Proving our Worth. Who, When, How?

This was originally posted on ivo.org as a ”Thoughtful Thursday’ volunteer managers tweet and blog chat.

At the tail end of last year, my colleague Kim and I had the opportunity to work with Greater London Volunteering, developing a set of tools to evaluate what volunteers and organisations achieve through their work.

This post is about sharing some of the things that we struggled with in pulling together tools. We wanted them to be useable, but also reflect the complex nature of peoples’ participation; regular, irregular, long term and one-off.

It’s also about asking you to share the ways you’ve found to grab those nuggets of information that prove the worth of your project, and adequately reflect the reality of your volunteer programme.

GLV’s ‘Experts in Evaluation’ project aims to develop resources to evaluate volunteer programmes, and share them through local Volunteer Centres’ training. This will support front-line organisations to engage a greater number and range of volunteers. Our role in this was to develop the tools that the Volunteer Centres would share.

Evaluating what we do and what volunteers gain is an issue that crops up often, but is less often looked at as a strategic way to make our jobs easier and more effective; evidence of impact can improve our relationships with more senior managers, improve current volunteer motivation and enable stronger recruitment drives for example.

For me, amassing the tools was an incredibly positive experience.  It enabled me to put into words – and templates – some of the things that I and others do informally to share our impact as volunteers and volunteer co-ordinators: both inside and outside our organisations. It contains information sheets, templates, and example questions and case studies to get you thinking what it is you REALLY want to know about your impact.  It’s categorised: into Gathering, Summarising, Analysing and Using your data. It addresses small volunteer led projects, and also has a framework that can link to bigger tools like the IVR Impact Assessment.  I’m proud of it.  Can you tell?!

There were tough issues to address however. One of the hardest things was compiling a list of questions to measure the progress of volunteers through the course of their involvement.  In the past, tools have tended to take a ‘snapshot’ of what we feel has been achieved at one point in time…  but why not measure at the start, during, and then at the end of someone’s volunteering?  Well, I’ll tell you why not, because it’s cumbersome.  And it takes time.  And it might put some people off.  But if we’re not deterred by those facts, what are the benefits, and is it worth persevering?

We decided on a two-step approach.

  1. What should you really really ask, even if you ask nothing else?  And the answer we came up with – just two questions. What do you hope to bring, and what do you hope to get from this experience?
  2. And then – what would be possible to ask – a sort of library of options, for people to choose from – with an idea of the categories of asking, and what it’s measuring.

Questions to ask at the start of volunteering

Questions to ask at the volunteer review

Questions to ask when a volunteer leaves

It was a lot of questions.  But I think it’s worth it.  What do you think?!

Whatever questions you decide on, and it has to be your team’s decision, asking these questions to all volunteers is important.  Everybody gains something from volunteering, but sometimes we might assume from someone’s background they have less or more to gain.  Some of the best results to share with funders are those around social capital – people building connections that enable them to feel better about their communities and get on in life.  These are often the hardest to measure and appear in places you may not have expected.

My favourite part of compiling these tools was definitely exploring ‘creative evidence gathering’.  From keeping an eye out for relevant stuff on twitter, to taking two pictures at every workshop you hold, to an exhaustive qualitative log of anecdotes… we’re slowly changing the way we are talking about the impact volunteers have in organisations and the wider world.

  • Please share ways you have measured the impact of what you do creatively. Let’s make a list for others to stumble across in coming weeks and months to inspire their evaluations.
  •  Tell us your experience of asking volunteers questions before, during and after their volunteering to monitor progress.  Has it been cumbersome?  Insightful?  Who have you shared what you found out with?  Funders, each other…. no-one?!

Share thoughts in the comments below or on the original ivo blog.

You can view the full pdf and individual tools online, and throughout the year there will be free workshops on this subject through London Volunteer Centres – follow @GLVolunteering for details, or me at @volunteersyeah and I’ll let you know when dates are announced.   Thanks for reading and see you in the comments!

Rebecca Tully

Training Volunteer Co-ordinators and Co-ordinating Volunteers