Volunteers represent an important resource for non-profit. It is important to measure volunteer’s impact but how to measure it best? I had earlier spoken with Mike Bright, founder of Help from Home and Shalabh Sahai, founder of iVolunteer about my confusion with the whole concept of measuring volunteering. Why is it important? What can we measure? How do we combine subjective and objective measurements?
And then came another question is it worth it? Most non-profits are resource crunched (which is one of the reasons they need volunteers), is it even feasible for many to divert resources towards volunteer impact measurement? A recent volunteer impact study by nonprofit technology consultancy Software Advice and Volunteer Match found that most non-profits that assess the impact of their volunteers (and use the assessments to guide changes in their program) have seen an increased volunteer recruitment and retention. At the same time including volunteer impact data in appeals and grant application has also led to increased funding. The findings, as Janna Finch, the lead researcher says, are not surprising. But it’s good to validate that this is a real benefit that non-profits can gain through measurement.
The study also reports that many non-profits are not able to measure volunteer impact due to lack of resources and tools. This study is a great starting point to not just understand the value and benefit of volunteer impact measurement but to also jump start on what data to collect and how to best do it.
I got into a QnA session with the researchers of the study to understand their perspective on the questions that have always been there behind my head whenever I was faced with the idea of impact measurement. After interviews with 3000 non-profits, I was sure I have found the person to respond them!
Q. What does measuring the impact of volunteering mean?
- For this survey, we defined volunteer impact as any attempt to quantify how much the work performed by volunteers creates economic or social change.
Q. What do you wish to achieve by that? What’s the objective?
- “Impact measurement” is a big topic in the nonprofit sector as donors and supporters have increasingly asked for more transparency about how their contributions are used. Despite being the third largest workforce in the U.S., it seemed volunteers and their contributions were minor part of the conversation. Software Advice and VolunteerMatch launched this survey to bring more light to this topic and find out how nonprofits that engage volunteers consider their contributions: What measures and indicators do they use (if they measure at all)? How do they use that data to improve the organization or programs, or use it to report on overall impact?
Q. Volunteering (especially formal volunteering) would typically involve an organisation, a volunteer and a beneficiary. How are all three entities brought together while measuring the impact?
- These three entities come together when reporting on OVERALL impact. Volunteer data can be combined with other quantitative and qualitative indicators to show stakeholders how well paid staff and volunteers deliver products and services and how greatly those contributions make a difference for beneficiaries.
Q. How do you combine qualitative and quantitative impacts?
- I think they’re both important. Quantitative indicators are straightforward and exact, essentially “proof” that a project or efforts are either failing or succeeding. Qualitative indicators tell the story behind the numbers and I think, are equally as important as the numbers. Both can be used to report on impact, together they present a 360 degree view of volunteer impact.
Q. Is it possible to separate the impact a volunteer has and the impact the paid staff has, especially if you are looking at the final result/ impact on the beneficiary. If yes, how?
- This is a good question and was not considered in the survey. I expect there’s overlap. For example, a paid volunteer manager may be an important reason volunteers are able to help 80% of beneficiaries find affordable housing. Perhaps without the guidance of the paid manager, that success rate would be lower. Certainly paid staff impacts and volunteer impacts need to be viewed together to paint a complete impact picture.
Q. Non-profits in general are very resource crunched, in that view, is it feasible to divert, both human and financial, resources towards volunteer impact measurement than in the actual mission?
- As we found in our analysis, time and resources are one of the biggest barriers to collecting data beyond the basic measure of “number of hours worked.” However, one of the most effective methods for collecting data is through constituent surveys. As long as the organization is already keeping good contact records, even the most cash-strapped nonprofits can take advantage of free and inexpensive survey tools to collect feedback they can use to, in the least, gain a general sense of how well volunteers are performing and moving the mission forward. For nonprofits with only one or two paid staff members, a volunteer could be recruited to create the survey, invite constituents to take it and collect their responses.
Q. How can an analysis of volunteering impact benefit the – donor, organisation, volunteer, general citizens (potential volunteers) and beneficiaries?
- Donors want proof that their dollars are well-spent. Volunteers want the time they give to be worthwhile. General citizens want to know that the nonprofits in their communities are helping the people and causes that are important to them. And beneficiaries want a quality product or service. At the centre of all these stakeholders are the organization’s leaders who need to prove their nonprofit is needed and well-run to secure funding, recruit volunteers and ensure outcome goals are met. With volunteer impact data, volunteer stories and beneficiary stories, organization leaders can equip themselves with the information all those stakeholders want.
Q. What, according to your opinion and/or findings, are the current problems in collecting ‘meaningful’ qualitative and quantitative data for measuring volunteering impact. How can these be addressed?
- The survey found that many nonprofit professionals simply lack the knowledge to know where to begin. Perhaps it seems like a daunting task and they’re too overwhelmed to start. In my opinion, I think many just hadn’t considered it. They already feel that their volunteers are effective at advancing the mission, but that’s only an assumption until they collect proof. I think first, it needs to be part of the discussion so that nonprofits understand the value and benefits of measurement. Then, beyond having the desire to start measuring, they need to know what data to collect and how to collect it. I hope the findings of our survey provide those who have not considered volunteer impact a starting point that inspires them to start!