A client emailed me this morning asking for tools and advice about volunteer performance evaluations. She was seeking, in particular, a template she can use to help evaluate volunteer performance. My immediate reaction was to be very pleased that this organization is putting processes in place to hold volunteers accountable and support them to success. Evaluating a volunteer’s performance means that the organization’s leadership recognizes and accepts that there are, in fact, standards and/or goals for volunteers’ involvement! That may sound obvious, but I meet many nonprofit professionals who are just “so grateful that individuals are willing to volunteer” that they don’t believe they can actually provide feedback. I was delighted that this organization views volunteer evaluations as key to their journey to embracing volunteer engagement best practices and, ultimately, increasing their impact through volunteer engagement.

My second reaction was to let them know that they already had the tool they needed — the volunteer position description. I believe that a well-written, comprehensive volunteer position description is the key to a volunteer evaluation. Because a well-developed position description features the intended impacts and outcomes of the work, it is a great reference for any performance review. Ultimately, both you and the volunteer want to know whether the volunteer’s actions are, in fact, leading to those desired outcomes.  In areas where volunteers are achieving those outcomes, congratulate them and acknowledge their achievements. Where the outcomes are falling short, you can have a conversation about what success would look like, what actions might need to be taken, and then agree on a timeline for changes.

For example, during my years working in museums, I conducted many evaluations of volunteer tour guides. The guides knew in advance the intended goals of the tours – including key concepts to communicate as well as goals around engaging students in object-based learning. We were able to focus our conversations after I observed the tours on what information was communicated and how engaged the students were. We concentrated not on the personality of the tour guide but rather on the outcomes so it was less personal and more focused on actions or techniques that would enhance student engagement. If a tour guide could benefit from retraining or new skills, we made sure to agree upon a timeline for getting that training – which was as much about the museum committing to providing the resources for the volunteer to be successful as it was about the individual volunteer committing to take additional training.

Here is the outline I shared with the client this morning. I used this approach whether evaluating tours or team leaders during my years in museums as well as evaluating conference co-chairs or pro bono web developers when I was an executive director of an educational nonprofit. The format and approach is replicable and scalable:

  • Using the position description as a reference, how do you think you are doing in terms of meeting these expectations and achieving the intended outcomes?
    • Here are our observations along those lines.
  • In areas where you could be more effectively meeting these expectations, what could you be doing differently?
    • Here are our suggestions for changes in behavior.
  • What do you need to be successful? (Training, resources, etc.)
    • Here is what we can provide along those lines.
  • What agreements are we making about changes in behavior, improvements, expanded leadership, etc. and timelines?
    • How and when will we follow up to see if our agreements are met?

These questions can guide a feedback conversation and inform future actions. Follow up is vital. Where more formal evaluations are warranted or if you are seeking more guidance in developing a structure for volunteer team leads to also be evaluating their team members, check out the Volunteer Performance Evaluation form from National CASA or look into Betty Stallings’ Mutual Performance Review concept and resources.