Volunteer Evaluation and Exit
“I have always been an avid reader. I can’t imagine not being able to read. Reading leads to great adventures in life.” (A literacy volunteer)
The process of evaluation tends to make almost everyone uneasy. It can make volunteers nervous and it can be hard for busy literacy practitioners to find the time for evaluation. According to Community Literacy of Ontario’s volunteer survey, just 58% of literacy agencies formally assess the performance of their volunteers.
However, evaluation is important and it is part of maintaining a safe and productive environment for all. At its best, the process should provide both parties with the opportunity to acknowledge the quality of the work being done. If problem areas are identified it is the perfect time to discuss these and make changes, or come up with a plan to provide support and/or training. Overall, volunteers’ confidence in their ability to do the job should be increased as a result of the process.
Evaluation does not have to be complicated and overwhelming. It does have to be useful and meaningful to the organization and the volunteer. It almost goes without saying that the whole process must be confidential.
The Ontario Screening Initiative recommends that:
- Feedback on job performance should occur at least once per year, and probably more frequently in the first year
- Evaluations should be based on the position description
- The supervisor should go through the position description point by point and ask for comments from the volunteer, as well as giving their own feedback
- Clearly state both positive comments and any areas of concern
- Document the evaluation and have it signed by both the volunteer and the supervisor
- File the evaluation in a safe and confidential place
In addition to using the job description to review performance, here are some other questions literacy agencies could ask of their volunteers:
- Do you need more information, resources or training?
- Are you happy with your current volunteer position?
- What future goals do you have as a volunteer?
- What is the best experience you have had while volunteering with us?
- What changes would you like to see in our volunteer program?
- How can we further support you as a volunteer?
The Ontario Screening Initiative has produced an excellent resource on volunteer evaluation that you can view online at: http://volunteer.ca/files/SupervisionAndEvaluation.pdf.
It is also important to ensure that all information gained during the volunteer screening process be kept safe and secure. By its nature, it is highly private and confidential information so be sure to guard it as such. For more information on privacy issues, please visit the website of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food at: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/research/new_directions/
You can also find federal information on the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) at: http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/P-8.6/.
Volunteer exit is not always voluntary; there are times when volunteers need to be dismissed. Your agency should have a written policy that covers the reasons why a volunteer’s involvement with your organization might be terminated. This policy is important because it will protect the rights of the agency, the learners, and the volunteers themselves. The reasons for dismissal and the procedures that you will follow need to be clearly laid out.
The policy and the steps you develop to carry out this policy must be given to volunteers as soon as they agree to become a part of your agency. If you have to terminate the services of a volunteer make sure the process and the reasons for dismissal are clearly explained to them.
Volunteer dismissal is never pleasant and it is better to establish methods to reduce the need for such an occurrence. Here are some ways to avoid volunteer dismissal:
- Develop effective volunteer intake and screening processes
- Give volunteers appropriate assignments
- Be clear about roles and expectations
- Be clear about rules
- Be clear about grounds for dismissal
- Provide good orientation and training
- Provide ongoing supervision and evaluation
- Address performance issues when they occur
Here are a few reasons why you might dismiss a volunteer:
- Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol while volunteering
- Harassment, racism or discrimination
- Gross misconduct
- Illegal, violent or unsafe acts
For more information on this difficult topic, CASA Net has an informative article by Steve McCurley called “How to Fire A Volunteer and Live to Tell About It” which you can access here: www.casaforchildren.org/site/c.mtJSJ7MPIsE/b.5466409/k.E368/How_to_Fire_a_Volunteer_and_Live_to_Tell_About_It.htm.
While literacy volunteers report that overall they are very satisfied with their volunteer commitment, they will still move on for a variety of reasons. People have busy lives and many family and work commitments. They also sometimes want new experiences and challenges or they may not find their volunteer experience rewarding. Whatever the reason, despite our very best efforts at retention, over time, volunteers will leave.
When a volunteer lets you know that he or she is leaving you should try to schedule an exit interview. Conducting an exit interview can allow you and the volunteer to have a sense of closure and it can be the perfect opportunity for you to identify strengths or weaknesses in your program and to identify gaps in what you are offering to volunteers.
Ideally the interview would be conducted in person, but time or distance may make that unrealistic. An exchange of emails or a telephone interview may serve just as well. The purpose of the exit interview is to understand the perceptions and experiences of your volunteers. They can give you valuable and honest input to help you do a better job with the many aspects of volunteer management.
You might want to consider developing an exit questionnaire with a few simple questions. For example, you could ask questions such as these:
- Was your volunteer work meaningful and rewarding? What made it that way for you?
- What volunteer management practices currently work well? What could be improved?
- Could you suggest new ways to create a welcoming environment for volunteers?
- Did you receive enough training and support?
If you are looking for more information on this topic, the National Headquarters of St. John Ambulance produced the following information sheet on exit interviews: www.sja-ontario-cadets.org/memos/DYK_May00.pdf.
Questions and Activities for Reflection
- What effective questions could be asked during a volunteer performance evaluation?
- What are the most common reasons volunteers leave your organization? Is there anything you might do differently to retain them?
- How could you adapt your recruitment, screening, intake and volunteer support process to minimize or avoid the need for volunteer dismissal?
- Under what circumstances would you dismiss a volunteer?
- Have you ever needed to dismiss a volunteer? What have you learned from that experience?
Community Literacy of Ontario hopes you have enjoyed our volunteer management training module. We hope it will help you to plan and implement effective volunteer management practices in your literacy agency.
Since literacy volunteers are so deeply passionate about making a difference in the lives of others, the last word will go to a literacy student:
“The literacy centre has helped me to read and write…until now, I never thought I could!”