Volunteer Numbers as a Proxy for Volunteer Impact

“We are so anxious to classify and categorize, both nature and human nature. It is a beautiful impulse – to contain the infinite in the finite, to wrest order from the chaos, to construct a foothold so we may climb toward higher truth. It is also a limiting one, for in naming things we often come to mistake the names for the things themselves.”
Maria Popova, Figuring, p. 71

It is difficult to capture the full impact that volunteers make on our organizations, beneficiaries, and communities. It is especially difficult to quantify volunteer impact. One way we get around that difficulty is to assign a proxy. Common proxies for volunteer impact include tallying numbers of volunteers and service hours or assigning financial value.

Proxies can be valuable, but they also are limiting. Volunteer volume is not volunteer impact. We do our organizations a disservice if we only do the “easy” technical work of tracking volunteer numbers and omit the harder adaptive work of articulating how volunteers advance our missions.

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