How to Gather Feedback from Volunteers

For most nonprofit and church organizations, recruiting volunteers is crucial to the success of your mission. Though a lot of time and money go into this recruitment process, it’s not always enough to keep those volunteers helping long term. It’s a discouraging challenge I see so often in church environments. Learning how to gather feedback from volunteers will allow you to make changes to keep your volunteers serving with you for a long time.

If this is a familiar struggle, ask yourself what your church is doing to encourage volunteer retention. Often, in the midst of recruitment and everyday church functions, retaining efforts get overlooked. When implemented, however, there are several strategies to improve retention and communicate more clearly with your volunteers.

My advice? If you want to find out what’s working and what isn’t within your organization, request feedback from current volunteers. After all, they’re the ones checking in children, talking with parents, seeing jams in the parking lot, hearing comments from guests, etc. When you take the time to ask for their input, you’ll not only gain more insight into the happenings of your church, but you’ll be showing them that you appreciate their service.

If you’re ready to gain loyal volunteer help, start implementing these two methods for gathering feedback from volunteers.

Method #1 — Run An Annual Survey of All Volunteers

One easy way to survey volunteers is to use an online tool like SurveyMonkey. You can create the questions, send out a link to the survey via email, and collalate responses quickly. Keep the survey at a reasonable length (no more than 10 questions) to ensure people will take the time to fill it out. Here are several sample questions to ask:

#1 – How long have you been serving at <church name>?

If you don’t have records of when each volunteer started serving, this is a useful piece of information. If your church has been around for 20 years, but the average volunteer has only been serving for less than one year, you may have a high volunteer turnover issue.

#2 – Why did you decide to start serving?

This helps you identify people’s motives for serving. It can also reveal what communication methods worked best in getting people to sign up to volunteer (personal invitations, announcements during a service, the desire to meet more people, etc.).

#3 – How did you get started as a volunteer?

Did this person sign up on the church website or talk with a staff member about serving?  Did they fill out a card and put it in the offering plate? Knowing which signup methods have been the most popular can aid your decision-making process when it comes to which methods to promote the most.

#4 – How would you describe the process of signing up to serve?

By asking this question, you’ll learn whether or not your signup process is a smooth one. Maybe there was a glitch with the signup software you used, maybe it wasn’t clear who they should contact to sign up, or maybe it took weeks for someone to follow up with them. This is all good information you need to know.

#5 – Have you made any new friends from serving?

A sense of community is often what draws people into volunteer work. In my own experience, I’ve seen 94 percent of survey respondents say they made new friends as a result of volunteering at church. This is a great statistic to mention when you invite people to volunteer.

#6 – Did you attend a training session and receive any documented instructions before you started serving?

If not, you either don’t already require training before someone starts serving or there’s a hole in the process. Every volunteer role needs at least some training. It might consist of a 20-minute session with a short handout or something much more in-depth based on the role.

#7 – What do you think prevents more people from serving at <insert church name>?

When you’re on staff at a church, it can be challenging to see things from a newcomer’s perspective. Getting insights from volunteers on this topic will help you make adjustments as needed.

#8 – Have you invited anyone to serve at <insert church name>? If not, has your experience in serving kept you from recommending that others volunteer?

Volunteering with your friends is a huge draw for some. If volunteers aren’t encouraging their church friends to also help, this could be a sign that there are issues within the volunteer process.

#9 – Do you feel appreciated and valued as a volunteer? If not, please let us know what we could do to change that, because, we really do appreciate you!

We all like to be recognized for doing good work, especially if we’re not getting paid for it. Make sure your volunteers know that their work is appreciated and their time valued. Strive to show them how their work has positively impacted your church’s mission.

#10 – What else should we know about serving at <insert church name>? We want to improve and need your honest feedback to help us get better.

This last question is so crucial. Give them some space to add any additional thoughts, concerns, or even praises that give you even more information as to how you’re meeting volunteer expectations.

For all surveys, make sure to set a deadline I suggest two weeks for volunteers to respond. This gives them enough time to give thoughtful answers but not so much time that they forget about it.

Method #2 — Meet With Volunteer Leaders

Hopefully you have volunteers who lead various teams for weekly services (parking, greeting, bookstore, etc.). If so, ask those leaders to meet with you as a group at least once a quarter.  Here, come prepared with snacks, pen and paper, and a list of questions to ask.

Here’s what to ask:

  • What is going well with your teams?
  • What can we, as a staff, do to better support you as volunteer leaders?
  • Do you have the supplies you need for your volunteer areas?
  • Do you have the information you need to be successful in your volunteer areas?
  • Is there anything you’ve seen or heard that concerns you as a volunteer leader?

This biggest takeaway here is to listen WAY more than you speak during these meetings. You may receive unpleasant feedback that makes you feel defensive. Resist the urge to defend yourself.

Listen carefully, then repeat back what you heard and ask if you heard correctly. If someone mentions an issue, ask for recommendations on how to fix that problem. Let them be a part of the solution. And always make sure you thank them for their feedback. For any significant issues (related to safety, etc.), commit to following up with the group by a certain date so they know you took that seriously.  

Whether you’re reading survey responses or listening during a meeting, guard against getting defensive about criticism. Even if it’s not all 100 percent valid, it’s still the perception certain volunteers have of their volunteer experience, and that should be taken seriously. Ask God to help you read their comments with a humble attitude and to guide you in what to do with this new information. Implement any suggestions you can and always give credit to volunteers.

Asking for feedback can feel risky, but by taking the risk you may receive tips and ideas that help you make positive changes to the volunteer program — leading to more committed volunteers.