All volunteer leaders, whether church, nonprofit, or business, dread the call, text, or email from a volunteer explaining they need a break and thus are stepping down. Nothing puts the week in chaos like locating a new volunteer and shuffling tasks to make it until one is found. Plus, many of us are close to our volunteers and it hurts to see them go, even if it is for a short time. We invest in them, pray with them, do life with them, and then we get the news something has come up and now we are left dealing with the loss in more ways than one.
After reading Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Shelia Heen, I have become much more interested and intentional in finding out what my leaders and volunteers are thing and feeling before it becomes so overwhelming they have no other options than to quit. I have heard it said, it takes less time, money, and energy to invest in volunteers you already have than acquiring new volunteers. Nevertheless, we invest so much in finding new ones, we may neglect our best asset, our current volunteers.
Therefore, here are THREE opportunities to gain valuable feedback from your volunteer team before getting the dreaded “need a break” conversation.
FIRST, REGULAR AND ONGOING FEEDBACK
When it comes to our personal health, physicians have a baseline of what is adequate for our age, race, height, etc. This baseline is utilized to help us gain better health. Obviously, each of us is unique so the baseline is simply a starting point. With volunteers, establishing a baseline of what is going well, what is not so great, and overall improvement is vital.
Creating a survey that all volunteers fill out regularly helps you monitor their health as well as the organization’s health. Surveys can easily be made in Google Docs or through companies like Surveymonkey or Constant Contact. Each organization is different and will establish certain baselines matching the company’s mission, vision, values, and strategies.
To make sure the feedback is coming in regularly, chose different groups to solicit at different times. For example, if you have 6 teams, survey each group every other month, so every other month you are getting some type of feedback. This helps your organization also make quarterly tweaks instead of waiting each year to try and make changes. In our rapidly changing and overly connected culture, change must happen regularly to keep up and stay relevant. This becomes especially true of events your organization or church put on regularly/yearly.
SECOND, AFTER EVENTS FEEDBACK
I know this one seems so basic when we are discussing feedback. Yet, so many events come and go and solid, constructive feedback is never gained. Even when it is gained, it is often filed away and not acted upon. So here are a few thoughts here.
First, event when two events are very different, the feedback from one can make the other better. Maybe the past event had great feedback on the check in process, so the next event can apply the feedback and make their process that much better. Too often, this info can be kept to only one team, when there is dysfunction in the organization. Make sure to have feedback shared with all teams involved and build a culture of trust and sharing (although that topic is for another post).
Second, volunteers feel so much more involved with the process when they are asked their advice. The event may have been planned by a team of paid leaders and a few volunteers. Feedback after the event can have all involved partake. Now, even the volunteer who was part of clean up or takedown (who probably was there the entire event) can provide insight and constructive criticism. Talk about buy in form the top down! And it can be as easy as opening the door and asking for help…for feedback.
Finally, often during the feedback process, you will find a new leader. I have read surveys and found some amazing and stute observations. I find myself saying, this person needs to be leading. It is another arrow in the leaders quiver of finding new and valuable leadership among their volunteer teams. Again, a lesson for another post to fully explain, but the leader reading feedback must also be secure and understand the feedback is not against them but making the organization and the event better!
THIRD, SPECIFIC AND SPECIALIZED FEEDBACK
Finally, of the big three, this one is the most advantageous. This feedback needs to be done, not through emails or survey forms, but through personal meetings of small groups of leaders and volunteers. Most leaders are used to brainstorming meetings, so many of these sessions can have a part added where culture, events, values and actions can be addressed and ideas executed to fix issues and make them better.
Also, small groups of selected people is a way to balance out the large scale surveys to everyone and anyone. It is a way of having not just the 30,000 foot view, but to come down to those in the trenches and getting feedback from those closest to the issues at hand. Balance is advantageous in any endeavour.
These small groups, mixed with paid and unpaid participants, provide some of the most valuable feedback an organization can receive. If the organization is only being moved along by the paid leaders, volunteers soon figure this out and can feel used. I know I have been careful to include volunteers in all areas I have led, because I could not have achieved what had been done without those volunteers. Especially in churches, there are always more volunteers than paid staff. Therefore, volunteer must play a crucial role in planning the life and activities of the church. In nonprofits, the same can be said.
Obviously there can be many more ideas on obtaining needed and healthy feedback. But these three cannot, at all cost, be avoided. So what are some of your ideas on gaining feedback?
Feel free to share with us all so we all grow and get better together? (See what I did there? Asking for feedback.) 😉
*Note: The genesis of my thoughts here came after reading, SMART Volunteer Management by Patricia Lotich.