Measuring the experience of your organization’s volunteers is a best practice. Understanding what drives satisfaction can help you make practical program operation decisions that impact recruitment, retention, and, most importantly, the relationship you have with these invaluable stakeholders.
One of the things that drew me to research in general, including data collection, is the practical application of it in operational decision making. I believe that is why I became a non technical business analyst as well. I have never been a researcher for the sake of research itself, although I value the knowledge that comes from those who approach it that way. Instead of the development of theories and models, I prefer to use measurement and the data it produces to solve problems, inform processes, discover opportunities, and to celebrate wins.
As a practitioner in the field of nonprofit volunteer administration for over 30 years, 16 of which were in healthcare, I have routinely made use of volunteer satisfaction data to make programmatic decisions.
Satisfied volunteers increase organizational capacity. Knowing where and how you are meeting or not meeting expectations is important information to collect. Understanding what makes your volunteers tick has the power to inform your programmatic decision making in an impactful way. This article explores several ways to use volunteer satisfaction data in program operations.
THE DIMENSIONS OF VOLUNTEER SATISFACTION
Volunteer satisfaction is a multi-dimensional construct. The Volunteer Satisfaction Index (VSI) is a psychometrically reliable and valid measure of volunteer experience that was developed to tap the unique context of unpaid work.
The volunteer satisfaction research identified four distinct dimensions of volunteer satisfaction.
The empowerment dimension of volunteer satisfaction refers to the level of autonomy afforded a volunteer by an organization. This dimension is rooted in the notion of volition. This dimension reflects the relationship between the volunteer and organization in how the work gets done.
The group integration dimension of volunteer satisfaction represents the social
relationships that volunteers develop specifically with peers and other volunteers.
The need that volunteers have to feel the ability to be effective is referred to as participation efficacy. Competence in one’s task is a critical component of efficacy as is being able to witness that one’s contributions make a difference.
The dimension of organizational support is characterized by such things as availability of help when needed, acknowledgement, and performance feedback as well as educational and emotional support.
6 WAYS TO USE VOLUNTEER SATISFACTION DATA IN PROGRAM OPERATIONS
Understanding and collecting data on the experience of volunteers in your organization provides a rich and reliable source of information. What to do with that information depends on your needs and priorities. Depending on where you are in the life cycle of your volunteer program, the decisions you make with your data will vary. It can be a benefit to use volunteer satisfaction data in your nonprofit organization program operations in these 6 ways.
#1 | PULSE CHECKS
Periodic quick check ins are quite helpful when brief and focused. Intentionally checking the temperature around a single dimension sub-scale in brief intervals can help to quickly assess a particular process improvement initiative.
#2 | NEEDS ANALYSIS
Collecting larger amounts of data at regular annual intervals is necessary for larger program adjustments. Collecting annual data can be referenced against itself overtime allowing for benchmarking and comparison. Needs analysis provides insights into which aspects of a program are strengths and which are opportunities for improvement.
#3 | CORRELATE TO DRIVERS
The volunteer experience matters. Correlate it to the key drivers of your organization to help show impact. As the experience of personnel and staff relations has increasingly being correlated to positive organizational bottom -line outcomes, it has gained the attention of key decision makers, Using volunteer satisfaction data to help communication the impact of volunteers.
#4 | RECRUITMENT
Volunteer satisfaction data can be used to inform your recruitment campaigns. What do your volunteers find most satisfying about their experience in your organization? What drives their length of tenure or their willingness to take on extra roles? Play to your strengths and build recruitment outreach focused on doing what you do best to appeal to others.
If you want to know more about using the volunteer satisfaction index and data as a volunteer recruitment strategy, please watch the free VSys Voices webinar “Recruiting from 1st Contact to 1st Shift”. The webinar is hosted by Bespoke Software, a volunteer management software company, and features Dana Litwin, CVA and myself sharing our knowledge in this area.
#5 | ORIENTATION
Ultimately your volunteer satisfaction data should find its way into your orientation materials. Get your volunteers off and started on the right foot. A well-planned volunteer orientation can serve to create a foundation for sincere volunteer engagement. Consider the following volunteer satisfaction-oriented needs of volunteers when planning orientation content.
Confident Readiness: Even volunteers get first day on the job jitters. By increasing knowledge and having your volunteers create a community, you boost their confidence. Volunteers want to do a good job.
Belonging: Volunteers want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. That’s why they signed up to help. Orientation is the perfect opportunity to connect your volunteers with a bigger vision and mission
Participation Efficacy: Get volunteers energized about the contribution they are making to the mission they serve. Connect the dots and show your volunteers the impact of their time and effort in helping the organization meet its mission.
This orientation information is part of a larger work and can be found in the free Volunteer Program Operations Manual template which is available on the PeriscopeBPA Toolbox page. The manual is a standard operation procedure document example for volunteer programs.
#6 | TRAINING
Ensuring that the training portion of onboarding is rooted in experiences that will positively impact your volunteers’ levels of satisfaction with it will translate into long lasting returns on retention. While a Director of Volunteers in healthcare, I coined the term “confident readiness” to describe this aspect of our program to potential volunteers.
A Practical Example
Here is an example of how that looked in one program in particular, an inpatient rounding activity, Data showed a drop off in this volunteer role after about 90-days on the job.
After further drill down, I was afforded the insight that volunteers needed a high level of organizational support and group integration in this placement in order to stay. A solution to this was the adoption of a cohort-based training program spread out over three months. A small group of volunteers would attended a once a month class together while they were undergoing their in-hospital training. This allowed for them to share common learning experiences and support one another which led to the relationship development as well as educational and emotional support.
While this training initiative involved keeping some volunteers engaged with other work in the short term until a handful of new volunteers onboarded for the visitation role, the payoff was worth it in the long run when the visitation volunteers routinely stayed well past 90-days.
Don’t just collect data for data’s sake. Measure the experience of your nonprofit organization’s volunteers with purpose. Understanding what drives satisfaction can help you make practical program operation decisions that impact recruitment, retention, and, most importantly, the relationship you have with volunteers. This article explored 6 ways to use the volunteer satisfaction data you collect to improve and strengthen your program operations.
Roseanna Galindo is Principal at Periscope Business Process Analysis and a champion for data literacy, the human experience in healthcare, and leaders of volunteers everywhere. Learn more about Roseanna and her blog, The Periscope Insighter, by reading the opening post, Venn The Time Is Right
Roseanna is available for training, keynotes, and executive coaching. Visit PeriscopeBPA.com for more information.
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