A thought-provoking question that led to new clarity. The space to talk through an issue that I couldn’t take to the board or staff. A nudge to step outside my comfort zone and the support to stay there.
All from a volunteer coach who worked with me through Fieldstone Leadership Network San Diego’s Coaching Program. (Thanks, Jan Giacinti!)
When I think back to our time together, I remember the many miles we walked and talked; the brainstorming, insights, and laughter we shared; and the times she helped reel me back on to solid ground when I felt unsteady. I don’t remember how many times we met or how many hours we talked. I do remember she was there when I needed her.
Perhaps that is why Fieldstone doesn’t ask volunteer coaches to tally and submit their hours. Janine Mason, Fieldstone’s Executive Director, is not focused on delivering a certain number of hours or exceeding the hours served last year. She is concerned with the big picture.
- Do we have enough coaches to match with coachee prospects?
- Do we have the right mix of coaches to meet coachee needs and make quality matches?
- Do coaches and coachees have what they need to feel supported and successful?
- In what ways is the coaching program accomplishing our mission and values?
An Alternative to Volunteer Numbers and Hours
Fieldstone’s approach is an example of collecting volunteer-related data that are not volunteer numbers and hours. Janine does not translate the “value” of volunteer coaches into a financial value either. Instead, she assesses the effectiveness of the program—and its volunteer coaches—based on the experience of the coachees and coaches.
No one said connecting with a dozen or so busy nonprofit leaders would be easy, but Janine does it every summer at the midway point of coaching. After leaving many messages, the return calls start to come in. Janine takes pages of notes about what is happening in the coaching relationship and, importantly, if it meets the needs of the nonprofit leader being coached. After all, that’s the purpose of engaging other nonprofit leaders as volunteers.
Yes, the calls are time-consuming, but that time is a bit easier to invest because it serves multiple purposes. The conversations help Janine strengthen a connection with each coachee, collect quotes about the program’s success, identify issues, and assess if and how the program is meeting its purpose and values. Coachee comments help her provide feedback to the coaches, refine the program, build a case for support, recruit new coachees and coaches, and identify topics that may be useful to address in other Fieldstone programs. (It also is more satisfying than prodding coaches to record their volunteer hours every month.)
At the end of the year, each coachee receives a survey. The organizational mission and values serve as the scaffolding for the questions. That means there are questions about the extent to which the experience helped the coachee build capacity, lead their team, feel sustained, and amplify their impact.
The blend of data from the one-to-one conversations and surveys reveals far more than volunteer timesheets can—it conveys the results of volunteer time. Better yet, it links volunteer efforts with organizational purpose in a meaningful way.
Janine also cares about the coaches’ experiences as volunteers and their insights on the program. It is just one reason she hosts quarterly meetings facilitated by two long-time Fieldstone partners. Like the calls, these meetings fulfill many purposes. They provide a different perspective into how coaching is unfolding. The meetings provide a time to identify any challenges as well as celebrate successes. They also offer a place for peer support where coaches share resources and deepen their skills as well as enjoy each other’s company over a meal. Along the way, these gatherings reinforce Fieldstone values of reciprocity, hospitality, and belonging. It elevates volunteering from a role or set of tasks into a function of community, which is at the heart of Fieldstone’s work.
Meaningful and Relevant Volunteer Data
I am sharing Janine’s experience with tracking volunteer coaching for Fieldstone because I often hear colleagues struggling with how to find their own path to meaningful and relevant data. Of course, Janine’s approach to volunteer impact will not fit every mission. It does, however, show what is possible in one program (even in her two-employee shop). My hope is that it might inspire you to think creatively about how you collect or tell stories of volunteer impact for your agency.
The challenge is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer; volunteering is too big and diverse to fit in neat little boxes. The beauty is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer; there are many juicy ways to capture and share volunteer impact. Here are a few ideas for how you can get started:
- Check out your agency’s strategic plan. How do volunteers help achieve organizational goals? Start collecting information about volunteer contributions to the goals and share their efforts (even if it’s only for one goal or program). Frame their work as part of a staff-volunteer partnership.
- Dust off your agency’s formal values statement, or articulate the informal values you witness. Volunteer support often reflects agency values or the reason for founding the organization. Highlight the ways that volunteers put values into practice.
- Consider your agency’s diversity and inclusion plans. Engaging the community as volunteers is one way to integrate more voices and perspectives into the agency. Identify pathways for community participation and share how their involvement shapes the agency’s reach and quality of engagement.
- Review your current approach to tracking and reporting volunteer impact. What indicators (numbers and quotes) do you already collect? Are they helping you tell a story about the contributions that volunteers make? If not, how might you weave them together so they do? Meridian Swift’s blog provides a useful resource to help.
- Connect volunteer outcomes with something you are trying to achieve. Trying to get more dedicated space for volunteers, create a new volunteer role, or justify having a staff member to work with volunteers? Demonstrate the ways that volunteers help achieve agency and program goals and how expanding or better supporting volunteer engagement will strengthen those efforts.
- Start small. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the possibilities. You do not have to create a sophisticated evaluation effort from scratch though. Many colleagues embarking on this journey are surprised by how much data they already have. They discover that they can tell a stronger story or reach a new audience with it. Try one action and assess how it goes.
Building a Commons of Volunteer Impact Insights
One hope for sharing Janine and Fieldstone’s experience is that it might inspire you to expand your own notions of volunteer impact. Another hope is that it spurs some of you to share your insights and examples.
What are you learning when it comes to volunteer impact? How does it look given your unique mission, values, and mix of volunteers and paid staff? I’d love to hear from you. Your efforts don’t have to be fully formed or wildly successful. Your peers and colleagues want to hear what you are trying and which elements are working (and not!) Please reach out by using the Let’s Connect form. I look forward to learning about your work!
Thanks to Fieldstone Leadership Network San Diego and Janine Mason for sharing your insights about volunteer impact! Thanks to Jan Giacinti for being a coach extraordinaire. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I found out we were matched for coaching; I’m a better leader because of you. Thanks to all of the coachees I have served since beginning as a Fieldstone coach myself many years ago. I have learned so much from each one of you.
Photo credit: Sydney Rae from Unsplash