If you’ve been a volunteer coordinator longer than…oh, a week or so, you know that the more people there are volunteering, the more opinions you get.
From “I don’t like this” to “Why the heck did we do that?” you hear it all. Sometimes all those comments and complaints make you want to slam the door and say, “No more!”
The thing is, you need feedback–the right kind of feedback–to propel you forward. So instead of covering your ears and screaming, make a plan to seek out feedback to help you improve. Create opportunities for volunteers, board members, co-workers, vendors, and whoever else you interact with to provide constructive criticism. Once you sort through the noise, you may find that there are some really valuable thoughts and ideas that will make your leadership skills and your next event even better.
Plan for feedback
Despite your lists and best intentions, something may go awry or need some evaluating in the future. Plan for that to happen, and plan to hear from your volunteers about it. Remember when people give you their thoughts, chances are they are trying to be helpful. So create a survey about the event, the volunteer experience, or whatever area makes sense to asses and let people know ahead of time that you’ll be asking for their feedback afterwards. That way they know you plan to hear them out, and you can be sure to capture all of the responses in one place. Create questions that rate different aspects of the event as well as open-ended questions about what went well, what went wrong, how the volunteers feel they can help improve things in the future, and how you can best support them. This will likely prove to be a really valuable resource when you begin preparing for next time.
Time and place
Sometimes the biggest issue you have with the comments and complaints is the timing. A loud complaint in the middle of the event? Not ideal. Volunteers may speak their minds without considering that you have a million and two other things to worry about at that particular moment. Instead of completely dismissing them or getting frustrated, let volunteers know you want to hear their feedback but at a different time and place. Maybe that’s with the survey or maybe that’s in a follow-up meeting a week later. If you are in the middle of the event, remind them that unless it’s something that needs to be addressed immediately, you aren’t able to discuss it yet but to bring it up again later as you do respect their thoughts and opinions.
When you open up the lines of communication and seek feedback, you will likely hear a lot of thoughts and opinions, even some that contradict each other. First of all, that’s great! Remember that receiving lots of feedback means people care and are passionate enough to provide you with their thoughts. But obviously, this can be overwhelming to sort through and choose which advice to follow. While sending out a survey to a broad group of people is an excellent way to invite feedback, make sure to continue seeking out honest opinions from the people you respect the most. Talk directly with key leaders in the organization and longtime committed volunteers who may have a better perspective on things. Bounce ideas around with your co-workers and find a mentor to continue to point you in the best direction for your career. Depending on the source, you can then determine if the comment or complaint you received is worth your time and energy. You want to hear from people at every level, but choose the right people to have the biggest impact on your decisions and overall outlook on how things went.
While it might seem like the easier answer, the last thing you want to do is shut down all forms of feedback. Hearing comments, and even complaints, is one way you can continue to support your volunteers. But even more importantly, it can lead to constructive criticism that can help you strengthen yourself and your event. In the end, everyone’s better for it.