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How do we show volunteer value? In the old days, (way before Covid) we, volunteer engagement professionals, used three basic value indicators:

  • touting number of volunteer hours given
  • listing number of active volunteers
  • calculating money “saved” by incorporating volunteer help

Since these methods were basically a bunch of numbers without any causality, they never showed:

  • how those volunteer hours supported mission goals
  • how those active volunteers completed mission objectives
  • how the volunteers brought in resources instead of how they saved money (which is a misnomer anyway, because volunteers do not replace paid staff. There are laws about that, BTW)

The old methods don’t work. Volunteer impact is the way to show the causality between volunteer support and mission goals and objectives. Download the volunteer impact worksheet here.

Connections are the circulatory system

But that’s not the complete picture, is it? It’s time we added connections as a companion piece to volunteer impact. Connections are the crucial, desirable, sought after components to successful missions. Why? Because connections bring our organizations the things we need, such as donations, resources, advocacy, awareness, more connections, key advice, skilled help, encouragement, and avenues to grow.

If impact is the heart of a mission, then connections are the circulatory system’s arteries. Arteries carry the mission goal out and return with the resources the mission needs to grow, thrive and meet objectives.

But like arteries hidden beneath flesh and bone, connections are difficult to see as they are forming. We may see the results, but we often do not see the veins and arteries at work. We don’t see the volunteer talking us up at their clubs, soliciting donations for us. We don’t see the volunteer at a store who hands the cashier the organizational brochure he carries, telling her that the organization he volunteers for will help her child. We don’t see the volunteer who insists the next neighborhood newsletter feature an article about the good work we do.

Connections are built, not made

And here’s the misnomer about “making a connection.” Strategic connections are built, not made. Sending the marketing rep out for a quick “talk” to an interested group may make a short connection, but it does not contain the building blocks to a sustainable, vibrant partnership. Relationship building takes more than flyers dropped off or a quick tour of the facility, or heaven forbid, an invitation to a task force where the participants are subjected to lots of blowhard, uninformed blah, blah, blah. (yep, been embarrassed by those task forces many a time)

While networking is fine as a starting point, relationship building is strategic partnering. Just as saying “we have 600 volunteers who gave 40,000 hours last year” is way less meaningful than “last year our 50 volunteers kept our doors open,” saying “we gave presentations to 35 clubs and corporate groups last year” cannot hold weight against, “we made 7 strategic connections that proved to be sustainable and brought us…(fill in the blank with the tangible benefits).”

Our volunteers have a circle of influence (the folks around them) that are NOT acquaintances, but rather people who have some knowledge of the volunteer and therefore will listen with more trust than they will to some unknown speaker who shows up for 30 minutes and prattles on. Trust and familiarity are huge when making connections and our volunteers have trust and familiarity with their neighbors, friends, places of worship, professionals they employ (doctors, real estate agents, accountants etc.), and clubs, etc. to make sustainable connections. Their circle of influence becomes our circle of influence when our volunteers are empowered to advocate for us.

But, as volunteer managers know, our volunteers don’t wait for the pat on the head, or the “ok, go out, but be careful” talk. They do it anyway, because they are good, smart people. But think about how much more effective they can be when encouraged and supported and supplied with resources.

Reporting connections

It may be imperfect, but we can show the connections made and the resources gained by our volunteers. Which takes us to this equation: Volunteer impact + volunteer connections = mission goals achieved, connections made and resources gained. But let’s not stop there. How do volunteer impact and connections happen? Because the volunteer is just a nice person? So, the equation becomes: Meaningful volunteer engagement + training and resources the volunteers need =volunteer impact + volunteer connections = mission goals achieved, connections made and resources gained.

Using the above example, let’s take this further. 15 neighbors + 250 worship members + 30 club members =295 new connections. Wait, what about the 20 professions and 5 newsletters? Well, because our volunteer spoke to their doctor, their financial advisor, their lawyer, their children’s teacher, their real estate agent about the services we provide and the great work we do, we can safely assume those people will pass it on, so it becomes immeasurable.

You can create a “connections” report, like the one above, or in whatever manner you think will show the work being done by volunteers. All you need is one volunteer to tell you the extra advocacy they do while away from your site. It’s pretty impressive.

Present the report and ask for the resources your volunteers need, so that they can more easily make these connections. Give them marketing training, phone numbers to pass out, business cards to carry. When treated like valuable members of the outreach team, they will forge connections we now only dream about.

Why wouldn’t any organization welcome additional help via our volunteers? Why do they prefer volunteers to “stay in their lanes?” Why aren’t volunteers typically mentioned in vision statements and future goals as contributing team members who add value by not only impacting the mission, but by forging connections that sustain us?

Just what the heck are organizations afraid of?