From Outputs to Outcomes: Measuring the True Value of Volunteering

The social good sector has struggled to effectively assess the value of volunteer programs for decades. We’ve tallied the number of hours served, rooms painted, pounds of food packed, children tutored, or books donated and then done our best to connect that to a nonprofit’s tangible outcomes. We’ve used Independent Sector’s annual calculation of the value of a volunteer hour in order to talk about the impact of our programs in terms that the business world understands.

We’ve been counting the resources volunteers are providing, not the impact they seek.

Corporate volunteering programs – especially skills-based ones – can be incredibly valuable activities, both for the organization receiving targeted capacity building support and for the volunteers who gain exposure to a nonprofit mission, new contexts for applying their skills, opportunities for professional development, and a deeper sense of purpose in their work.

Learn more from Danielle about skill-based volunteering programs in the sgENGAGE Podcast Episode 124: Making Pro-Bono Volunteering Work for Your Organization

But after a volunteer engagement is over, it can be really challenging to assess the real impact of the project. As nonprofit leaders, we often struggle to measure and report on what matters most: outcomes – how the project impacted our work and constituents and exactly how much of a difference it made.

It was this need that inspired the creation of Insights & Impact 2020: Measuring the Social Impact of Volunteerism, a new report from Common Impact in partnership with True Impact that provides measurement frameworks for calculating the actual outcomes – not just outputs – of volunteer projects. Common Impact wanted a better way to think about measuring our own work, and as we dug in, we realized it would have value for others in the social good sector, too.

How does the impact measurement framework work?

Using the original concepts of contribution claim, attribution claim, and leverage factor, the report empowers nonprofit and corporate leaders to accurately capture and strengthen the value of volunteer hours. It also provides guidance on how to align volunteer activities and skill sets in order to maximize impact. The framework can help organizations pinpoint the outcomes of a volunteer project by identifying:

  • The social value of volunteer efforts relative to a nonprofit’s overall impact;
  • The net improvement in successful outcomes that are a direct result of a volunteer time;
  • The greater social value of a strategic volunteer engagement;
  • Which measurement approach is most suitable for a particular project;
  • How to apply these volunteer impact measurement concepts before a project takes place in order to maximize its success.

Using this new lens, you can still collect the output data on volunteer hours delivered to your organization or meals served by a volunteer group, but you can also move beyond it to show that your program now reaches more beneficiaries or more efficiently delivers on your mission.

What does this mean for companies?

Volunteer program leaders and CSR professionals can apply the measurement frameworks to quantify the impact of past and future projects and demonstrate the value employee volunteerism – especially skills-based volunteerism – can generate. From there, the applications are broad – your corporate partners can leverage the data to gain leadership support for pro bono initiatives, promote service opportunities among employees, or enhance annual social responsibility reports with outcomes-based data.

How does volunteer measurement benefit nonprofits?

Nonprofit leaders can use the impact measurement methodology in the report to make the case for skills-based volunteer programs to their Boards, staff, and donors, and even potential corporate partners that are seeking deeper and more meaningful ways to collaborate with social impact organizations.

Taking your Impact Measurement to the Next Level

Impact measurement can be daunting. This new resource is designed to make it easier to quantify the value of specific service projects and demonstrate the power of volunteerism to increase nonprofit capacity, optimize service delivery, and strengthen communities.

Watch the replay of this webinar where True Impact CEO Farron Levy and I explain the concepts behind the calculations.