Constructive criticism for volunteers: 3 ways to deliver advice

Advice should be based on specific actions and details.
Date Published

Nonprofit fundraising campaigns don’t just need volunteers; they need hard-working people devoted to success. What happens when an organization’s unpaid staff starts to develop bad habits or make consistent mistakes? Your nonprofit has to deliver advice and constructive criticism for volunteer performance.

Volunteers need skills and training
The people who donate their time to a nonprofit’s cause are crucial to its success. The VolunteerMatch blog suggested organizations are hesitant to take volunteers aside and critique performance for fear of losing their service. If an individual pledges their commitment for free, why rock the boat?

A fundraiser can’t succeed through sloppy work. The Blue Avocado, a nonprofit magazine, said too many organizations have suffered through waves of untrained volunteers who mean well, but don’t know how to use their time effectively.

There are many resources for drafting help, but success is usually more dependent on quality over quantity. Volunteers must have the skills and training necessary to perform their duties. Sometimes this means course correction of activities.

How to provide Volunteers with effective constructive criticism
Here are three strategies to ensure the adjustments and instructions delivered to amend volunteer behavior are well-received:

1. Deliver mission focused advice
Criticisms should never be purposeless. If you have to give a volunteer instruction or ask them to change procedures, there must be a good reason. You want to present the motivation for the criticism at the top of the interaction.

Harvard Business Review said nonprofit organizations have an advantage over businesses, in that they have people who are inherently devoted to a cause. While some companies can only offer financial incentives for performance, many individuals donate their time to a nonprofit because they truly believe in the mission. If they must receive feedback, you should clearly explain how the adjustment will help the organization achieve its goals.

You have to offer specifics. Managers should deliver advice based around a particular action or attitude. You should have evidence of how previous behavior has limited performance and projections on how new strategies could create very positive results. Volunteer management software can help create performance logs to capture accurate details.

Once you deliver advice, you should create a plan for follow up. A manager and volunteer must meet again to discuss how the alteration is going. This allows you to see if the individual changed his or her performance and it provides the volunteer an opportunity to communicate how the new course feels.

2. Let them talk back
Nobody likes criticism. If you call a volunteer into an office to discuss their performance, they will probably try to defend or justify their actions. You should let them. Giving a volunteer a chance to voice his or her reasons for behaviors gives you an opportunity to understand their point of view.

Volunteers might make excuses, but they could also bring up perfectly reasonable problems preventing them from performing their duties. In fact, if multiple employees report similar obstacles then you must take steps to change overall procedures. It may be a simple matter of slight alterations to volunteer schedules or redefining performance goals.

HR Morning said anytime a supervisor has to deliver constructive criticism he or she should avoid using “you” statements. You can talk about the performance of the fundraiser or a singular task; discuss the action, not the person. This prevents the volunteer from getting defensive. A feedback session should be a dialogue where the two of you focus on improving activities.

3. Schedule feedback and measure results
There’s a major problem if volunteers only hear from organizations in times of trouble. Constructive criticism should be just one small part of the overall communication cycle that involves every member of a nonprofit organization.

It’s always a best practice to have regularly scheduled meetings with your volunteers despite performance. During these routine conversations, you can include constructive criticism along with praise and questions about what the volunteer hopes to get out of his or her time. You have to schedule these sessions along with the individual’s other responsibilities.

Every time a manager has a mission-focused conversation with a worker, the organization must log the details into the volunteer management system. That way, when you deliver constructive criticism in the future, you can base it around everything the nonprofit knows about the particular individual.

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