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The Importance of Measuring Volunteer Impact

Nonprofit managers know volunteers are important, but how can they prove it? Software Advice, a company that helps nonprofits find software for their volunteer programs, joined with VolunteerMatch to tackle that question and more in their Volunteer Impact Report. An analysis of responses from 2,735 nonprofit managers around the globe reveals how nonprofits quantify the work performed by volunteers, and how those activities impact outcomes. Key findings are captured in the charts below:

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45% of Nonprofits Don’t Measure Volunteer Impact

While 55 percent of survey respondents say they do track metrics for insight on how volunteer activities contribute to outcomes, a large number don’t track any data at all.

Why is this? Thirty-four percent of respondents cite a lack of resources; 29 percent a lack of skills or knowledge; and 25 percent a lack of time hindered impact assessment efforts.

Most Data Is Collected Through Observation, Surveys

Among nonprofit managers who do assess volunteer impact, direct observation and surveys are the most effective methods for collecting data, followed by software that either supports manual data collection and analysis, or that automates it.

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Spreadsheets are a popular choice for many organizations because products like Microsoft Excel and Google Spreadsheets are affordable, widely available, and easy to use. When data collection and analysis becomes a full-time job, organizations usually make the leap to more sophisticated methods.

The education nonprofit Teach For All, for example, was collecting over 300 data points and using tremendously “tricked out” spreadsheets to measure outcomes and gather insights, according to Director of IT, Andrew Ho. But handling vast amounts of data manually was incredibly time-consuming, so the nonprofit implemented full-fledged business intelligence (BI) software to reduce the workload.

Project Output Most Effective for Assessing Volunteer Activities

Project outputs are the most effective impact measurement indicators, which includes metrics such as the number of at-risk children who are read to, how many pounds of vegetables are harvested in a volunteer community garden, or the number of diapers collected and distributed to families in need.

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Testimonials from beneficiaries and proof of progress toward meeting goals are also used frequently by nonprofit managers to assess volunteer activities. Coincidentally, testimonials and proof of progress are also what donors are most interested in reading and can increase the likelihood that they will make more than one donation.

Overall, nonprofit managers are aware of the importance of tracking the work volunteers do and assessing the impact on goals, which is good news. There is, however, plenty of room for improvement and many must overcome barriers in order to make impact measurement feasible and meaningful. Those barriers—lack of knowledge, manpower, and tools—are especially large for small nonprofits with limited resources.

To learn more about the findings of this survey, read the Volunteer Impact Report in full at the Software Advice website, along with other research reports covering over 30 software markets.

Janna-Finch-headshot Janna Finch

Janna Finch is a market research associate for Software Advice, a Gartner company. Janna Finch is a market research associate at Software Advice. She joined the company in 2013 after 12 years of managing a boutique Web development agency she founded with her husband. She attended the University of Colorado—Denver, and has an extensive background in Web usability, information architecture and translating tech-speak into language everyone can understand. At Software Advice, she researches topics, technologies and trends related to the nonprofit software market.

Topics: Impact