Volunteer Value: More Than Meets the Eye

Volunteer Value: More Than Meets the Eye

Iceberg with volunteer value data above the waterline of number of volunteers and hours, number of people served by volunteers and number of services provided, hourly financial value, and money donated by vols. Data below the waterline include passion; number of advocacy contacts; suggestions from volunteers; quality of service; voice of community; sense of purpose; trust and good will; legislation passed; skills shared or developed; referrals of donors, program participants or other vols; connections formed; shared stewardship of mission; greater understanding of cause.  Making volunteer value visible by identify purposes for partnering with vols; determine if current data reveal vol contributions to mission, vol purpose, values, or community; share numbers that reveal the scope of vol contributions to the mission; tell stories that reveal depth or quality of vol contributions; and link volunteer numbers and stories with org goals.

In my volunteer value workshops, participants snap a picture of one slide more than any other: the iceberg. It seems to capture what many of us struggle to put into words. What is visible about volunteer value is small compared to all the ways that volunteers add value.

The iceberg image also helps reveal the holistic nature of volunteer value. Sure, we can parse out different aspects of volunteer contributions to make them more manageable to track and report. The whole is more than the sum of its parts though.

Make One Part of Volunteer Value More Visible

Unfortunately, even a few parts of the whole can be overwhelming. Some folks look at all the possibilities and get stuck.

A great way to get unstuck is to give yourself permission to start small and select one part of volunteer value to make visible. There are several ideas on the bottom of the flyer above, but you can pick just one that fits with your needs and capacity.

For example, maybe you already collect volunteer numbers, which are inputs. Instead of reporting them as standalone statistics, connect them to a program output. For example, 15 volunteer tutors partnered with 20 English-language learners to improve language skills and connect with community.

If you have a little more time or data, you can highlight literacy program results. Fifteen volunteer tutors partnered with 20 English-language learners to improve their language skills and connect with community. The participants were able to meet goals such as completing a job application, writing an email to a niece at college, reading a story with a grandchild, and feeling more confident.

Have a quote or testimonial from a participant? Add that to the mix.

Voila! In just a couple sentences, you transform a single volunteer data point without context into a short story about what volunteer involvement helped achieve. Instead of merely reporting that you had volunteers donating time, you offer insight into what happened as a result of that time. Importantly, these results reflect a programmatic or organizational goal. That’s a much more compelling reason to invest time, attention, staffing, and financial resources into the volunteer engagement function.

Making Volunteer Value More Visible

One of the findings of a qualitative report on funder investment (and lack thereof) in volunteer engagement was that volunteerism was hidden in plain sight. Many of us who work with volunteers are deeply aware of how essential they are to the mission, values, and operations of our agencies. However, we cannot assume that everyone else is as aware and knowledgeable. Beginning to identify and share more of the value that volunteers contribute (even in small ways) amplifies their roles in moving the agency forward.

Thanks to everyone who has taken a picture of the slide and to Jason Maloney, Audrey Harell, Erin Spink, and Tim Kahl for transforming the iceberg ideas into a more user-friendly image!

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