Pause. Step on the break, if you will, and just pause.
It’s hard to do…especially if there are so many demands of you as a volunteer leader. Whether you’ve inherited a volunteer program or created a volunteer program that has been operating for some time, taking a moment to pause and analyze is an important task of an effective volunteer leader.
I hope to share with you why conducting an analysis of your volunteer program is valuable, as well as discuss a few commonly used tools for conducting an analysis. The goal of sharing this information is so that you walk away with knowledge on how to develop an analysis action plan.
VOLUNTEER ROLE ANALYSIS - A FRESH PERSPECTIVE
Conducting an analysis of your volunteer programs (aka roles, positions, etc.) provides you with fresh perspective that you may not have known you needed. Why is this important?
Did you know that our brains have an amazing ability to fill in the blanks when it doesn’t have certain information? This is great, except that it means that we can assume things are ok and not be alerted when vital information is missing. Let’s test this out- look at the following image:
Did you catch that there was something missing? Hopefully it didn’t take you too long to figure out that the person is missing an eyebrow.
You may not have even noticed that anything was missing until I asked the question. This is because our brains fill in the information for us when something is too familiar. Not only this, but our brain can also miss vital information if it’s over-stimulated.
In many parts of Europe, bicycles share the road and are a much greater part of daily traffic congestion than they are in a typical U.S. city. Because cyclists were involved in so many accidents, the British government undertook a public safety campaign and developed a series of ads designed to make people aware of the information they miss as part of the stimulus overload of modern urban living. This is one of the advertisements they created:
When are brains are expected to gather certain information, it may miss other vital data (i.e. a cyclist when we are busy looking at traffic lights or a dancing bear when we are counting ball passes). As volunteer leaders, you may be so focused on expectations that you might miss the “vital signs” of your volunteer programs. Is your program successful, or might it be giving indications that it needs to be sunset?
VISUALIZATION TOOLS FOR VOLUNTEER ROLE ANALYSIS
What tools can help our brains focus on the strengths or weaknesses of our program? A simple and commonly used tool is SWOT analysis. It can help you paint a large picture of where your program is today, and help you identify steps needed to move the program towards success. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
A few things to consider when doing a SWOT analysis:
Be willing to ask the tough questions that give you honest feedback: this will only work if you are willing to be vulnerable and take accountability – two skills that leaders should always work on mastering.
Try to get volunteer representation: Invite a volunteer to share their honest feedback on their experience.
Get third party perspective: Interview a staff who engages with these volunteers, or even a recipient of the service these volunteers provide.
STAKEHOLDER ASSESSMENT MATRIX
Sometimes, partnering with the right people can really make a difference. When you consider the input of stakeholders (people who can influence change or be impacted by a change), consider the weight of their input. This is referred to as a prescriptive approach to stakeholder management.
A stakeholder can be a volunteer, a staff in which the volunteers engage with, a director/leader that is tracking the impact of the volunteer program, the coordinator that assesses for the right fit, a community member that benefits from the services these volunteers provide.
Not all the feedback has the same weight or value. Ask yourself:
How much power does this person have? Can they influence meaningful change?
How much interest does this person have in what we are discussing? Are they truly invested in our conversation or efforts for making improvements?
Based on how you respond these questions to yourself, you can visualize the value of their feedback:
High power, low interest – meet their needs and keep them satisfied. They may not be as involved in the how the program is run but consider them when making changes or decisions. These might be people in positions of leadership and aren’t involved in the operations but want it to succeed.
High power, high interest – key player, engage closely. These stakeholders are both influential and invested, so walk synchronously with them and make sure your visions are aligned. These stakeholders might be a colleague in the organization, or a respected community member (i.e. donor) that wants to see the program succeed.
Low power, low interest – least important, minimal effort. Not that their feedback isn’t valued, but it isn’t going to drive change as much as other stakeholders. It’s very likely you will not get a lot of input from them.
Low power, high interest – show consideration, keep informed. These stakeholders are very interested in seeing the program success, but they aren’t influential in creating the needed change. They may be the volunteers, who you absolutely value, but you can’t satisfy their every request. Respectful consideration within reason is key.
VOLUNTEER ASSIGNMENT ALIGNMENT WORKSHEET
The VSys Voices, a collaborative which I am excited to be a part of, designed a tool to help you analyze your volunteer program against the “big picture” metrics of your organization. Using your leader intuition and experience, you can rate how well the program aligns with key performance indicators, the mission/vision/values of the organization, how much need/request there is for the program, and how much interest you get from your volunteer for this role.
All this data provides a great visual for you to determine some next steps.
A free downloadable version can be found by clicking into the VSys Voices webinar from May 2022.
PLANNING YOUR ANALYSIS
What do you do from here? Create an action plan and commit to executing the analysis of your volunteer programs on a consistent basis.
Establish a baseline: Review volunteer role descriptions, identify the community served, and any key performance indicators that you are targeting. Examine the metrics (if any) that volunteers capture in this role and list out the stakeholders you may need to include in your analysis.
Prioritize volunteer programs: Use the Volunteer Assignment Alignment Worksheet to determine with volunteer role/program needs to be analyzed first (maybe the programs that need to be sunset or those that bring the most value). Determine how often you want to realistically conduct an analysis and commit to it by scheduling that on your calendar.
Execute the analysis: Conduct a stakeholder analysis to determine who needs to be invited to the analysis and conduct a SWOT analysis of that program. List opportunities for improvement and delegate tasks to stakeholders. List threats/risks and determine how you need to address these.
Repeat on a cycle: Since you’ve already scheduled out your analysis, commit to the cycle you established. With practice, each analysis will get easier as staff will learn to think strategically throughout normal operations.
Conduct a volunteer role analysis to get fresh perspective.
Use visualization tools for volunteer role analysis such as SWOT, stakeholder assessment and the Volunteer Assignment Alignment Worksheet (you are not limited here) to help you view your volunteer role through a different lens.
Schedule a baseline assessment and prioritize the roles according to how they land in the matrix tool.
Execute a full assessment every few years to help you to build the habit of thinking strategically.
An analysis that yields action items means nothing if you don’t eventually pursue the improvements previously identified.
Karina Vargas, CAVS, CompTIA Project+
Solutions Architect, VSys One
Karina is a Certified Administrator of Volunteer Services (CAVS) and holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Services from California State University, Fullerton. After completing a certification in project management, she joined Bespoke Software as a Solutions Architect for VSys One. In this role she merges her healthcare volunteer management experience, her technical abilities, and her love for helping people and programs grow.