a useful tip, so we dug a little deeper and came up with three ways you can put a “valuation” system into action at your nonprofit.


Handwritten “Valuation” Note

Since “performance evaluation” is commonly associated with stress and worry at work, Fixler advises to eliminate that completely for your volunteers. She writes that volunteers want their “experience to be different from their employment, to be fun and challenging, and to have an impact. They don't want a lot of administrative bureaucracy; nor do they want their volunteering to be reminiscent of their workplace.” Fixler suggests to replace the scary workplace performance review forms with a handwritten “valuation” note, which you can snail-mail to volunteers’ homes. A “valuation” note would identify positive characteristics, behaviors, and accomplishments, which you have noticed in your volunteers, and it would be your opportunity to thank them for their dedication. This personalization will reinforce the behaviors you want your volunteers to continue bringing to your organization, and it will show them that you sincerely appreciate them.


Group Feedback Session

To avoid inciting anxiety in your volunteers, consider holding group feedback sessions instead of traditional one-on-one performance reviews. Ditch the conventional evaluation forms, which focus on the volunteer’s behavior and identify areas for improvement. Instead, gather volunteers who serve alongside each other, and set the tone for a meeting in which you wish to hear your volunteers’ honest feedback about their experiences. You want to hear the stories “from the trenches,” so to speak. Holding a meeting like this will accomplish three important objectives:

            1.) It will “valuate” your volunteers, making them feel like you care about their experiences, opinions, successes, and struggles.

            2.) It will cultivate an atmosphere of mutual trust.

            3.) You will learn what impressions volunteers have of your organization.


That last point is a critical one, as Nonprofit Hub Editor Lyndsey Hrabik writes that trying to understand volunteers’ perception of your organization will tell you how people perceive your brand, and it will give you a chance to correct any misunderstandings. Nonprofit Hub also offers a helpful feedback form, which volunteer managers could use to direct the meeting.


The Data

Sometimes volunteers don’t assess their work as anything more than the task at hand. They might serve dinner to the homeless, tutor a child for a few hours, or help stuff envelopes for a fundraiser. Although these tasks might make them feel good, and they know that they served a mission, they usually don’t understand just how much they served – and often volunteer managers don’t either. So, measure the data. Value it. And, show each volunteer. As Joan Herbert writes for VolunteerMatch, “understanding the value of your volunteers’ work is great for them because they can see what they’ve achieved, and the real, hands-on impact of their contributions.” 


Track volunteer data meticulously, so that at least once per year – maybe more! – you can show the value of volunteers’ work according to the number of hours they have volunteered, the number of beneficiaries each has served, the amount of money each has raised, and more. You can even use Independent Sector’s current estimated value of volunteer time to calculate how much money each volunteer has saved your organization in payroll costs. If your volunteers are fundraisers, tell them how the funds that they raised made an impact. For example, “You raised $5,000, which paid for brand new playground toys and sporting equipment for our after school program.” This information is a wonderful motivating tool.



Implementing these three “valuation” strategies will show volunteers that you care about their service, and it will also present them with hard and fast evidence that they are making a difference. That validation is exactly the motivating factor that volunteers crave, and exactly the thing that will keep them coming back.


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