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Measuring Volunteer Impact

When you volunteer, have you ever wondered if your service really made a difference beyond what you could see for yourself? Take heart; a recent study found that more than half of nonprofit organizations are exploring a range of ways to measure the value and impact of volunteer service.

Volunteer Impact Report 2014” provides some interesting insights to the metrics, indicators and data collection methods nonprofit professionals use to measure volunteers’ impact. The report is the outcome of the volunteer management research firm Software Advice partnering with Volunteer Match to learn more about measuring volunteer impact through a survey of more than 2,700 nonprofit professionals. Most of the survey respondents think that measuring impact is important, but just 55% actually do it and only 19% use the data to make adjustments to the volunteer program itself. Why don’t more nonprofits measure impact and make adjustments? 34% say lack of resources, 29% say lack of skills or knowledge, and 25% say lack of time prevented impact assessment.

Of those surveyed that do assess impact, direct observation and surveys are the most effective ways of collecting data. For example, Feeding America San Diego uses volunteer hours and in person and email surveys to determine productivity rates, which helps improve scheduling and anticipating the number of volunteers that will be needed. This in turn has helped improve volunteer engagement and retention.

The dollar value of a volunteer’s time is the most popular metric of impact, but project outputs was deemed the most effective for measuring impact. Project outputs could include the number of at risk children who were read to, how many pounds of vegetables harvested from a volunteer community garden, or the number of diapers collected and distributed to needy families. Testimonials from beneficiaries were rated as the second most effective metric by the nonprofit professionals surveyed. I agree that these two metrics can be effective barometers of volunteer impact. We need quantitative data, but we also need qualitative data to truly understand if and how people benefited from our work. The study also supports the notion that knowing – and showing -- how volunteers contribute to achieving a nonprofit’s mission can influence donor decisions.

United Way knows that volunteers are essential to advancing the common good. We’d love to hear how your nonprofit measures volunteer impact. And if you are a volunteer, please tell us what making an impact means to you.