How well do you know your volunteers? You might have casual conversations with volunteers during events or via email, but do you know what motivates them, what they’re passionate about or what they think about your nonprofit?

Gaining insight into your volunteers’ thoughts and opinions can help reshape your volunteer program into an experience that exceeds expectations. Collecting this input is simple—you just have to know how to ask!

In this guide, we’ll cover some simple steps to help you understand the best ways to ask for and incorporate volunteer feedback into your volunteer program. By the end, you should have a clear sense of what your nonprofit can do to start requesting and implementing volunteer input immediately. Let’s get started!

Asking for volunteer feedback

Gathering volunteer feedback starts with asking the right questions to the right people in the right ways. Let’s break this down:

Ask the right questions

Asking relevant questions will help you gather useful information from volunteers. This means it is critical to format your inquiries clearly and avoid any leading questions.

The questions should be related to your nonprofit’s current priorities or pain points. Bloomerang’s guide to volunteer surveys recommends asking questions like:

  • Do you have any recommendations for how we can improve our volunteer opportunities?
  • How would you rate the volunteer orientation experience? Do you have any suggestions for how we can make the training process more effective?
  • Do you feel like your work is valued at our organization? What could we do to improve our appreciation approach?
  • Do you feel like you have a clear understanding of how our volunteer program supports our nonprofit’s overall mission?
  • Would you recommend our volunteer program to a friend? Why or why not?

These questions get to the heart of your nonprofit’s volunteer stewardship, appreciation and management strategies. Ask a mix of multiple-choice and open-ended questions that allow volunteers to elaborate on their responses.

Also, feel free to ask volunteers their thoughts on aspects of your work that may be outside their day-to-day responsibilities. For example, their input on proposed changes to your online donation page could be invaluable for helping you enhance your online giving efforts.

Identify the best volunteers to ask

Your long-term, engaged volunteers are a natural first group to ask for feedback. Use your volunteer management system to identify and reach out to these volunteers. Filter your volunteer database by start date or number of opportunities participated in to find these highly-engaged supporters.

Brand-new volunteers who have only attended one or two events might not be the best people to ask for general feedback. They don’t have as much context or experience as long-term volunteers.

However, it can be helpful to ask new volunteers about their first impressions of your organization. An outsider’s perspective can help identify issues that might be overlooked by current volunteers and staff.

Choose the right channels to ask your questions

Use a mix of marketing channels and in-person conversations to ask your questions. For in-person meetings, take thorough notes to have a record of the discussion. Here are a few ways to get your questions answered:

  • Send a survey via email directly to your top volunteers
  • Post the survey link in your volunteer Facebook group
  • Ask volunteers for feedback in person during an interview or one-on-one meeting
  • Host a focus group and facilitate a small group discussion

Thank volunteers for their time, whether they filled out the survey or provided feedback during an in-person gathering. Consider sending an appreciation gift along with a handwritten note or phone call. Let them know their insights will help your organization improve its volunteer program and create a better experience for all volunteers.

Incorporating volunteer feedback

After gathering volunteers’ input, it’s time to review what you’ve learned and determine how you can implement their feedback into your ongoing processes. The following steps will help you do so:

Compile and analyze volunteer feedback

Compile volunteers’ responses into a spreadsheet, data visualization or report. Identify patterns and common themes among volunteers’ feedback. For example, did many volunteers express a desire for more weekend opportunities? Do volunteers feel like there could be a clearer connection between volunteer work and your nonprofit’s mission?

As you review survey responses, use your best judgment to weed out any extremely positive or extremely negative outliers. You may have certain volunteers who will provide positive feedback no matter what, and others who are impossible to please. Consider their comments, but don’t let them derail the feedback process.

Develop a plan to address volunteer input

Identify three to five main themes that emerged from the feedback-gathering process. Work with your staff to outline a plan that incorporates volunteer input to the best of your ability while still considering your program’s goals and limitations.

In your plan, outline the feedback, your proposed solution and the timeline for incorporating the feedback. For example:

  • Feedback: We heard from many volunteers that they felt like the volunteer orientation process would be more helpful if there were hands-on, practical activities to complete.
  • New approach: Going forward, we will run through specific scenarios, such as community member interactions, to help volunteers feel more comfortable and prepared for their roles.
  • Timeline: We will roll out this new approach during next month’s orientation session and ask for continual feedback to ensure that the change is implemented effectively.

Walk through this process for each major point of feedback you received from the survey process.

Communicate your plans and progress with volunteers

After finalizing your plans with your staff members, let your volunteers know about the changes you’ll be making.

Share your plan in the following ways:

  • Announce the new changes at your next volunteer meeting or gathering where many volunteers are present
  • Explain the feedback process and your new approach in a website blog post
  • Share the link to your blog post via email and social media

Don’t stop here! Provide continuous updates that show how you’re putting your plans into action. Whether it’s adjusting your recruitment strategy or changing up your volunteer appreciation approach, show volunteers that you’re walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

Create opportunities for continuous feedback

Make the feedback process repeatable to support your long-term goals. Volunteer retention is a critical component of the volunteer management lifecycle, and asking for continuous feedback shows volunteers that you’re committed to creating an ongoing positive experience for them.

Create a general feedback survey for your website that volunteers can fill out at any time to express their thoughts. In addition, plan to hold a formal feedback-gathering process at least twice a year. This can help ensure that you’re keeping a finger on the pulse of what volunteers want from your program.

You’d be surprised at how much volunteers have to say when you allow them to provide feedback on your program. By giving supporters the chance to speak their minds, you can show them they’re valued members of the team while learning new insights that help make your program the best it can be.