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I’ve always shouted in words, but now I have numbers too…and that makes me very happy

Today i'm also shouting in both words and numbers to all of the lovely TTvolmgrs out there.....

It has to be said, volunteer management is changing. We are finding ourselves in a harsh and competitive sector where the way we manage volunteer involvement and the responsibility that brings is becoming increasingly important.

In my mind, it’s always been vital; a priority to how successful an organisation is and can be, a real, honest sign of a good charity- good volunteer involvement means a charity that people trust.

But in all honesty, this hasn’t quite been the way other sector managers and leaders have also seen it. Well…until the recession hit.

Now we work in a world where we are doing more for less, where we have to demonstrate the value of our work and where the voluntary donation- money and more importantly- time- is the Holy Grail.

I, personally, see this as an opportunity, an exciting proposition or challenge to the talented volunteer managers that I am proud to call my colleagues and peers- this is the chance to really demonstrate the value of volunteer involvement to senior management, to boards of directors and sector leaders, but how do we do this? Well through research, data and the humble number.

So, I decided to take my inspiration from and build upon Emma’s blog a few weeks ago- around measuring impact but I want to take it one little step further… asking the question, when it comes to campaigning for proper and effective volunteer management in todays voluntary sector, is the number all important? 

I’m not for one second saying that you can demonstrate the real value of a volunteering programme just through data, I’m not naive enough to believe this is possible and deep in my soul I know that the real power of volunteering is demonstrated through the individual, real life stories of the millions of incredible people who volunteer across the UK every single day.

But what I can’t deny is that since the launch of Social Return on Investment, Impact Measurement Tools, Profitability measurements and the Agenda Consulting tool; Volunteers Count my responsibility as a strategic volunteer manager to show what the volunteers my organisation involves are doing has become easier.

Through calculations that demonstrate how ‘profitable’ (or not in most cases!) a fundraising activity would be without the involvement of volunteers I have hard evidence of the importance of volunteering in fundraising.

Through Social Return on Investment I have tables showing exactly what my organisation gets back in delivery after investing in volunteering in its services departments.

Finally through spending time consulting with all volunteers and analysing the data their responses form we can really understand the effect of volunteering on the volunteer themselves, on the organisation and on the volunteer’s local community. This, in conjunction with case studies and individual volunteer stories means when it comes to pulling down resource or funds to strengthen a volunteer involving programme we are a strong force to have to say no to.

At CLIC Sargent, by using data to benchmark us against other organisations through the tool I previously mentioned- Volunteers Count, the humble number has supported the real start of volunteering becoming embedded in organisational values and business planning.

For the first time we have seen the introduction of volunteering KPIs in the organisation’s business plan measuring the health of our charity through volunteering, it has enabled presentations to the board of directors and the whole organisation- speaking a language that trustees understand and relate to.

I am proud to say that volunteer involvement has become increasingly respected and understood, no, properly understood at my organisation and there is no doubt in my mind I have numbers, data and research to thank for this.

Today, thanks to the number, I feel confident to communicate to all levels of an organisation, to all departments of an organisation and to all parts of the glorious voluntary sector about why volunteering really does rock- I’ll tell you in words and numbers and this is something that makes me very happy.

But I’m aware this isn’t the only way… and this wouldn’t work for all audiences. So this is my question to my lovely other volunteer managers-

Has the number and volunteering data helped you? If so, what methods or programmes have you used and how have they helped?

If not, what do you use to report on the value of volunteering? How could you use this to report of the importance of your work and ensure your programme receives the investment it deserves?

Thanks :)

Debbie Hill

Volunteering Development Manager

CLIC Sargent


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profile thumb for suevjones

Wow - lots of interesting experiences and ideas shared on this topic! I think it's great to see more organisations seeking out both the number data and the people & words in their evaluation of volunteering impact. I do believe that we still need to drive this forward though, as individuals and as a profession, in order to ensure our management teams, trustees and funders don't forget the importance of striking a balance. The comment & feedback here is a great resource, so please keep referring back to it for inspiration. Plus, here's a summary from the tweet chat:

25th Jun '12 at 14:40
profile thumb for addammh

Great blog Debbie! Managed to run out of time yesterday, so will just scribble a few thoughts down now.
I have worked for organisations where the evaluation was focussed a lot on numbers - how many people you get through the door - and diversity - getting lots of different types of people through the door. I often found this didn't really give much scope for looking at the quality of the volunteering and its impact.

I've recently started at a large charity that does find it tough to measure the value of volunteering across the numerous programmes that it operates, that involve about 15,000 volunteers in total. In my part of the organisation, there are around 9,000, and the KPI before I arrived was to increase that number of volunteers....

And I'm glad it's no longer like that, as I'm not that interested in playing a numbers game by seeing just how many we can get through the door. If they leave through the other door, then how are we monitoring that?

We have now moved to a system, where the KPI is volunteering hours rather than numbers. This is a bit better, but there are still people in the organisation who think that if we go down to 7000 volunteers, that's a failure, even if we double the volunteering hours that are given through providing better opportunities that people want to spend more time on.

I'd also be keen to find out more about retention rates, but this would be a huge task, I think - anybody any ideas on this?

22nd Jun '12 at 08:21
profile thumb for Pam

I did a big reply on here and twitter ate it! Lesson learnt. Trying to remember what I wrote...

I am once again reminded how different my organization is to many. Having grown from voluntary action about 180 years ago our volunteer base has always been a foundation to our impact across the UK. I've never had to justify why we involve volunteers or measure their 'worth'. Evaluating their impact on society would be very difficult (true evaluation of informal science learning is the holy grail!) but we do collect numbers. How many events, how many volunteers involved in delivery, how many scientists involved, how many in the audience, audience diversity, how many volunteers overall etc. From this we can see our programmes grow and pick out neat bits of info like engaging hard to reach groups for example.

I agree with those talking about having a variety of measures being important. Choosing the right numbers to put to your particular target audience. I think having more thorough evaluation of our volunteer programme, quantitatively and qualitatively, might help us with our particular challenge of raising money to support the volunteer effort, both event costs and staff support costs.

21st Jun '12 at 18:27
profile thumb for Laura Owen
Laura Owen

I am fortunate to work in an organisation that fully understands the valuable contribution that volunteers make day in day out, so I have never needed to argue this case to Senior Managers in the way that others have mentioned. However the majority of our volunteers volunteer virtually, out of normal working hours and directly with our team, so my challenge is to ensure these volunteers are visible to the wider organisation and to demonstrate their impact so that other staff are aware.

We regularly get the opportunity to speak to the rest of the organisation about our work and our volunteers. Next week we are putting a spotlight on a small, very dedicated group of virtual volunteers who help to moderate and run our live chat service. We will be using a variety of methods to demonstrate this but with be relying mostly on the ‘humble number’. In this case numbers will be used because they will make an impact and will impress the audience. This includes the number of volunteer hours given, the number of young people who have benefitted as a result etc. In other cases, with different audiences, we may choose to demonstrate the impact in a different way such as using case studies.

Therefore, I agree with johnr who said below ‘It’s about having a variety of tools in your armoury and knowing which one to use and when’. As volunteer managers we are constantly asked to demonstrate the impact volunteers are having, and we want to make sure that we present this information in the most impactful (not sure that's a word you know what I mean) way, so it’s good to have options and a variety of methods up our sleeves. Sometimes it’s best to use both; case studies can help bring the numbers to life and vice versa.

21st Jun '12 at 17:23
profile thumb for RobWoolley

We too have strugged with putting a number or value on the contribution of volunteers - we've tried complex Return On Investment equations, archaic Wage Replacement models, laborious surveys and activity tracking - but not have really stuck. We've also realised that not matter how much of the reporting form is given over to case studies and outcomes, the interest of funders in the softer side - those "individual, real life stories" - is limited. "Nice story, but tell me about how volunteering is contributing to a wider social benefit". Which is sad, but understandable.

There was a time when I thought that a wide-ranging piece of solid research, with a wide evidence base and a robust methodology, was the answer. But in recent months I've become convinced what would be much more beneficial would be education for Volunteer Managers on how to speak the same language as those people and organisations that hold the future of our programs in their hands.

21st Jun '12 at 04:42
profile thumb for jennyabeba jennyabeba

I think that's so important - learning to speak in the language as those people who want/need/require that feedback. People and organisations respond to different types of feedback and impact measurement. Sometimes numbers are the answer, sometimes it needs to be quotes and cases studies - both of which have their own flaws in measuring the impact.

profile thumb for Mrwebbi

As volunteer managers, we do need to be flexible with our skill-set. In many cases that means we also need to add 'spin-doctor' to our ever growing list of required talents.

In a world where we -like it or not- have to rely on funding, we have to be able to woo those funders with what we do. Now a story of how we have improved the lives of people is always a good start, but ultimately we could all quite easily produce one/many of those. We have to remember that funders need to prove to their contributors that they are getting 'the most bang for their buck' so we need to manipulate those stories and figures so that they can pass back the info on what good work we are doing for them (to make them look like they have done a good job). In fundraising terms, people increasingly want to know what their contribution will achieve, so the more convincing the stories and the higher the number of people helped, the more compelling a case we put forward.

What I am trying to say is; Outcomes are one way of looking at the value of what we do and helping us improve what we do, but it is the number of these amazing outcomes that the funder wants to know about. Using 'Archaic' ( thanks RobWoolley ;) ) comparisons of what we would have had to pay staff could have their role too. For example think of the power of the following sentences to someone that is looking to contribute to your charity-
1. We have 20 full time volunteers working with us per week
2. We save £4000 per week by involving volunteers in our project instead of paid staff
*don't take the figures too seriously, its just a 'for instance'!

You have to admit, no. 2 looks more attractive. We know it isn't that simple and that there is so much more benefit than just monetary, but we have to 'spin' the data in the right way to those it is appropriate for.

So figures are very important to certain people in certain situations, but they are less for us as VMs and more for our paymasters.

However the value of figures rather than outcomes is rather ironically immeasurable.

21st Jun '12 at 09:37
profile thumb for kmarland

We too were a part of Volunteer Count, one of a small number from Wales, and I can say this has been hugely beneficial to proving the impact our volunteers have. Through using the tables you've described, I was able to present to our Senior Management Team and put in really simple terms how much we rely on volunteers. This has had a huge impact and I can really see the difference this has made to the strategic planning for the organisation over the next three years.
I was with our CEO yesterday and in a meeting with our Cancer Support services team she was using the Volunteer count study and relating how far we have come as an organisation in terms of how we invovle our volunteers and the impact this has had and will continue to have as we involve more people. That is a very humbling situation for me and really does make me proud to work for this organisation.
Of course, we back up our data with real life case studies on the impact volunteering has made on individuals and have in the past invited volunteers to speak to our staff about what they do. But the data has meant that as a strategic Volunteer Manager I can demonstrate impact and ensure I have the backing of our SMT and Board. That is a brilliant thing!

21st Jun '12 at 09:11
profile thumb for johnr

Like most things in life there isn’t a simple answer. It’s about having a variety of tools in your armoury and knowing which one to use and when.

So for our colleagues in marketing and finance who didn’t ‘get’ volunteering and admitted they would effectively be doing the same job if they worked for a bank or super market , we took them out volunteering for the day. Now they ‘get it’, in fact they rave about that day and are happy to involve volunteers in their work.

For board members who like numbers, we give them the numbers. But make sure they are subtly backed up by the outcomes.

For commissioners who are looking for outcomes and value for money. This is what we give them, as best we can.

Just like with volunteer recruitment, we are selling a product. And to sell a product effectively we need to know what the consumer wants from it.

Of course, we haven’t got it right yet, we still lack all the tools I’d like, but hopefully we’re starting to getting there.

21st Jun '12 at 09:00