Measuring the Impact of Volunteers
A guide to promoting the story of volunteers
April 4 , 2019 / Review by Brian Tran
Mission. Purpose. Strategy. And, Action. These are the pillars by which not-for-profits, social enterprises and volunteering bodies alike exist.
At the heart of these organisations are not only its leaders and employees, but its volunteers. Undoubtedly, volunteers are an integral part of organisations that may have limited resources and capital. Enlisting the support of volunteers could help enable effective performance of day-to-day operations and delivery of programs of work that drive value-add outcomes aligned to an organisation’s strategy. Suffice to say then, the hallmark of volunteers are people who are committed to offering their time and have relentless passion to make an impact in a cause they believe in. For this alone, it is worth celebrating and recognising their contribution.
Unfortunately, articulating the impact of volunteers is sometimes not so simple or clear cut.
One of the potential challenges in promoting the outcomes of volunteer work is determining the correct methodology for measurement. In the absence of a consistent measurement discipline and cadence, organisations may resort to anecdotes or ad hoc use cases. This may be attributable to a lack of structure, consistent measurement framework and well defined outcomes that are measurable.
Yet, the ability to measure the outcomes delivered by an organisation is a fundamental part of understanding whether they are achieving their goals. This logic holds true for measuring the outcomes delivered by volunteers. Falling short of measuring volunteering impact properly, an organisation must ask themselves whether something meaningful was accomplished by them and their volunteers.
- Through the help of our volunteers, how much closer were we in achieving our strategic goals?
- How are we currently using our volunteers – are we reliant on them to simply back-fill vacant or to perform administrative roles, at low, or no cost?
- How can we determine if what we are offering to our volunteers, is the best use of their limited time? Can we do more for them?
- How do we assess and measure whether their contributions drove the right outcomes, in line with our mission and strategy?
Without a consistent, disciplined and structured approach, one will find it challenging to answer the above questions. Further, for volunteer effort to be successful, all stakeholders, especially senior executives and board members, must be able to see how volunteer involvement helped them achieve their strategic goals and thereby, justify why and how much they should allocate resources to the effort.
To that end, this brings our attention to ‘Measuring the Impact of Volunteers: A Balanced and Strategic Approach’ (written by Christine Burych, Alison Caird, Joanne Fine Schwebel, Michael Flies and Heather Hardie), a book which offers a structured and holistic approach to measuring volunteer impact.
Inspired by the concepts of the ‘balanced scorecard’ performance measurement tool (developed by Robert S. Kaplan and David Norton in the 1990s), the authors identified common elements in volunteer management across a wide range of organisations, adapting the model to make it meaningful to the volunteer sector. What culminated was the Volunteer Resources Balanced Scorecard (‘VRBSc’).
Broadly, the VRBSc, focuses the readers’ attention on defining clear goals across four crucial pillars: volunteer capacity, client and staff experience, internal and external relationships, and quality improvement. By conjuring measurable outcomes and goals across these pillars, readers will find that they are more purposeful when enlisting the help of volunteers and find that the outcomes they drive are aligned to their organisation’s higher purpose and mission. Accordingly, through worksheets, use-cases and comprehensive sets of tools, readers undertake a step-by-step process of creating and using their own VRBSc.
For the reader, this book is incredibly insightful – the information is easy to digest, practical and adaptable. Readers will find they have at their disposal, a great tool that will help inform the right roles to create for volunteers, how to measure their success accurately and, how to report this success internally and externally. Finally, readers of this book who end up adopting its recommendations will come to two realisations, how amazing their volunteers really are and that their contribution – as with all purposeful and compassionate deeds – are bigger than they thought.
About Brian Tran
Brian is a senior consultant at a professional services firm with a strong passion and desire to contribute to the not-for-profit sector, frequently spending his free time volunteering and organising social initiatives to raise funds for charities and not-for-profits. Brian holds a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Melbourne.