Methods used to supervise AmeriCorps members must be unique as AmeriCorps members are neither volunteers nor paid staff. The duties of AmeriCorps members are restricted to activities specified in your program’s approved grant application. As such, AmeriCorps supervisors are charged with supporting their program’s members in focusing on service tasks and in activities that promote their development. Setting an appropriate and constructive tone and explaining your expectations as a supervisor are keys to member success, which will in turn drive member retention and program success.
A best practice management style for supervising AmeriCorps members combines coaching, directing, supporting and delegating rather than creating a dictatorial atmosphere. Program Directors should ask the following questions in order to create a positive supervising experience:
- How do I help members understand what is supposed to be done and how to do it?
- What additional training might the members need that I cannot provide?
- How do I consider the needs of members — not just at the beginning of service, but in month six when their enthusiasm dips and at the end of service when move on to their next chapter?
- What can I do to inspire members to commit to a life of service?
Providing consistent, reliable guidance is a great way to become an effective supervisor/role model.
A major component of AmeriCorps member supervision is ensuring that all required documentation is collected, reviewed, and properly stored.
Member timesheets, documented and properly signed, are a critical tool in ensuring that AmeriCorps members who are eligible receive member benefits (living allowance, education award, health care, child care, etc.). Both paper and electronic timesheets are acceptable. However, CNCS provides guidelines that programs must follow via the most recently updated Terms & Conditions for AmeriCorps State and National Grants . Additional guidance and resources are available at http://www.nationalservice.gov/resources/member-and-volunteer-development/encorps/timesheets-do-double-duty.
Note: Accompaniment must be documented. Timesheets, or supplementary documentation that is filed with time sheets, must account for all service hours each member was accompanied by an individual with a cleared criminal history check during the period when that member’s own National Service Criminal History Check was pending.
In addition to tracking member service hours, programs must ensure and document that service activities are allotted as required. AmeriCorps members may spend no more than 20% of their total service hours in training and no more than 10% of their total service hours in fundraising activities, with the remainder of their service hours being spent on direct service. Documentation of adherence to these percentages is provided by programs to CCCS in Quarterly Progress Reports.
All supervisory meetings, correspondence, and disciplinary actions must be documented for legal creditability purposes. Remember that your program is funded under a Federal grant, and that as such, policy and procedures are subject to review.
All supervisory documentation must be kept in a safe and secure location to maintain confidentially.
Every AmeriCorps program supervisor has his/her own unique style, system, and set of tools and techniques for managing documentation requirements associated with AmeriCorps programs. Management plans, checklists, calendar alerts, and other tools are just some of the means available to you to adapt to your own program needs and individual work style. Best practice ideas and samples of tools are available at Member Management Resources.
Evaluating Member Performance
Member evaluations are formal documents that record a mutual supervisor/member process with the goal of clarifying duties of, providing constructive feedback to, and improving performance of members. Member evaluation documents are required for use in member retention, re-enrollment and/or termination processes. In addition to the benefits for members, evaluations are a tool that will allow your program to select dates for reporting and future planning.
Supervisors should complete your program’s member evaluation form and give it to members so they have the opportunity to review the document. When providing members with their evaluations it is best to schedule a mutually convenient time for an evaluation meeting. Supervisors should tell members to bring the completed evaluation form and come prepared to discuss any issues during the evaluation meeting. At the evaluation meeting, redo the ratings together while discussing each element. Document the ratings on a joint form. Work with the member to create a document of the member’s strengths and weaknesses. For any areas that are deemed unsatisfactory, jointly develop an action plan to improve performance.
All parties must sign the document. Make two complete copies of all the forms: the member receives a copy, the site keeps the second copy, and the original form should be given to the service office.
Note: Your first formal evaluation with an AmeriCorps member may be the first time that the member has ever received constructive criticism in a professional setting; consideration of this is important in determining how to deliver your evaluation feedback.
Remember that supervision doesn’t begin and end with required formal evaluations. Programs are encouraged to design a system of supervision that builds in “checkpoints” along the way for members to ensure that they are on course in their service tasks and goals. These checkpoints can include check-in meetings, ongoing information discussions, written reports, etc.
The following may help you as you look to assess member performance:
- Member Reporting: Setting up a mechanism for regular member reporting (quarterly prior to submissions of Quarterly Progress Reports, weekly reflections submitted with time sheets, etc.) can be an excellent way for a supervisor to keep his/her fingers on the pulse of a member’s status. Further, information provided by members can inform program Quarterly Progress Reports. Examples of how programs structure reviews, member quarterly reports and other samples are sited in Member Management Resources.
- Midterm Evaluation: A quality midterm evaluation provides an opportunity for members to get a sense of where they are demonstrating strengths, to discuss where opportunities for improvement or growth exist, and to fine-tune goals and expectations for the last half of the service year in support of member and program success.
- End of Term Evaluation: A quality end of term evaluation will provide the same opportunities as a midterm evaluation. However, the end products of evaluation and discussion are to support the continued growth of members after service as they move on to their next chapters, and to inform planning of your program’s next service year through use of member feedback on their experiences.
Your program’s success in supervising AmeriCorps members and volunteers depends heavily on strong, professional communication.
Respect is at the very core of strong, professional communication; demonstrating respect in communication with all individuals associated with your program — members, volunteers, staff, direct service recipients, community partners, funders, etc. — will create an environment where members are empowered to develop strong, professional communication styles of their own that will serve both your program — and themselves in their future endeavors.
Setting clear, thoughtful communication ground rules and standards for staff, members, and volunteers associated with your program and sharing those expectations with all parties at the outset of the service year is a key to smooth, successful member supervision and support going forward. These ground rules should apply to all forms of communication, whether written or verbal, remote or face-to-face, including: meetings, service logs, e-mails, reports, conference calls, phone conversations, social media, instant messaging/texting, etc. Some examples of ground rules to consider include:
- What is the best or only acceptable means for a member to communicate an absence or tardiness to a supervisor?
- What are the rules around cell phone use during meetings?
- What are organizational policies around social media use?
- What greeting should a member use when answering the phone while representing your organization? Should members be trained in how to hold and transfer calls smoothly?
- What are organizational policies around safe and hostile language in the workplace? Are their policies members should understand around boundaries?
It is important to acknowledge that even in organizations that create highly professional, positive communication environments, miscommunication, missteps, and conflict can occur. Correction and conflict mediation can be difficult but necessary aspects of supervising. When dealing with supervision challenges, remember that not all conflict is negative and confrontation can be managed positively and have positive results if professional, constructive communication ground rules are set and followed.
Helpful supervisory practices can be found in Appendix G: Seven Deadly Sins of Supervisors,
and the following tips may prove helpful if challenges arise (Source: M. Morrow):
- Catch it early. If you let it slide the first time, the person will expect you to continue to let it slide.
- Do it privately. Embarrassing people in front of others is relationship suicide. Avoid it.
- Ask before you tell. Make sure the person understands what they did, or did not do, and is clear about their responsibility. "Do you understand what time you're supposed to arrive?" "Do you know why it is important to be here at that time?"
- Get them to commit. "Can you be on time in the future?"
- Ask how you can assist. "What can I do to help you be on time?"
- Review expectations. Make sure they know the consequences of not being able to keep their word.
- Document everything! You might even consider a written contract, which the employee (member) signs, that goes into his or her file.
- Set standards. Have a very clearly defined process, stated in your handbook, for dealing with issues like this.
- Don't take it personally. This one is tough for many supervisors because we're "people oriented" and don't like "disciplining" people. But it is your job.
- Catch them in the act of doing right! Most importantly, when the staffer (member) does it right, notice it and reward them! This is vital, because whether we are dealing with youth or adults, we tend to spend far more time trying to change negative behavior than we do reinforcing positive behavior. Turn that around. It is much more effective to emphasize the positive in order to minimize the negative.
- Celebrate with your team. Thank them often and in a variety of ways. (i.e., recognize birthdays, surprise them with a card "just because,” bring a pizza to a group meeting). The more members and volunteers like, trust, and respect you, the easier it is to address challenges.
Supporting Your Team
CCCS does not mitigate internal conflicts with members, volunteers or program staff. We do not hire or discipline members or program staff. However, we may provide assistance should your program encounter compelling challenges by directing you to resources. The Commission may provide staff supervisory training when appropriate and upon request.
In addition, we highly recommend AmeriCorps*State programs develop supportive relationships with each other and share best practices. The process of supervising a wide range of personalities can be stressful and having the ability to express concerns to fellow Program Directors can be beneficial. Please be aware that it is not proper for the Commission, as a funder of your program, to become involved with conversations between programs.