Idea 21: Give feedback to volunteers.

Regular feedback lets volunteers know that their work is important. Ongoing performance feedback from the beginning of a placement can be informal and an opportunity to offer support and immediately correct problems. A more structured review should occur at least once a year.

It should be a positive experience focused on what is being done well as well as areas for improvement. It is also an opportunity to look at any changes in volunteer motivation and interests, the job description, additional training requirements, and volunteer satisfaction.

Evaluation of volunteers should be based on and built into the job description and volunteers should be aware of it before they begin their placement. Volunteers should know ahead of time how they will be evaluated so they can be prepared. Comments should be specific and issue-centred, not person-centred. Volunteers should have the opportunity to offer feedback on their experience and the support they have received.

Voices from the field:

  • We evaluate a volunteer’s performance by checking with learners and their responses.
  • On-going informal discussions with the tutor and learner. I often try to meet with them separately. Usually done informally when they come in to meet.
  • Monthly tutor/learner reports.
  • This is done on an ongoing informal basis. Time permitting, I would like to have more formal end-of-year (or mid-program) evaluations.
  • Informally through conversation with the tutor and the learner, through reviewing their monthly (or bi-monthly) reports and doing periodic “Progress Updates”. I look to see if they are keeping the learner’s goals as their primary focus and I check to see if they are following any of my suggestions and ideas. I expect that they will adhere to our Code of Ethics.
  • We tend to evaluate using two very informal criteria: 1) observing the volunteer working with a student in action (over a period of time) – everyone can have a bad day so we tend evaluate over a period of time. 2) In dialogue with students we get a sense of which volunteers are making an impact and which ones ‘not so much’. I know that this method does not hold up to sound pedagogy (is that the right word?) but it definitely seems to work. We have had a core of the same 5 volunteers for the last 3-4 years.

To learn more:

Community Literacy of Ontario. (2012). Literacy basics: board governance: board evaluation. Retrieved from

MacDonald, R. & Cosburn, J. (2005). Literacy volunteers: value added toolkit. Barrie, Ont.: Community Literacy Ontario.
» This resource includes tools to help in volunteer performance appraisal, including a process guide, an appraisal checklist, and an appraisal form.

McCurley, S. & Lynch, R. (1989). Essential volunteer management. Washington, DC: VMSystems.
» A concise, comprehensive guide to volunteer management, including information on evaluation with detailed guidance when volunteers need to be discontinued.

Vineyard, S. (1988). Evaluating volunteers, programs and events. Downers Grove, Ill. : VMSystems – Heritage Arts Publishing.
» Brief explanation of the 6 basic principles of evaluation. Includes sample evaluation form.

Voo, A. & Kaattari, J. (2010). Literacy volunteers: value added: performance appraisals. Retrieved from
» This website includes a section on performance appraisals for literacy volunteers with general guidelines as well as additional questions for literacy volunteers. Includes a discussion of performance appraisals for boards of directors of literacy agencies.

Last updated: June 28, 2012