You’re probably already tracking volunteer hours, and perhaps even using the Independent Sector’s Value of Volunteer Time to calculate the equivalent in wages that volunteers contribute. This is certainly a start, but this data doesn’t offer a complete picture, does it?
Vague results may set you up for future headaches.
The Vicious Cycle of Legitimacy and Resources
Using volunteer hours alone to measure volunteer impact is a problem. They simply don’t prove much. Certainly they help you track fluctuations in participation and predict future workforce needs, but they don’t help you demonstrate impact.
And, they don’t help you get more support.
Unfortunately, when there is no concrete evidence that volunteers are making a difference (even when they are actually contributing in significant ways), staff begin to compare the costs (the time and energy needed to lead volunteers) and the rewards (potential reduced workload, increased results) and determine volunteers are more trouble than they are worth.
So, you end up in a vicious cycle — because there’s a lack of investment, there is a lack of results. Because there is a lack of results, there is a lack of proven outcomes. And, when there is a lack of proven outcomes, there is a hesitancy to invest further in something that is not seemingly generating track.
It’s a “Catch 22” really, isn’t it?
The Vicious Cycle
While it’s not really fair volunteer managers often have to fight for the legitimacy of a human resources strategy (volunteer engagement) their agency’s chose to employ, it is often the reality.
Tracking Volunteer Impact
So, what about tracking true volunteer impact? Although it may be a be a little harder to pull off, there are real benefits to putting in the effort.
With a few key outcome indicators, you can paint a more complete picture of what volunteer engagement can achieve while deepening understanding and buy-in.
In addition, you can align your volunteer goals with larger agency priorities, making them a potent communications tool.
Two Approaches to Volunteer Impact Measurements
Three Kinds of Volunteer Impact
So, if you lead volunteers, it really is up to you to paint your picture of progress and results.
There are three different types of outcomes you can track when it comes to volunteers.
1) Volunteer Capacity & Utilization — The first is tracking capacity of your workforce. This is similar to tracking volunteer hours, but offers more information. It requires you to first establish the total number of volunteer roles and shifts available when you are functioning at full capacity. Then, to track what percentage of these roles are filled. While not a direct impact measure, it does serve as a proxy that indicates whether you are staffed sufficiently to meet your goals.
2) Volunteer Impact on Program Goals — You can also simply track the outcomes of various programs’ volunteer staff by positioning them as a resource or catalyst that brings about the end result, rather than the end result itself. Volunteer hours, satisfaction, and retention rates may tell you whether or not you have an engaged group, but it is the program outcomes that tell whether goals are achieved. Even more powerful, if the work is shared between employees and volunteers, is to separate out the contribution of the volunteer corps in reaching specific program key performance metrics.
3) Direct Volunteer Impact — Finally, if volunteers work directly with your customers, clients, or service beneficiaries, you can track the impact of this work on their lives. This might be an economic benefit, an improvement in state-of-mind, or access to additional services. A well-written volunteer or client survey can help you capture client transformations and gather comments, helping you supplement data with powerful stories of change.
Three Ways to Track Outcomes
The Choice is Yours
Which of these will help you best measure and demonstrate the added value of volunteers in your context? It all depends on your ultimate goals.
Take into account the tools and technology you have at your disposal. What data will be easiest to gather and report with what you already have on hand? What systems are already in place that could make your job easier?
Finally, consider what impacts your leadership cares the most about. How can you demonstrate your volunteer team contribution to the overall agency’s goals? Which outcomes speak most directly to your agency’s strategic goals and direction?
Settle on 3-5 highly relevant and compelling volunteer impacts to track and communicate on a regular basis over the next year. Then, watch the support come rolling in.
Level Up Your Volunteer Impact in 2019
[FREE VolunteerPro Masterclass]
How to Boost Volunteer Impact with 4 Powerful Pillars
Thursday, January 10, 2019, 1:00-2:00pm EST/10:00-11:00am PST
Four essential strategies your nonprofit needs to successfully engage and retain volunteers.