Jenny Nelson is director, content and knowledge resources, at ASAE.
Volunteers want to understand their contributions to their association: how their work fits in the big picture, what the expectations are, and, critically, how they’re doing as volunteers. An ASAE Research Foundation report highlights opportunities to enhance their experience.
What aspect of the volunteer experience do most association volunteers find least satisfying? If you guessed the quality of the feedback, you would be right.
According to the ASAE Research Foundation report Mutually Beneficial Volunteerism, 10 percent of volunteers were somewhat or very unsatisfied with the feedback they received about their volunteer work, twice the percentage of the next-lowest ranked option. Meanwhile, 27 percent said they were neither satisfied nor unsatisfied, the greatest amount of ambivalence among the aspects studied.
Use of assessment and evaluation was relatively rare at associations. Only 11 percent of trade associations, 10 percent of professional associations, and 8 percent of hybrid associations reported that their organization assesses and evaluates volunteers “to ensure most/all are strong contributors and well-suited to the role(s) they serve.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that 24 percent of respondents from trade associations, 30 percent from professional associations, and 33 percent from hybrid associations said that some or many of their organization’s volunteers “are not well-suited to role(s) they serve due to lack of assessment/evaluation.” Among all association respondents, 28 percent identified the lack of volunteer evaluation as a key weakness of their program.
Only 24 percent of association respondents were very satisfied with their volunteers’ work, while 42 percent were somewhat satisfied. This, coupled with the lack of feedback, suggests that staff are accepting without comment work that is not meeting their expectations.
Volunteers recognize the problem even if their staff liaisons don’t say anything. Just 49 percent of volunteers said that they were very satisfied with their group’s ability to make meaningful contributions to the association. Candid evaluation could help volunteers better meet their group’s objectives and support the association’s larger goals.
But feedback doesn’t have to focus only on how the volunteer serves the association—it can also help that volunteer develop as a professional. While their overall satisfaction with most activities was consistent, volunteers were less satisfied with the variety of volunteer experiences available to them, particularly experiences that would improve their performance in their own jobs.
Activities that enable volunteers to practice resume-building skills or lead in their area of expertise are valuable. If volunteers also receive feedback on their work, they grow in ways that help them shine in their job or find their next opportunity.
Feedback is a key missing piece, but current and former association volunteers identified additional steps that could prepare them for successful evaluations. From a list of suggestions, respondents identified multiple improvements that could be made to association volunteer management systems.
Most commonly, the volunteers wanted a sense of how their work contributes to the organization’s success. Thirty-nine percent of current volunteers and 37 percent of former volunteers selected that option.
Next, if organizations are going to evaluate volunteers, the volunteers need to understand what they are being assessed for. Thirty-nine percent of current volunteers and 36 percent of former volunteers recommended implementation of clearer guidelines around what their committee or group was expected to achieve.
Finally, volunteers were looking for greater professional development to help them support organizational goals. Thirty-five percent of current volunteers and 32 percent of former volunteers recommended that the association provide more training and guidance to help volunteers succeed in their roles.