February 2015 Volunteer Survey

We asked our volunteers how they thought their experiences with The Mountaineers were going and heard some very useful feedback in return. Take a moment to reflect on the information and guidance we received from them!
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
April 08, 2015
February 2015 Volunteer Survey


We emailed all of the volunteers that we could identify with our rosters and available information. This included people who volunteer with us as leaders, course instructors, committee members/branch administration, event support, help for our youth programs, the lodges, stewardship volunteers, Mountaineers Players and on the Board or Advisory Council. We received feedback from 482 people. 


We asked some questions people obviously hadn't heard before (based on their reactions). Some people felt uncomfortable answering them (and let us know it). But the information we received, especially in the comments, was insightful and reflects the varying opinions that people share. Sometimes these differing opinions result in real barriers for all of our members to achieve the "enjoy" aspect of our mission statement ("The Mountaineers enriches lives and communities by helping people explore, conserve, learn about and enjoy the lands and waters of the Pacific Northwest and beyond"). We encourage everyone to page through the survey (if you are a current member, you can access it here) and see what people said. Some of the comments can be hard to read - but they all shed light on some important feelings different members have. We ask all members to consider the opinions that might challenge some of their assumptions. 

Here are some general points from demographic data: 

  • Overall, our volunteer base is slightly older, on average, than our membership in general and have been members with The Mountaineers for 5 or more years 66% of the time (49% our overall membership has been with us that long). 30% of our volunteers are under 46 years old, 23% were between 46 and 55 years of age, and about 43% of our volunteers were over 56.
  • 85% of volunteers identified as non-Hispanic White or Euro-American with the next highest reporting categories being the 6% of people who wished not to answer this question and the 4.2% of people who identified as East-Asian or Asian-American. 
  • 56.6% of volunteers felt that there were NOT groups that they did not identify with that WERE underrepresented in The Mountaineers (sorry about the triple negatives in the grammar here). This suggests that people are not looking at the organization's overwhelmingly homogeneous makeup when they thought about the membership - which may indicate either an ability to look past such demographics and focus on the equality created by outdoor activities OR some naivety about a lack of diversity. This area is worthy of further exploration to ensure that our desire of creating welcoming and inviting atmosphere for everyone is a reality). 
  • 56% of the responding volunteers reported that they have no religious affiliation. 
  • 17% were US veterans.
  • 60% were male (compared to 56% of our membership in general).
  • 59% were employed full-time.
  • 8% had a disability of some sort in 2014.
  • 81% had no children under 18 living with them.


We also asked people whether they felt they knew what was expected of them in their specific volunteer role and whether they felt they had the necessary tools to perform those duties. 

  • Generally, 86% of volunteers felt that they knew what was expected of them in their role with The Mountaineers. 
  • 79% of volunteers felt that they - generally - had the tools they needed to carry out their tasks for the organization. 

These are great numbers (although we'd like to push them both to 100%). However, when we drilled down with more specific questions, we identified some areas where improvements and resources could result in increased satisfaction, more efficient work, and greater outcomes. Here is how our volunteers report that they were oriented and familiarized with their specific roles: 

Volunteer Orientation practices

Support for committee and branch leaders

Again, this was an area where the comments could prove very useful to our course instructors and committee members. Here are some other areas where we could make a difference: 

  • Only 45% of volunteers reported knowing who they could go to for getting their questions answered all of the time and 39% reported knowing who to go to "most of the time." This left 12.6% of volunteers saying that they only knew who to go to "some of the time" and less than 1% of people reported never knowing who to ask. Therefore, although most people feel some support as volunteers, we could increase the support they feel they can access in most cases by clarifying where they could go to get questions answered as they run our programs and courses.  
  • Answers to these questions varied slightly based on whether we asked about support from a person's Committee, Branch, or at the Staff level. There were slightly different answers for each group:2014 volunteer survey presentation screenshot

We were encouraged that 76.6% of volunteers felt that they "felt welcomed" in any volunteer role that they chose, however we are dedicated to decreasing the 13.4% of people who said that they felt certain roles were "exclusive" as well as the 6.4% of people who asked to help with something or proposed a new idea but never heard back from the person they contacted (regrettably, we did not ask whether this was at the committee, branch, or staff levels but we should all make an effort to respond to all inquiries...as 93.6% of us do). 


Exactly two-thirds of the volunteers said their satisfaction as a volunteer "stayed the same" over the course of 2014. Happily, more people said that their satisfaction as volunteers with The Mountaineers "improved" over the course of the year (19.1%) and a smaller (but significant) percentage said that it had "decreased" (14.25%). 

84% of all volunteers reported getting some form of recognition or thanks for their efforts last year, with more than half of that (52%) coming from the students or participants they worked with. The source of "thanks" and recognition was then listed by respondents in order of which group had the closest connection with a volunteer. That is, committees, branches, and then staff (in that order) were the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th largest sources of praise and recognition for volunteer efforts. This seems appropriate and expected for a 10,000 person organization that is led by just under 2000 volunteers and supported by only 19 staff positions. Again, we'd like to see this number reach 100%, however. 

When asked what types of recognition and praise were most desired, there was a clear preference for "personal or professional growth opportunities." 

2014 volunteer survey recognition desires


Ideas for Improvements in The Mountaineers

We then asked people for their ideas about improving The Mountaineers. Some clear trends emerged from the open-form question:

15.5% of people wanted an investment in Leadership Development. Here are some of their comments: 

  • “Diversity and Confidentiality training for your leaders especially committee members”
  • “Provide free training opportunities for volunteers to increase their leadership skills and meet leader requirements”
  • “I like the activity summits between Branches (just did kayak summit) very helpful, think major activities should be required to do this annually”
  • “Published progression plans to become activity leads by activity/committee. In addition, published exception/competency/equivalency avenues”
  • “More support for those who have completed all the classes. I would like more training on becoming a better leader”
  • “Training opportunities by professionals”
  • “Focus on re-training or educating volunteers (especially ones that have volunteered for many years)”
  • “I really like that The Mountaineers are subsidizing training opportunities with the AMGA, which should be expanded. It will increase the quality training and instruction exponentially”

10.3% wanted an investment in Volunteer Recognition.

  • “Branch used to give out T Shirts for helping with trails. I liked that”
  • “More access to Pro Deals to help with equipment costs.”
  • “More uniform recognition for people”
  • “Some branches have gift cards for leaders – why not all?”
  • “Provide Volunteer Leaders with some nice, simple logo clothing item.”
  • “Committee work was very frustrating. It was a thankless job with no recognition. It would be nice to receive some interest in and recognition for the hundreds of hours I put into this.”
  • “Highlight those who volunteer and record their hours. Distinguish them by placing something on their profile and/or other means”
  • “Personal note of thanks to volunteers. Recognition by committee leaders for volunteers. Opportunities to grow within the Mountaineers in committee roles”
*The reason staff cannot currently provide more recognition is a funding limitation under the current budget allocations. Branches and Committees have funds allocated to them, but there is not an allocation that allows us to reach every volunteer with items due to financial constraints...at this time.

These are just some of the larger points highlighted by the data we collected. After looking at the information, we have presented a plan to the board that we feel (1) respects the autonomy and control that make volunteering with The Mountaineers so rewarding, but (2) also should improve our ability to support and appreciate people in a way that promotes the overall organizational mission. This includes:

Plans for improving volunteer support:
•Branch and Committee Handbooks
•Branch Pages on the Website
•Branch Innovation Fund
•Volunteer Orientations
•Enhancing our technological capabilities with respect to identifying people with skills and interests that match organizational needs
•Support with Elections
•Ongoing training opportunities

Plans for improving volunteer recognition:
•Fostering Leadership Conference
•Mountaineers Leadership Institute
•Leadership Development Fund
•Continued pursuit of corporate sponsorships and building our inventory of logo’d gear
•Integration of data management capabilities with Mountaineers.org
•Further online recognition platforms

Other key objectives:
•Establish clear lines of communication
•Establish clear entry points to leadership/volunteer opportunities, starting with an elections processes
•Recruitment & matching support

All of these efforts are meant to empower or support volunteers so they can carry out essential functions more efficiently in a way that is rewarding to them.

We need everyone's help in achieving this goal, however. No one entity in the organization can accomplish this without the efforts and cooperation of the others (staff, volunteers, and board of directors). 

You can look through a more detailed report here (if you are a current member). If you are a branch or committee member in The Mountaineers, we highly recommend it!. 

On behalf of all the staff, we cannot thank our volunteers enough. This 109-year, rugged, durable, welcoming, and esteemed Washington-state institution is an amazing place to watch unbelievably generous people improve the lives of every student, participant, and member they come in contact with as volunteers. By teaching and supporting thousands of courses and outdoor enthusiasts, The Mountaineers has improved the lives of people all across the world. 

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