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Volunteer Valuation, Not Evaluation

Jill Friedman Fixler

The literature on volunteer management strongly recommends annual performance evaluations for volunteers. These appraisals provide documentation on performance and are used in coaching and counseling. Yet, do such performance evaluations work for volunteers, and are they motivated by such feedback?

Before answering this, let's look at volunteer motivation. The hallmark of an effective volunteer program for both volunteer and organization is to define volunteer work that directly impacts the mission. A perfect match between the skills of the volunteer and the requirements of the assignment usually results in appropriate and successful performance. Experience tells us that socialization opportunities, meaningful work and compatibility with organizational mission motivates volunteers.

Have you ever met volunteers who look forward to their evaluation and enjoy the process? Most people carry significant baggage about performance reviews. The majority of volunteers today are employed, and are therefore familiar with the review process. They want their volunteer 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.

In performance evaluations, volunteers are concerned about failing the organization they serve; supervisors worry about giving negative feedback to someone who works for free. Furthermore, an evaluation can seem artificial and stilted. Sometimes the information therein is a surprise to the volunteer, signifying an inadequate supervisory relationship. Performance evaluations are not a replacement for ongoing supervision! Some supervisors believe that the performance evaluation is their opportunity to change behavior and increase volunteer accountability. While not the intent of the evaluation, behavioral feedback is the basis for an effective and motivational supervisory relationship.

While volunteers don't like performance evaluations, they don't shun the supervision process. Supervision provides them an opportunity to grow closer to staff and to receive recognition, coaching and counseling. Quality supervision ensures accountability, performance success and volunteer retention. It should be equally satisfying for the supervisor and the volunteer.

In a collaborative volunteer management system with an adequate supervision process, volunteer performance evaluations are not only redundant, but out of place. Volunteers are looking for validation for the work that they do. This recognition is essential for volunteer retention. To capitalize on this, why not eliminate evaluations and start a "Valuation" process for volunteers?

Instead of the typical annual evaluation, send each volunteer a handwritten Valuation note instead. These days, everyone cherishes a "snail mail" letter. This letter is personalized by describing all of the things that the volunteer is doing right. It serves as a powerful motivator and a complimentary tool to effective supervision. Through a Valuation system, you eliminate the stigma of performance evaluation for both supervisors and volunteers. A Valuation letter reinforces the behaviors that supervisors want to cultivate, and captures the essence of the volunteer's motivation. Volunteers will appreciate the effort and the positive, individualized feedback. Most important, because a Valuation system is so volunteer friendly, it is a significant retention tool.

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