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FEDERAL GOVERNMENT VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS

This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs at the federal level, including information for parks, justice, Internal Revenue Service, and more.

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~ November 2004 ~ Topics
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The Exit Interview Team

Many volunteer programs at a national or federal level are large. 200, 300, 400 or many more volunteers providing much needed services. Volunteers come and go on a monthly basis, with a frequency that makes it impossible for the coordinator or manager of volunteers to find out why. Yet, not gathering information from departing volunteers leaves a large information hole. The solution is the Exit Interview Team.

The Exit Interview Team is a highly trained group of volunteers who contacts volunteers who leave and interviews them about their experience. The interviews are confidential, need to be standardized, need to be recorded and analyzed, with results shared with the appropriate staff and volunteer leaders.

The target for these is the direct service volunteer. Those volunteering with a group would not be included in this type of evaluation. Other types of evaluations are used with groups.

The Team:

Select experienced volunteers with a broad knowledge of the program. This is a great job for someone who is not as active as in the past, but is still interested in the program. For those in Parks or outdoor programs, think of people who can no longer build trails or clear roads, but could do phone or email interviews with departing volunteers. Select people who will not be argumentative or try to defend the program. The job of the Exit Team is to be neutral and gather information. The best listeners are the people who qualify for this post.

The team might also include a person whose sole task is to receive information and prepare it in digestible forms for the paid staff. This person need not work in the office, but have a "virtual" volunteer job.

The Training:

Exit Team members need to know the purpose of the interviews, the various ways they are conducted, how to be a good interviewer, how to submit the data to the compiler, and how the data is used. The Team also needs to see what is done with the information submitted, so give them data from previous years, and reports on how that information has changed the organization and management of volunteers.

Be sure to provide ample opportunity during training to practice phone interviews and especially skills to maintain neutrality and do follow-up questions.

The Formats:
In the electronic age there is more than one way to solicit information from volunteers. The face-to-face or phone interview is the most traditional. Keep it short and ask the same questions of everyone. This type of interview allows for follow-up questions that can dig deeper for information. Other forms of follow-up:
  • FAX-contact the person by phone and ask if they would like to do the "interview" via fax. Fax them the questions and have them return to the person compiling the data.
  • Email-The "interview" could be done in a series of questions on email. Test this method in advance. Too many questions can be discouraging, where one or two at a time, or an attached form might be easier.
  • Web survey-If the volunteer program has an easily accessible Web site the "interview" could be placed there as well, for departing volunteers to print and fax to the compiler for the Exit Team. On more sophisticated sites the form can be completed online and shipped to the compiler.
  • Face-to-Face Interviews-If a volunteer knows in advance they are leaving, an Exit Team member can do a face-to-face interview.

Volunteers are given the option of the various types of interviews and the compiler's duties includes seeing there is a balance between the various types of programs and people. If there is an imbalance, the interviewers can increase activities to balance the sample. The sample should look like the actual volunteer program, in order to be valid. For example, if the program is 50% men and 50% women then the departing sample should look the same way.

Be sure to include demographic information in the questions to enhance validity of the interview results.

Timing:
Gathering relevant information does not need to be done for every volunteer. If the program has 600 volunteers and the attrition rate is 50% annually, then 150 volunteers interviewed in a year is more than enough. The timing of interviews needs to be in different "seasons" of the year for validity, and if volunteers do different things (position descriptions) then those interviewed need to come from all those various positions. For example, interviews are conducted in October and April each year. Any method is open to the volunteer, but the ones where follow-up questions can be asked are preferred. Volunteers need to know how and why the study is being done and what is done with the information.
The Questions:

While most managers of volunteers have their own questions of departing people, there are some area of interest not to be missed.

  1. The volunteer role. Ask questions about how the person saw his/her roles. Do they know things that should be passed on to others related to the work done? What suggestions can be made to enhance the role of this type of volunteer work?
  2. Skills. Did the person feel prepared to do the work? What more or less needs to be done in training? What tips or hints would the person give to other volunteers to do the work efficiently?
  3. The future. What does the volunteer see as future needs in this area? What does the organization need to do related to volunteers and this position to be effective five years from now?
  4. Administration. Was supervision adequate? What recommendations do you have to enhance or improve? Are there things you need to stop doing? Things you need to do more of?
This important information from departing volunteers can be used in recruiting, training, management, and recognition. A small committee of 4 - 7 episodic volunteers can likely do this for the volunteer program. The number you need to survey depends on the total number of volunteers leaving annually.

Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: "Megatrends in Volunteerism," by Sue Vineyard.Megatrends in Volunteerism Book Image

Margaret Styles has returned to school and is no longer writing for Volunteer Today. We wish her the best of luck! Nancy Macduff, managing editor and author of several Volunteer Today pages, is this month's author of the Federal Government Volunteer Programs page.
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