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Developing a volunteer program: Initial assessment

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Designing and implementing a volunteer program from scratch is not easy but it can be a lot of fun. Similarly, revamping an existing program may be a somewhat stressful task, but with the understanding, input, and cooperation of all, it can be less daunting. Often volunteer programs have been put together quickly and out of necessity. Thus, it is a good idea to 'go back and reflect' on the volunteer program and evaluate its challenges and successes.

The easiest and least expensive way to assess a program is through surveying methods. Quantitative assessing methods include surveys (preferably anonymous or confidential) to agency staff, volunteers, clients, and/or community members. The purpose of quantitative methods is to gather a large amount of non-detailed information. On the other hand, qualitative methods are more detailed and usually involve in-depth interviews with people about the volunteer program. When creating your assessment tools determine who should be a part of this survey (i.e. volunteers, clients, staff). Remember, the more people involved, the more information you will receive!

Assessment questions to ask before implementing and designing a volunteer program

  • In what areas are volunteers needed?
  • What tasks specifically would volunteers do?
  • What skills are needed for these tasks?
  • What are some of the short-term goals of having a volunteer program?
  • What are some of the long-term goals of having a volunteer program?
  • What would be some of the benefits of volunteering at your agency?
  • Who would coordinate the volunteer program?
  • How much money should be budgeted for the volunteer program?
  • What are some foreseeable problems, and potential solutions?
  • What are your personal feelings about working with volunteers?
  • What do you think are the attitudes of other staff when it comes to working with volunteers?
  • What are some strategies of promoting positive staff/volunteer relationships?

Questions to ask when assessing an existing volunteer program

  • In what capacity are volunteers being used in the agency?
  • What are the strengths of the volunteer program?
  • What are some of the gaps/challenges in the volunteer program?
  • What are some suggestions to improve the volunteer program?
  • Have short-term goals been met?
  • Have long-term goals been met?
  • Are there any other areas that volunteers can be used?

Compiling the Assessment

After being collected data should be catalogued in a meaningful way. It should clear, concisely and accurately represent results. There are many ways to catalogue data; you can base it on position, on issues, or on both. Below is an example of data compilation for the above survey.

Step One: Analyzing Representation

Number of complete surveys: _____
Number of incomplete surveys: _____
Surveys with no response (not turned in): _____

These three questions may determine whether the survey questioning was suitable and comfortable for individuals. A high number of incomplete surveys may indicate unclear or redundant questions; a high number of unreturned surveys may indicate a lack of interest, willingness, or time. As well, this determines the quality of the data (i.e. the higher the response rate, the better).

Number of staff members completing surveys: _____
Percentage of total completed surveys: _____
Number of volunteers completing surveys: _____
Percentage of total completed surveys: _____
Number of clients completing surveys: _____
Percentage of total completed surveys: ______
Percentage of staff members (out of total number of staff, volunteers and clients) _____
Percentage of volunteers (out of total number of staff, volunteers and clients) _____
Percentage of clients (out of total number of staff, volunteers and clients) _____

These questions evaluate the representation of the sample. Is anyone over or under represented? This may indicate invalid results (i.e. not the 'complete picture').

Step Two: Summarizing Comments

Create charts to record and summarize how survey respondents answered the following questions:

  • What are the strengths of the volunteer program?
  • What are the gaps/challenges in the volunteer program?
  • What are some suggestions to improve the volunteer program?

Be sure to record whether the response came from a staff member, volunteer or client and note the number of similar answers received. Outlining comments in chart form retains anonymity of results. No one knows who said what. This allows one to share the information with agency staff, volunteers, and surveyed clients.

Step Three: Adding Up Table Responses

Group and tally all table responses together. Chart the number of people who strongly agreed, the number that agreed, disagreed and strongly disagreed, as well as the number of individuals who did not check off any box for each statement in the table.

Step Four: Summarizing Chart Responses

For each statement in the chart you want to determine the mean, median and mode response. In order to do this you must evaluate your chart using a point system. Strongly disagree=1, Disagree=2, Agree=3, Strongly agree=4.

Mean refers to the average. If for the first statement there were 2 Strongly Agrees (4 points each) = 8, 15 Agrees (3 points each)= 45, 3 Disagrees (1 point each) = 3 and no Strongly Disagrees then you add up the totals (8+45+3) and divide them by the number of respondents (not including 'no answer'). For the first statement, the mean would be (8+45+3) divided by 20. The result would be 2.8, which would be rounded to 3, indicating that the mean response to the first statement would be "Agree".

Median refers to the middle number when you line up all the numbers in the row. If there are odd numbers, the exact middle one is the median. If the numbers are even, you average the two middle numbers. If we refer to the numbers from the above example, the responses were: 4,4,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,2,2,2. Thus, the median is 3 or "Agree".

Mode refers to the response occurring most often. If for the first statement there were 2 Strongly Agrees (worth 4 points each), 15 Agrees (worth 3 points each), 3 Disagrees (worth 2 points each) then the most common response was Agree, which is 3.

The purpose of using multiple calculating tools is to ensure an accurate reflection of individuals' responses. In this case, they were relatively uniform. But in some cases there may be a survey 'way off the chart' (which changes the average) but the mode and median will demonstrate that that is not the norm.

Step Five: Summarizing the Data

You want to present the data in a concise, concrete manner, such as a summary. A summary outlines the findings of the survey. For example, "The majority of respondents agreed that.... Challenges reflected in this survey include volunteers not being regularly challenged to try new things, and conflict resolution tools not being in place." It is a good idea to offer recommendations with summaries.

After the Assessment

After the initial assessment, there are many other things to do before actually implementing the volunteer program. For instance, the agency should develop guidelines and policies before actually recruiting volunteers. Screening techniques should be developed and used and recruitment strategies should be determined beforehand or at least the agency should have an idea of who and where it wants to recruit.

Excerpt from "Volunteer Synchronicity". To order this 400+ page manual please call (250) 762 2355 or e-mail the Kelowna Women's Resource Centre at

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