May 30, 2024

Episode #112: How to Run a Value-Packed Volunteer Q&A 

In this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast, Tobi Johnson delves into the undervalued yet powerful tactic of running effective volunteer Q&A sessions. Tobi discusses the goals of a good Q&A, including making volunteers feel heard, offering relevant information, and gathering valuable insights. 

She provides practical tips for conducting high-impact Q&A sessions, such as leaving your ego at the door, setting aside ample time, showing empathy, and telling stories. She also highlights when to build Q&A sessions into your volunteer programs and various formats they can take. This episode aims to help organizations engage deeply with their volunteers and enhance their overall experience! 

Q&A – Episode Highlights

  • [00:28] – The Power of Q&A Sessions 
  • [02:48] – Defining a Volunteer Q&A 
  • [03:51] – Goals of a Good Q&A 
  • [09:48] – When to Conduct a Q&A 
  • [13:43] – Tips for High Impact Q&A Sessions 
  • [24:43] – Conclusion and Final Thoughts

Q&A – Quotes from the Episode

“A good Q&A will help volunteers feel heard because they have a place to voice questions. They’re not only voicing questions, sometimes they’re voicing concerns that are disguised as a question. We need to be on the lookout for that.” 

“They can help point to resources because a volunteer may ask a question and they may not realize that there’s a resource that you have that’s handy and ready to help them with that challenge or that question. It’s a great time to identify and promote the lesser-known resources that volunteers might not be aware of.” 

About the Show

Nonprofit leadership author, trainer, consultant, and volunteer management expert Tobi Johnson shares weekly tips to help charities build, grow, and scale exceptional volunteer teams. Discover how your nonprofit can effectively coordinate volunteers who are reliable, equipped, and ready to help you bring about BIG change for the better.

If you’re ready to ditch the stress and harness the power of people to fuel your good work, you’re in exactly the right place!

Contact Us

Have questions or suggestions for the show? Email us at

Rate, Review, & Follow Us on Apple Podcasts

If you love the content Tobi shares on the Volunteer Nation podcast, consider rating and reviewing the show! This helps us reach more people – and help more good causes just like yours – successfully engage enthusiastic, dedicated volunteers with less stress and more joy.

Click here, scroll to the bottom, tap to rate with five stars. Then, select “Write a Review” and let us know what you loved most about this episode!

Also, if you haven’t done so already, follow the podcast so you don’t miss a thing. Follow now!

Subscribe to ProNews: Our Weekly Resource Roundup

If you’d like to stay up to date on all new podcasts, blogs, freebies, and deals posted on our Tobi Johnson & Associates and VolunteerPro websites, subscribe to our weekly ProNews newsletter.

Every Wednesday, we’ll send you a digest of our freshest content, plus a bonus! Once you confirm your subscription, you’ll get our [Free eBook] The New Volunteer Manager: The First 90 Days.

Episode #112 Transcript: How to Run a Value-Packed Volunteer Q&A 

Tobi Johnson: I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and I want to talk about a very esoteric and kind of super niche tactic. And it’s funny, we don’t often think about this as something that is very helpful to building relationships with volunteers and strengthening the volunteer experience, but it can be so powerful. 

My husband and I were talking about this this morning, and we were both talking about Q&A’s. We both do teaching. He had a university level and me with you all and our audience, our volunteer pro audience and our Tobi Johnson and associate audience, the folks that I’m out there training with, whether it’s online or in person. 

And you know, I often host Q&A’s at some, at some part in my training. I’ve even recently hosted, that was the whole training was Giant Q&A, ask me anything, we call them AMAs, ask me anything. And I thought, you know what, people are leaving opportunity on, on the table when they are facilitating Q&A sessions with their volunteers. 

It is something we don’t think about. It’s not something that’s very obvious to us. But for some of us who’ve been doing it for a while, we actually understand the opportunity there. And so, I thought I might share this with you. There’s an intuitive part of this. I’ve been doing training and instructional design for decades. 

And so, what feels intuitive to me may not necessarily be intuitive. It may have been a skill I learned years ago. I thought we would uncover this, unveil it, kind of, um, open it up for a deeper way of thinking. It’s a little bit of a deep dive into Q&As. So, today’s episode is all about how to run a value pact, volunteer Q&A. 

Isn’t that esoteric? It really is, but I’m going to tell you right now, it’s a secret weapon to engagement, to deeper engagement. So, let’s talk about this for a minute. You know, what is a volunteer Q&A anyway, what is it? What’s a Q&A What is she talking about? What are the goals of a good Q&A? When should we use a Q&A? 

Let’s start with the basics. So, a Q&A is nothing more than a question-and-answer period. It could be question and answer period or session, question and answer session. It can be entirely questions and answers. It can be at the end of a training. It can be during a training. It can be a short number of questions and answers. 

It can be done via chat. It can be done virtually, in person, and it can be done verbally. There are all kinds of ways to conduct a Q&A. If you’re going to do it live chat, it takes a lot of time and effort and you’ve got to be really good at typing. So, my recommendation is always a verbal Q&A. 

That’s the best. So, what are the goals of a good Q&A First and foremost, why would we do this? Why would we conduct a Q&A Well, there’s a lot of reasons and a lot of this is where the opportunity gets left on the table, I think. So, first of all, a good Q&A will help volunteers feel heard because they have a place to voice questions. 

Now, they’re not only voicing questions, sometimes they’re voicing concerns that are disguised as a question. So, we need to be on the lookout for that. So, helping volunteers feel heard. Another goal of a good Q&A is to offer, in response to those questions, helpful, relevant, and just-in-time information. 

People may have a burning question they need answered. And so, you’re giving them highly relevant information because you’ve heard straight from their lips to your ears what they need and what, what information they need. So, you can give them really relevant, targeted information. And also, a goal of a good Q&A is to build confidence in volunteers. 

I’ve talked about this before. Last week I talked about new volunteer orientations. what to include and what to leave out. I’ll link to this, but you can also look in your podcast library. And I talked about the importance of new volunteer orientations in building confidence. And Q&A’s can do that as well. 

Help your volunteers get answers so they don’t feel like they’re kind of fumbling around in the dark. They also help build confidence in your organization because you have answers. You’re not flip flopping or you’re not being wishy washy. You’re able to give firm, confident answers, and that can build confidence in your organization as well. 

A good Q&A can help point to resources because a volunteer may ask a question and they may not realize that there’s a resource that you have that’s handy and ready to help them with that. challenge or that question. So, it’s a great time to identify and promote some of the resources, the lesser-known resources that volunteers might not be aware of. 

A good Q&A can help you gather intel and insights on your volunteer needs because as you start to listen to questions and see themes and You will start to glean insights from those things. Oh, wow, everybody seems to be confused about X, Y, Z. Ooh, maybe we should double down on that in our training, right? 

Or wow, nobody seems to get this process. Is there a way to make it more efficient? So, we can gather so much insight when we ask volunteers to share their questions with us. We can even better understand what’s most important to our volunteers, particularly if you’re doing Q&A online and you’re using something like Zoom. 

In Zoom webinars, they have a Q&A box where your audience can actually upvote questions. So, if you enable that in your Zoom account or whatever webcasting software you’re using, if they have the ability for people to upvote, you can figure out which questions are the most important for your volunteers. 

You can also surface hidden issues or complaints volunteers are carrying around that they’re grumpy about. So, I said this earlier, sometimes the question is absolutely, it’s a complaint that’s couched as a question. And that’s okay. We’re okay with that. Okay, well, let’s get to the bottom of that, right? We can surface these hidden issues. 

It’s almost safer sometimes for people to ask a question than it is for them to confront somebody. People have a really hard time. Of course, we have the few, you all know who they are, the few volunteers who enjoy confrontation. We always have a few in the bunch, but most don’t, most don’t, and most won’t ever tell you they have a problem. 

This gives them a safe space to voice a complaint that’s couched as a question. Good Q&A can help you enlist support to solve a problem. Think about that. If people are couching a complaint as a question, you can say, wow, I hear what you’re saying. That seems like a problem. Does anybody in our group here have any recommendations for how to solve this? 

You can start to crowdsource answers to questions, and that enlists support. People start feeling like they’re working on the problem together. Q&A could be good team building, which you’re like, wait, what? Yes, a Q&A could be good team building. Along those lines, you can also tap expertise in your room. 

Like, you can say, you know, I don’t know a lot about that, or I know a little bit about that, but actually, this person knows a lot more, and it might be a volunteer. So and so, would you mind sharing your point of view on this? Now, they have to be willing, but it’s a way to acknowledge the expertise outside of yourself, so you don’t become the end all be all for all answers. 

And then Q&A’s, a really good run Q&A can also be a way to engage volunteers in championing change. And, you know, I know change management is a huge deal for many of you because you’re, you’re creating new policies, your organization is evolving, and sometimes you have longer term staff or volunteers who are a bit resistant. 

Partly because, you know, people will say they love change, but nobody likes to change. When it impacts their own personal way of working, then people are like, Hmm, not sure about that. So, when you have a good Q&A session, especially when you’re, when you’re discussing changes that are coming about, people will feel like they had a bit of a say, or at least could get clarity. 

It helps as part of your change management process to have some Q&A time. Those are some goals of a good Q and A. Now, when should you build in time for a Q&A? You know, obviously you can do so at the end of an informational session. Let’s say for prospective volunteers who are interested in supporting your organization, potentially, definitely at the end of that is a great time for a Q&A. 

During trainings, they could be at the beginning, middle, or end, at the end of different modules. There are ways to invest, imbue, or integrate that Q&A throughout that type of training, either online or in person. When you’re briefing, Folks on a new initiative for change, which I just talked about helping people become champions for change during a formal recognition presentation. 

Now that’s interesting, right? Let’s say you had a leader come up and kick off or do the keynote at your Is that how you start a conversation? a volunteer appreciation event, and maybe at the end of their talk, their remarks, they say, hey, I’m going to stick around just for a few minutes for questions. 

Is anybody have any questions or responses to what I said today? It’s a great way to start to get a pulse on how people are feeling about what those remarks were communicating. You can, um, also do a quick Q&A after you give instructions. Let’s say you’re doing a day of service, and you have a group come in, a corporate group. 

You can give instructions and say, hey, any questions about our organization, about what you’re going to do here today, about anything? I’m here to help, right? The bottom line for Q&A’s is to offer them anytime you want to make sure that everyone understands what to do next. Whether it’s as a new volunteer, or during a project, or whatever it is. 

And, anytime you believe people, number one, may be confused, or number two, may have, have a complaint that they’re afraid to surface. So, anytime you have any of that going on, it’s time for a good Q&A. So, check out episode Volunteer Nation, episode 111, New Volunteer Orientation, What to Include, What to Leave Out, for more on how to conduct a really good volunteer orientation, of which Q&A’s can be a subsection of.  

But if you want to think about training in general, you can go check out that episode. I’ll put a link in the show notes. That’s a little bit about how to run a value packed volunteer Q&A.  

We’re going to take a quick break, and afterwards, I want to give you some more tips. The tips are more on the intuitive side, and, and again, I feel like facilitating a good Q&A feels to me very intuitive, but I really, and there’s a fair amount of emotional intelligence and listening that goes on with it, but at the same time, I think it’s a learnable skill. I want to share with you some of those tips if you’re trying to improve your Q&A game, so don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.  

If you’re enjoying this week’s episode of Volunteer Nation, we invite you to check out the Volunteer Pro Premium Membership. This community is the most comprehensive resource for attracting, engaging, and supporting dedicated high impact volunteer talent for your good cause. 

Volunteer Pro Premium Membership helps you build or renovate an effective volunteer program with less stress and more joy so you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward. And it’s the only implementation program of its kind that helps your organization build maturity across five phases of our proprietary system, the volunteer strategy success path. If you’re interested in learning more, visit 

Okay, we’re back with how to conduct a solid volunteer Q&A, what are the things you need to do to make sure it is rock solid and high impact? And I’ve got a little list here that I’ve sort of gleaned and gained over the years. 

Let’s start with this. So, tips for a high impact volunteer Q&A. First off, and really important, probably the most essential thing is to leave your ego at the door. There’s no need to be defensive, even if other people get angry. You don’t need to be defensive. People are grumpy. They have their reasons for being grumpy. 

They may be frustrated. They may be having a bad day. They may, for whatever reason, right? It’s not about you. And I always see questions and feedback as an opportunity to improve, and it’s a gift. It’s a gift that people are even wasting their time or spending their time, right, to give you feedback and to give a thoughtful question, even if the question may not be phrased very thoughtfully or may feel a little aggressive. 

It’s okay. You don’t need to take it on. Don’t take it on as a personal affront. You just leave your ego at the door. You’re here to listen. You’re here to respond. Your response and the emotional tenor of your response will lead others in the appropriate way to have this kind of inner interchange. 

And the tone will change. If you’ve got a bunch of people with pitchforks and burning brooms in the back of your room, and they’re asking really intense, aggressive questions, your response will lead them, and it will start to quench that fire a little bit. 

So, just don’t take it personally. Sooner or later, they’ll put down their pitchforks, they’ll put out their burning brooms, and they’ll sit down and, and have a decent conversation. It’s okay. You can lead people there. Second thing, set aside ample time so people don’t feel rushed or willing to go overtime. 

Often when we do our free webinars here at VolunteerPro, I will often go way over the time. Now, we always offer a recording, so if people have to jump at the end of the webinar, they’ve got something else going on, they can come back and listen to the Q&. But I have been known to do Q&A for another 45 minutes after a webinar, an hour-long webinar. 

Make sure you offer ample time. In the case of volunteers, I would just make sure that it’s within the agenda timeframe. It’s probably not helpful to ask volunteers to stay an extra 45 minutes to answer Q&A. Another thing you want to do for a high impact volunteer Q&A is to check for clarity. 

I like to repeat the question, especially if you’re not completely clear about what the question actually is. So, okay, let me make sure I understand what you’re asking, and you repeat the question. This not only helps. You communicate that you are listening actively. It also helps the rest of the audience understand the question as well. 

It’s very helpful and a way to give respect to the person who’s asking the question. Another thing to do is to show empathy. You know, you can even say, wow, if somebody, asks in a very assertive or aggressive way. So, wow, it sounds from your question and your tone that this might be a little frustrating for you, huh? 

And your tone of voice and the lightning up, people may even laugh a little bit, nervously laugh, and it diffuses the situation, you know? So, I like to, you know, wow, this sounds like it, you know, it’s a little frustrating for you. Let’s get to the bottom of this, right? You’re letting people know that you’re on their side, that you understand and hear them. 

Another thing you want to do is don’t answer a question that isn’t a question. If somebody makes a comment, you can say, okay, I hear your feedback. Is there a question there? I can also respond just to your comment. Right? So, you do want to check and see if there’s a question, and you don’t want to be, you know, aggressive. 

Well, don’t you, do you not have a question here? You don’t want to be that way. You want to say, uh, I don’t hear a question here, but I can respond to your comment. Would that be helpful? You can say it that way. And then you can say, it sounds like from your comment that this is the challenge for you. Is this the case? 

Then you can start to engage in a dialogue, right? You’re clarifying, what the question under the comment is or what the comment is under the comment, right? Also important in a high impact volunteer Q&A is the to recognize and accept that it’s okay to not know the answer, that you’re not going to have all the answers. 

It’s highly likely that you won’t have all the answers. You can let people know when you’re going to get back to them. It’s also okay not to have the answers to the things that are outside of your area of responsibility. Let’s say it’s about, you know, hey, the fundraising department, I never got, and when I make my personal contributions, I never seem to a receipt or an acknowledgement letter, and maybe they’re grumpy about it, whatever, you can say, well, you know, unfortunately, I’m not up to speed on what the development department is doing. 

I mean, I can reach out or I can give you someone’s contact information, but that’s not really in my scope of work, right? So, we don’t want to say that’s not in my job description. When people say that specifically, it’s not in my job description, that’s sort of code for, hey, your comments or your question doesn’t matter, or I don’t care about you, etc. 

We don’t want to use those words. But we can say, you know, I’m not up to speed on what XYZ department is doing, or XYZ person is doing. I can find out or I can give you their contact information. So, you don’t have to take on carrying water for some things that are really outside of your control. 

The other thing you want to do for a high impact volunteer Q& is to take time to tell stories. Now I talked about this when I talked about last week when I talked about how to create a high impact volunteer orientation. Today we’re talking about Q&A’s. But it’s also a great time to tell stories. Now, you don’t want to overdo, and you don’t want to wax philosophic for, you know, a long period of time. 

But if someone asks a question and you have a story that illustrates the answer or that gives them an example, then use that story. Because concrete examples really help volunteers understand concepts. As a paid staffer you may know the nitty gritty in your organization right and left and you may be using jargon or language that they don’t really get because they don’t live it every day. 

Doesn’t have anything to do with level of experience or I would say not level of experience but level of intelligence in your volunteers because they don’t understand your jargon. That has nothing to do with people’s level of, uh, intelligence. It has to do with whether or not they live and breathe your organization day in and day out. 

And most of our volunteers don’t. They’re part time contributors, which is just fine. But sometimes there are the workings behind our organization, things we’ve been intimately involved in projects that go on for months and months. We think everybody must know about this. No, they don’t. So, using stories to illustrate how this might, uh, how this might play out or how it was resolved or who else is having a problem and how they resolved the issue, or why. 

Stories are great for the why. What’s the big why behind a change, for example? Let me tell you a story about how this came about, you know. These are all stories that can be really helpful. We’re very attuned to stories as human beings. We are storytellers, naturally, and people will remember your stories more than they remember anything else you say. 

I’ve heard this a million and one times, you know, I’ll be at the end of a training, I’ll ask people, what’s your key takeaway? What was your big aha moment? And it will often be something related to a story. So, I know for a fact that this will be something people remember. Another thing to do when you’re facilitating a Q&A is to make sure that you write down your own personal key takeaways right after the session, or even if you’re online, I take notes during a session if people are asking Q&A, or I review the transcript if I’m recording it, because you will forget what you realized in the moment. 

You will forget what you realized in the moment because there’s a lot of questions you’re answering. You know, when I do a Q&A after a free webinar, I’m going to answer 30 questions. And so, I want to make sure I write down if there’s any themes, trends, things to do’s, marching orders that I got when once I realized, oh, this is, I need to do this. 

This is a marching order that I need to take on. And remember the goals of a good Q&A. The goals are to help people feel heard, to offer helpful information, and for you to gain insights. So, keep focused on that. Make sure you keep your answers as tight as possible, but also as complete as possible. Don’t be defensive. 

It’s not helpful. Just because people have a question or have a complaint doesn’t mean that it’s an assassination of your character. And even if you’ve made a mistake, guess what? You’re human. We all do. We all make mistakes. We make mistakes every single day. And so, you know, have compassion for yourself when you’re facilitating a Q&A as well as the volunteers. 

So, if you’re interested in gaining feedback, insightful, actionable feedback from volunteers, also check out Volunteer Nation Episode 72, Volunteer Surveys, where I talk about which mistakes you might be making. Check that out. I’ll post a link to that in the show notes as well. So, if you’re thinking about the variety of ways you can collect feedback from your volunteers, that episode would be very helpful. 

I hope this has been a helpful episode for you to just think about this very esoteric, very niche topic of how to run a value packed volunteer Q&A. It’s just a strange topic for you. podcast episode, but it just felt like, you know what? I feel like this is such a secret weapon for deep volunteer engagement. 

How can we engage in deeper dialogue with our volunteers? How can we help them feel like they’ve been heard? How can we gather actionable intel and generate greater insights if we’re not asking questions? Right? If we’re not allowing people to ask questions of us. And so, I feel like it’s such a great way to build bridges, and particularly if you have an incredibly resistant group that’s resistant to change, or a group that for some reason is just grumpy, or maybe your organization wasn’t doing a very good job with volunteers and you want to change that. 

Those are all good times to start. Giving volunteers voice, giving them a forum for questions, and maybe you just do, you know, hey, we’re doing volunteer Q and a once a month now, come ask your questions. You can submit your questions ahead of time. You can ask them live. We’re here. We want to hear from you. 

And then integrate Q&A’s throughout when it makes sense in your trainings, et cetera, info sessions, et cetera. Even in online community forums, that can be, you can have a Q&A thread. So, there’s tons of ways to encourage volunteers to ask questions and make sure you’re satisfying them with answers. 

Now, your answers may not be the answers that they want or like. That’s not the, that’s not the point. It’s not about people pleasing. It’s about being clear and as helpful and relevant as possible. So, keep that in mind. Good luck with your Q&A’s. And I hope you’ll share this with a colleague or friend who might be thinking about facilitating their own volunteer Q&A’s. 

And if you would, please subscribe, like, and rate us. We’d love to have a five-star rating. And that’s the way we reach more people with the Volunteer Nation podcast. So, join us next week, same time, same place. I’ll be here with another topic. We’ll, we’ll figure out if it’s going to be esoteric next week or not, not sure. I’ll let you know. All right. So, see you next week, everybody. Take care.