Supervising a VISTA (Versus a Regular Employee):

Supervising a VISTA is different from supervising an employee. VISTAs are volunteers, and they commit themselves to serving for one year in the community and to the goals of the project. They have a community development and capacity-building focus to their project assignment. Other staff in your organization may not recognize the difference.

One of the challenges of having a VISTA is ensuring that everyone who interacts with them understands they are with your organization for a very specific purpose and not as “general help.” At the same time, VISTAs are subject to the same or similar working conditions as their colleagues and should not be exempted from following your organization’s rules of conduct. Your role as supervisor is to support the integration of VISTAs into your organization and the community, while at the same time giving appropriate feedback to them on their service performance and appropriate community involvement.

In planning for the support of a VISTA, you should consider all aspects of their assignment including:

  • The day-to-day tasks
  • The relationship of these tasks to the work of your organization's staff members
  • The staff's understanding of the VISTA's role
  • The target community's expectations for the project and the VISTA
  • The resources, facilities (e.g., reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities), and supplies needed for the VISTA to successfully complete his or her assignment
  • The VISTA Assignment Description

Supervising and Coaching Checklist:

Coaching and supervision are related, but are NOT the same thing.

Supervision ensures that your VISTA has the right conditions and requirements to perform his or her service, including a full understanding of your organization’s mission, goals, and vision, as well as a solid understanding of your community.

Coaching is about performance, action, and strategies that lead to success. Coaching grows from the foundation of good supervision.

The checklist below represents supervision and coaching techniques that are key for your work with VISTAs. Look for ways to enhance and amplify them.


  • Familiarize yourself with each member’s VAD.
  • Assess entry capabilities and review the member’s Individual Development Plan (IDP) to map a plan for him or her to build skills and knowledge.
  • Create a weekly check-in schedule.
  • Prepare for the end-of-service transition.
  • Create measurement milestones and progress indicators aligned with project goals (refer to the VAD).
  • Provide resources and guidance in working with the community.
  • Provide contact methods (phone, text, email, etc.) and reasonable hours of availability for a member to contact you.


  • Promote a culture of ongoing learning and growth.
  • Ask open-ended questions and collaborate in problem-solving with your VISTA(s).
  • Share with your VISTA(s) your conversation style, how you’ll give feedback, and other working agreements.
  • Provide actionable, positive feedback when appropriate.
  • Be open to hearing VISTA complaints, obstacles, and frustrations without judgment.
  • Assist VISTAs in finding their own solutions to problems.
  • Develop protocols for addressing conflict.
  • Employ the experiential learning cycle: Describe, Interpret, Generalize, Apply (see David Kolb’s work on learning styles for details)

What to do When You and the VISTA are Having Problems:

You need to let our program know right away and not wait for the problem to go away.

It is human nature to avoid conflict… there will be some conflict along the way, usually due to unmet or unclear expectations.  As a preventative measure, it is important to set aside regular meeting times with your VISTA to give direction/feedback as well as have them give you feedback. 

We strive to have conflict resolved at the lowest level possible, and sooner than later!  We recommend getting conflict resolved within 24 hours.

When conflict arises that cannot be solved locally, site supervisors should contact John Schlepp right away for technical assistance, please do not wait three months to report a potential problem. John will first try to facilitate site-based solution, and if needed will visit the site to mediate a situation, if necessary.  VISTAs can also contact the VISTA Leader as sometimes VISTAs just need to vent a frustration.