The volunteer community in the US is a massive force for good to the tune of 62.6M Americans donating 7.8B hours of service roughly worth $184B. One in four Americans volunteers their time for a cause they believe in, guided and organized by one of 1.5M nonprofits.
With all of these community service hours being donated (at an estimated rate of $24/hr) we started to think about the ways nonprofits can measure this impact. The following metrics and KPIs are starting points meant to help you think about how your nonprofit tracks the true value of its volunteers.
Primary vs Secondary Volunteering Impact
We have tried to bucket the various ways volunteer impact can be measure in primary and secondary ways. It is important to make this initial distinction regarding the purpose of your volunteering efforts. For example, if you are a volunteer network like VolunteerMatch, your primary impact may be the raw number of volunteers, while the secondary impact would be the stakeholders that were helped.
To think further about your impact and the relationship of actions to outcomes we created a full guide to nonprofit measurement. If your organization is like most direct service work, your primary metric is probably the number of kids tutored, crisis text messages answered, or mouths fed etc. The secondary impact metric might then be the number and quality of volunteering service provided. However, even in the same nonprofit, you could be sitting in the fundraising department, realize the volunteers donate 10x as much as non-volunteers and suddenly make the number of volunteers the primary impact. So, yeah what is true for beauty also holds for impact – it can be in the eye of the beholder.
1. Qualitative – how ‘good’ was the work
- Volunteer experience satisfaction survey. Create a standardized survey that can be automatically sent to your volunteers. Here is a guide on creating unbiased surveys.
- Volunteer perception of value of work, value of organization. If a volunteer has a bad experience, where they feel their time is wasted, it can lead to negative results for everyone involved. Even if great work is done for the cause, if the experience suffers, so too will the retention and quality. Find a way to fit it into your survey with a net promoter score question like ‘would you recommend this volunteer experience to a friend?’
- Quality of work volunteers did with stakeholder. Again this can be done by survey or even a suggestion/feedback box on location. The NY Common Food Pantry once learned that they were wasting mountains of canned peas because they didn’t realize what their stakeholders wanted.
- Perception of work done by volunteers by nonprofit/stakeholders. This can be done with surveys done quarterly of the people being served by the volunteers.
2. Quantitative – how much work was done
- Unique volunteers, service hours and percent attendance. These hard numbers are usually readily available through good volunteer management solutions. Also, these are great top-line numbers to show the true value of time given to the company – especially that you now know that the average value per hour is $24/hour!
- Volunteer retention. Retention is key for nonprofits relying on repeat volunteers for work like working with tutoring/mentoring/building relationship with stakeholders. The cost of training new people can be significant, so this retention number can be a real canary in the coal mine for understanding if your experience is broken. This is a number that is critical to Crisis Text Line, as we learned in our podcast with them.
- Volunteer conversion, selection rate and training costs. If your organization works with hundreds of volunteers, then it becomes critical to know how you are acquiring and training these volunteers so that you can keep up with demand. This is something that New York Cares tracks VERY carefully as they build a volunteer network in the largest city in the country.
- Donations made by volunteers vs non-volunteers. This metric can build a bridge between the programs and fundraising departments of your nonprofit. According to VolunteerMatch.org data, a volunteer is 10x more likely to donate. It makes sense that someone that has donated time – their most valuable asset – is more likely to donate. Calculate this and it might shift the way your organization thinks about volunteering.
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3. Cause Impact
Measuring the actual primary impact of the net result of the people and hours spent serving can become more difficult. Here are some thoughts on ways other groups do it.
- Number of actions taken or stakeholders reached. Think about the way Meals on Wheels measures the impact the volunteer has when they both deliver food and conversation to a senior. Or the way iMentor can measure hours of learning and support offered by their volunteers and the net effect on their young stakeholders.
- Number of people that will have an improved experience as a result of the work. Consider the work of the Surfrider Foundation that is able to turn service hours into beaches cleaned and wildlife helped. This number can then be expanded to both environment and other people able to enjoy those beaches.
- Number of virtual interactions. At Crisis Text Line, they have actually made the number of text messages sent data public to help others understand the topic – a double win!
4. Methods for collecting data
Gathering impact data from the field and stakeholders could be a full guide on its own. The key is to make it as easy as possible for people report accurate, valid data in usable way. Here are some ideas:
- Mobile friendly survey that volunteers in the field can use on their phones. Tools like Survey Monkey, Google Surveys, Type Form, and many others allow you to have people submit info on location. Consider offering a give-away like a gift card randomly to sweeten the deal for people.
- Email inbox to collect photos and reports. Have your organization set up a general email like Stories@myCharity.org and let volunteers know they can email in photos, reports, or general stories of their experience. This is a little better for qualitative reporting, however, you could also set up an autoresponder that replies with a link to a survey!
- Text Messaging – SMS reporting. Text messaging is a great way to do short back-and-forth Q&A and can be done by having a sign on location like: Text Report to 41411 to tell us how your experience was. Learn more about using SMS.
- Paper and pen. Yikes, but yes paper can actually work well in a pinch. Be sure to collect emails so that you can reach out to people later. In this way you can create a list of emails from volunteers that you then later email with a survey!
We hope this article helps you start measuring what matters with your volunteer program and make the case for doing more of what works.