Challenge: New Volunteer Framework Wasn’t Working

A few years before contacting Tobi Johnson & Associates, a volunteer-driven advocacy program had instituted a new volunteer initiative to expand volunteerism and revitalize its volunteer management framework.

Volunteers and staff met and developed a statewide organizational structure for volunteers comprised of regional leaders, county units, and local teams focused on specific tasks (i.e., service, advocacy, education, etc.). Position descriptions were also developed for key volunteer roles — Regional Leader, County Coordinator, and County Team Member.

The transition to the new framework met with mixed results. In some regions, the implementation went smoothly, resulting in the integration of existing volunteers into the new structure with relative ease. Other regions had experienced a gradual decline in volunteer involvement. In still others, efforts to recruit a local county volunteer team were unsuccessful.

The organization was in the midst of developing a new strategic plan, but was unsure how to proceed with its volunteer program. Volunteer activity needed to be in alignment with their plan so that the organization could works toward a single vision. Volunteers needed helpful tools, responsive support, and a clear roadmap to follow, but the agency did not have a clear understanding of what support might look like from the volunteer perspective, nor what activities their current volunteers were most interested in supporting.

Objective: Discover Volunteer Needs Through a Volunteer Program Assessment

To better understand current volunteer experiences, perceptions, and needs, the agency decided to undertake a comprehensive volunteer program assessment. They hired Tobi Johnson & Associates to design and implement the assessment, which would provide an impartial overview of the current state of affairs as well as some evidence-based recommendations for moving forward.

Our project objective was to assess the capacity of the AARP PA state-managed volunteer network to accomplish the agency’s strategic goals.

Solution: A Mix of Interviews, Surveys, and a Review of Materials and Performance

Over a six-month period, we designed and implemented a multi-faceted volunteer program assessment project. Because the agency has a wealth of deeply committed volunteer leaders, we formed a volunteer Project Advisory Team to guide the process.

The assessment included the following data collection methods:

Staff & Volunteer Leadership Needs Assessment Interviews
Online Volunteer Satisfaction Survey
Review of Existing Volunteer Management Materials and Methods
A Review of Current Performance
Recommendations for How to Better Align Volunteer Roles with Organizational Priorities
A Presentation of Findings to the Project Advisory Team

Results: Increased Engagement of Leadership Volunteers

  • 179 volunteers participated in the survey, with a 95% confidence level (+/- 5.68%), offering the agency valuable quantitative volunteer satisfaction benchmarks from which to progress and qualitative comments to better gauge the overall mood and sentiments of the volunteer corps.
  • Eighteen volunteer leaders and paid staff participated in needs assessment interviews, identifying five critical themes of interest.
  • In addition, the team was provided clear recommendations on successes to continue and new tactics to implement as well as a concrete list of elements that were missing from their volunteer management tools.
  • At the close of the project, the organization had an even greater commitment from volunteer leaders to continue to work toward improving volunteer involvement and had clear ideas on how to proceed.


  • What steps should someone take to implement this solution?
    • We strongly recommend the inclusion of a volunteer advisory group to add transparency and build trust in the assessment process and outcomes.
  • What should someone know before starting this process?
    • Be sure to clearly identify which data and volunteer responses will remain anonymous. Volunteers need to be assured that they can speak candidly and programs need to be confident they can trust the results.
  • What top five things should someone consider before purchasing a similar solution?

1)   Staff must be ready and willing to hear and respond to both good and bad news; otherwise, the exercise is a waste of time and can do more damage than good.

2)   To ensure volunteer participation, clearly communicate the goals of the project to the volunteer corps at the outset, as well as what the agency is willing to do to rectify any issues it identifies.

3)   Keep the volunteer survey and interview questions focused on unearthing primary issues – if you conduct the interviews before designing the survey questionnaire, you’ll have a better sense of current hot topics to include.

4)   Assign a single paid staff person to interface with your consultant, answer questions, and direct the project.

5)   Plan more time than you think is needed for communication with the volunteer advisory group. They generally have great advice, but struggle to keep conversations within the tie we had budgeted for conference calls.

  • What can someone learn from this process? 
    • If you are brave enough to undertake a deep program assessment, you will emerge with a meaningful set of action items you can use to greater a stronger and more vibrant program that is supported enthusiastically by your volunteer fans.
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