Continuous improvement

Once you have your volunteer program up and running it is a good idea to develop and implement a continuous improvement process.

Continuous improvement is an ongoing cycle of review and evaluation of your processes and procedures in your organisation. Having a continuous improvement policy helps you to refine the way you do things to make it as effective and efficient as possible.

Having an improvement process means that all volunteers (and staff) can contribute to the improvement of the way you work.

This relates to National Standard # 8 – Continuous improvement.

Getting started

Probably the most important things to remember when you start thinking about implementing a continuous improvement process are:

  • It is cyclical
  • It is measurable
  • It is incremental
  • Everyone is involved.

It’s basically about collecting information about day to day operations, and having an ongoing process for improving how things are done. This can be applied to all aspects of your work activity, from small initiatives to agency-wide processes.

The aim is to make all or¬ganisational functions and resources work better and more efficiently over time.  Having a continuous improvement process can also help to:

  • Encourage participation from staff and volunteers
  • Improve communication between volunteers, staff and management
  • Reinforce your commitment to creating a positive work environment
  • Provide an objective basis for decision making
  • Create a proactive and planned approach to improving how things are done.

Collecting feedback

The first step is having processes in place to regularly capture feedback and information about how your program is working. You could do this by:

  • Having regular surveys
  • Organising focus groups or more formal feedback sessions
  • Collating any feedback sent through your complaints or compliments systems – or if you don’t have these systems think about making a form available through your website or intranet
  • Completing a volunteer exit interview when a volunteer leaves, or a feedback session when their probation period comes to an end
  • Making it a part of your performance management process
  • Holding a consultation phase and speaking to people in your organisation and key clients
  • Conducting regular internal audits
  • Having an external agency conduct a full service audit for you.

Identifying improvements

When you have collected the information you need, think about how you can both correct and prevent issues that have been identified. Sometimes it will be something simple like fixing a step in a process map or assigning responsibility for a task; but sometimes you might have to think more broadly about your resource availability or business requirements.

Continuous improvement is about improving the processes and procedures in the workplace. And the best way to work out what isn’t working well is to ask the people doing the job! Having good communication with your volunteers will help the process enormously, as will acting on the feedback that you receive.


The first step of being able to act on your feedback is deciding who is responsible for planning, managing and coordinating improvement activities. You should also have some guidelines around:

  • How to work out the impact of change
  • How you will communicate the change
  • The time periods for implementing change
  • How you will evaluate the change.

It’s also important to keep all the information the you collect and document changes that you make, the rationale behind them and the expected outcome of the change. Then when you do your next review you can easily measure how effective the change really was.

Making changes

One approach that larger organisations might like to take is to implement changes on a smaller scale first – so for example, make the change in one team and see how it goes, before spreading it across your whole organisation.

This follows a basic Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) process. This is a cycle which tests change in the real work setting – by planning it, trying it, looking at the results, and acting on what is learned.

Remember that all improvement requires making changes, but not all changes result in improvement! That is why it is a continuous process.

The importance of communication

As with all your policies and procedures, it’s important to communicate with your volunteers. This is particularly important with continuous improvement. Some volunteers might not like all the change, or might think it’s because they are not doing a good job – especially if you have people volunteering part time or for projects, where they might not get to see the bigger picture.

Make sure you let your volunteers know what continuous improvement is, why it is important and how it is being used to make it a better place to work. And most importantly, let them know that their feedback is integral to the success of the process.

Tools and resources