Balancing Niceness and Toughness in Volunteer Feedback

balancing niceness and toughness

Balancing between being nice to volunteers while still providing honest feedback can be hard. We all know that when working with volunteers, feedback is key. These amazing people give their time and energy because they care deeply about our cause. That’s why it’s so important to be kind in how we deliver feedback. We also, though, need to be clear and firm when a volunteer isn’t following rules or could do things more effectively. Balancing niceness and toughness is hard, but there is a way to do it. Be tough in what you tell them; be nice in how you tell them.

Let’s face it, most of us want to be nice.

We’re people people (persons??). Making others feel good about themselves and how they help us comes automatically. And it’s important!

It helps maintain morale. Harsh or blunt feedback can demoralize them and lead to disengagement. Being nice helps maintain their enthusiasm and commitment to the cause.

It builds trust. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, including those with volunteers. When feedback is delivered kindly, it builds trust and makes volunteers more receptive.

Positive interactions encourage volunteers to view feedback as a tool for growth rather than criticism. When they feel supported and appreciated, they are more likely to take feedback constructively and strive for continuous improvement.

Why is being tough necessary?

Well, volunteers are often involved in tasks that directly impact the success of the mission. Tough feedback ensures that the quality of work meets the necessary standards. It’s important to address any issues directly to maintain the integrity of the program.

It makes them feel better about their service. Really, it does! No one wants to do a bad job of something they care about. Pointing out – nicely – how they can do something better, faster or more easily will actually increase their pleasure in the task.

It also helps prevent burnout. Volunteers will sometimes try to take on too much, or work in areas that aren’t suited to their strengths. Being up-front about these situations, while it might disappoint the volunteer at first, can help prevent overwhelm and ensure that volunteers are placed in roles where they can be most effective and satisfied.

Here are some tips for balancing niceness and toughness.

Start with positives. Begin feedback sessions by highlighting what the volunteer is doing well. This sets a positive tone and makes the volunteer more open to hearing areas for improvement.

Be specific and clear. When talking about areas for improvement, be specific about what needs to change and why. General comments like “You need to do better” are unhelpful and discouraging. Instead, try, “I noticed that you often arrive late for your shift. It means that someone else has to fill in for you to ensure everything is done on time.”

Keep things objective. Frame feedback in a way that focuses on facts rather than making it seem like a personal attack. For example, “I’ve observed that…” rather than “You always…”.

Listen. Give them a chance to discuss the situation. They may be facing a barrier you didn’t know existed, or they may be getting conflicting information from other staff or volunteers. By listening, you show that their perspective is important to you.

Offer solutions. Don’t just point out what’s wrong—provide specific and actionable suggestions for improvement. For instance, “Perhaps a different bus route might be more reliable.”

And don’t forget to follow up. After giving feedback, check in with volunteers to see how they’re doing and offer further support if needed. This reinforces the feedback, provides accountability and lets them know you’re willing to work on finding solutions.

So that’s the trick to providing good feedback.

Balancing niceness and toughness is essential for both volunteers’ growth and the success of your program. Being nice maintains morale and builds trust; being tough ensures quality. By combining both, you can create a supportive, high quality environment where volunteers and the mission succeed. As Mary Poppins says “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!”

So, the next time you provide feedback, remember to be nice in delivery but tough in content. Your volunteers—and your program—will be better for it!

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