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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How Can Systematic Evaluation of a Volunteer Program Positively Impact an Organization?

Evaluating volunteer programs within nonprofit organizations is a key step in continual improvement and data collection. Systematic evaluation can positively impact the organization by creating more structure, providing results for adaptability, increasing volunteer retention and improving staff-volunteer relationships. Due to a sector-wide leadership crisis and continual staff burnout, volunteer management and evaluation plays a crucial role in the livelihood of nonprofit organizations. According to the 2018 Volunteer Management Progress Report, the top five training needs within volunteer management are supporting volunteers, recruiting efforts, developing volunteer leaders, outcome metrics, and recognition and retention efforts, according to Johnson and Associates in "Volunteer Management Progress Report."

There over 62 million volunteers in America each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to "Volunteering in the US." “Four out of five charities use volunteers” and the majority of these organizations report that the volunteers are “beneficial to their operations in a number of ways,” according to Urban Institute . 

Evaluating a volunteer program is exactly like evaluating any other program. It is a useful tool that can define whether the program is meeting expectations, outcomes and goals. Such outcomes and goals that pertain specifically to volunteer programs could be: volunteer retention rates, length of volunteerism, hours served on an annual basis, staff-volunteer relationships, volunteer satisfaction and volunteer impact within programs provided by the organization. According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, “as volunteerism moves and changes with the issues and challenges of our time, it has become vitally important for volunteer program administrators to be able to capture how volunteers contribute to organized mission and goals,”  accordinbg to Minnesota Department of Human Services. 

At the 2017 Conference on Volunteering and Service, the CEO of Chicago Cares shared, “research tells us that organizations that engage volunteers are better led, better managed, more adaptable and capable of going to scale." When we think about how to best engage with volunteers, we must first decide what type of volunteers we are managing. The first question to ask is why the volunteer is there in the first place? Without volunteer program evaluation, the organization is unable to pinpoint who is what kind of volunteer. Volunteers choose to volunteer for themselves or to build relationships and feel reciprocity. Determining types and groups of volunteers based on these motives allows organizations to better understand a volunteer and base their retention and recognition efforts off proven metrics.  

With all of these reasons as to how and why volunteer program evaluation is important and how it impacts an organization, the leading causes of a lack of evaluation is not having enough bandwidth and resources. To get started, here are key steps to implementing program evaluation: 

  1. Pinpoint the volunteer manager.
  2. Set up a volunteer evaluation committee – choose a healthy mix of staff members and experienced volunteers.
  3. Have the committee break down recruitment, retention and recognition to see where there are shortfalls, and then create goals within each area. 
  4. Create key performance indicators (KPIs) and set evaluation goals.
  5. Implement consistent volunteer surveys and staff surveys (related to volunteers).
  6. Implement a staff-volunteer audit, conducted by the committee. 
  7. Conduct annual evaluation of volunteer outputs, hours, programs, feedback, interests, demographics, psychographics, changes and challenges. 
  8. Create an annual volunteer program output report and share it with leadership and the board.
  9. Determine if KPIs were hit or if goals were met – why or why not?
  10. Adapt and revise goals based on results. 

Next, follow the if this, then that solution models to pinpoint the leading cause for those issues within your volunteer program. Once the issue(s) has been determined, follow the free resources guide on recruitment, retention and recognition efforts here. Setting your organization up for success begins with planning and creating goals, implementing processes to reach those goals, evaluating outcomes and adapting based on results. 

Cara Pritulsky is a graduate of the Arizona State University Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program. She completed her undergraduate studies at Northern Arizona University in 2015, earning degrees in public relations and advertising. Cara is passionate about women’s focused causes and organizations; so much so that she began her own project that supplies the women served by Phoenix Rescue Mission with much needed feminine hygiene products. She has learned that there are many overlooked and underfunded areas within social service and hopes to use her developed leadership skills to make a positive impact within the Phoenix community. 


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