Your organization can’t succeed without a team of keen and committed volunteers. That’s why putting the right volunteer recruitment and retention strategies and tactics into practice is so important. Success depends on building strong relationships with your volunteers and keeping them happy. Volunteers that are trusted, feel valued and buy in to your mission one hundred percent are those most likely to stay involved with your organization. They could also recommend your organization to family and friends and help bring your volunteer recruitment numbers up.

One way to measure volunteer satisfaction and to demonstrate your commitment to the well-being of your volunteers is to find out what they have to say about their volunteer experience. A volunteer satisfaction survey can prove very effective in finding out all kinds of information ranging from what motivates them, to their ideas on improving their current situation and your volunteer program.

There are ten fundamental steps to implementing a volunteer satisfaction survey:

Step 1: Identify the need for a survey

If you have volunteers and you don’t know how they feel about their work and/or their work environment, then you need to conduct a survey. Prioritize one if you are experiencing a high or growing volunteer turnover rate or if you are planning or are in the midst of major organizational change.

Step 2: Win support from the management team

Once the need for a survey has been established, the next step is to develop a compelling business case for presentation to key decision-makers in your organization. In your business case, outline the reasons for the survey, the expected benefits, and the anticipated costs involved.

Step 3: Check on the integrity of your volunteer data

The quality of your volunteer data is critical to the successful distribution of your survey. Having accurate, complete, consistent, and timely data helps avoid potentially embarrassing situations and/or PR issues.

Step 4: Select an interviewing strategy

The two most preferred interviewing strategies out there involve the use of the Internet and/or paper. Consider your volunteer demographics and communication preferences before you decide on a strategy. Online surveys come highly recommended because they generally generate higher response rates and are faster than paper surveys. Where there are a significant number of volunteers with and without access to the Internet, a mix of both online and paper surveys would be appropriate.

Step 5: Design the questionnaire

Here are some tips on how best to design the questionnaire:

  1. Brand your survey and lay it out in an aesthetically appealing manner.
  2. Start with an attention-grabbing title and always include a short introduction with a set of instructions on how to answer the survey.
  3. Focus on your target audience. Put yourself into the shoes of your volunteers and develop the questions accordingly.
  4. The questions should be easy to read and understand and accurately reflect what you want to find out.
  5. To engage your volunteers, make the questions upfront easy and pleasant to answer.
  6. Use mostly structured/fixed response questions in your survey. They make data collection and analysis much easier and are quick to answer. Although non-structured/open-ended questions will provide more insight into your volunteers’ thoughts and ideas about a subject, data analysis can be difficult.
  7. Keep questions neutral so as not to evoke a biased response.
  8. Use consistent rating scales on all questions to avoid any confusion.
  9. Tighten up multiple choice responses to two to five choices and to no more than six words each wherever possible.
  10. Leave demographic questions till last. Age might be a sensitive subject so ask what year your volunteers were born, not how old they are.

Step 6: Edit and test the questionnaire

Check the questionnaire carefully and watch for formatting, question numbering, spelling, grammar and skip pattern issues. Once the edit is done for a paper survey, it should go straight to print.

Online surveys are different and require thorough testing to prevent any technical mishaps. A test survey on a small sample of volunteers can reveal unanticipated problems with question wording, instructions to skip questions, etc. It can also help gauge whether your volunteers understand the questions and are providing useful answers.

Step 7: Promote the survey

There are several factors to consider when promoting a volunteer satisfaction survey. First, consider your target audience – your volunteers and volunteer managers. A volunteer manager committed to promoting the survey can make all the difference in lifting the response rate.

Second, consider how to generate awareness of the survey. Use multiple channels of communication to get the message out: live presentations, e-mail, internal memoranda, newsletters, bulletin boards and Q&A sheets to name a few.

Third, communicate the benefits of a volunteer satisfaction survey clearly, let volunteers know the timeline for the survey and how they can participate.

Step 8: Craft the cover letter or e-mail

At minimum, consider the following for your cover letter or e-mail:

  1. It should come from someone senior in your organization (the executive director if possible).
  2. Let your volunteers know that you are conducting a volunteer satisfaction survey and why.
  3. Assure them that individual responses will not be revealed, but only combined with many others to learn about overall attitudes.
  4. To maximize response, explain how the survey results will come to good use.
  5. Let your volunteers know how much time to set aside to complete the survey, as well as a deadline for response.
  6. Include the name and telephone number of a contact person volunteers can call if they have any questions.
  7. Most importantly, say ‘Thank You’ for participating.

Step 9: Boost the response rate

Here are some additional tactics that you can use to boost the response to your survey.

  1. Let your volunteers know how many people have responded to the survey as time goes on.
  2. Send reminders.
  3. When the survey results come in, let your volunteers know what they are and next steps – this will help next year’s survey response rate.

Step 10: Analyze the survey results

With an online survey, results can be collected and viewed in real-time quickly and easily. With a paper survey however, data analysis presents more of a challenge.

On review of the results, take particular note of any common themes that emerge. These give an accurate picture of the underlying situation at your organization. Similarly, read the responses to non/structured/open-ended questions carefully. They will give you a good idea of what’s on the minds of your volunteers.

Next, summarize the findings from your survey. With your volunteers’ perspective on things, you are sure to gain a better understanding of the current state of your volunteer program and where it’s headed.

Celebrate your successes, focus on your development areas and begin work on modifying your volunteer program. Remember, you have a year to go before the next survey.

Jane Hall is a strategic consultant at Volunteer Loyalty, a consultancy committed to the promotion of volunteerism and to helping non profit organizations achieve excellence in volunteer program management. Please direct questions or comments to