Engaging and mobilizing volunteers can feel like a daunting challenge. However, I have found that a few simple questions can make a huge difference.

The most common complaint I hear from volunteers is frustration because they feel like they have to read minds. They don’t know how they are doing and how they can do better. They are unsure who is in charge of what, they don’t get useful feedback, and so they burn out.

The solution can be simpler than you might think. Small, informal conversations about performance go a long way – especially when they include teachable moments about different situations and details.

It all boils down to asking these six questions of every volunteer:

  1. What is your responsibility in this area? (In other words, let’s clarify what we’re doing here.)
  2. What are you doing well? (Let’s celebrate!)
  3. What, if anything, can you be doing better? (I’m listening, you’re important to me and I want you to succeed.)
  4. (If appropriate): What will happen if you improve (Let’s make this place the best it can be!)
  5. (If appropriate): What will happen if you don’t improve? (We share responsibility here!)
  6. How can I help? (I’m on your team!)

While all of these questions are important, the last question is especially important. It shows the volunteer that you care, and that you are not merely abdicating responsibility or shifting blame. It shows that you are interested in helping them grow and do what they do with excellence.

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