I recently encountered an article by Tony Goodrow on calculating the Return on Investment (ROI) of a volunteer program. He offered some very thoughtful ideas and I want to share some of them with you. Goodrow began his article using a quote attributed to authors of business management, most frequently to Robert Kaplan, founder of the Business Scorecard (BSC). Take a moment to ponder this quote in relation to your volunteer management. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Is there a message here for you as a manager of the volunteers for your organization? Do you focus on calculating the wage replacement value (volunteer hours times some dollar figure per hour) to quantify the value of your volunteers? This is the process that has been used for many years. Is there a better way?
Moving toward taking a look at the ROI of your volunteer program, do you look at the wage replacement value against the cost to recruit, train, place and recognize the volunteers? The focus of this calculation would target the goal of minimizing the dollars spent against maximizing the hours volunteered. Volunteers are an asset for the organization, just as cash is an asset. For most nonprofits and organizations, these assets may very well be in short supply. Traditionally we have looked at “trading one scarce resource for another” (Goodrow, 2010 p.5). Goodrow suggests that we treat “the two as part of the same resource pool, that we spend as efficiently as possible to achieve the organization’s mission.”
When we consider adding accomplishments achieved by our volunteers to a calculation of ROI, we think of a common concern voiced by contemporary volunteers that they want to make a difference. Volunteers are buying an experience with our organizations using their most precious resource, their time. It is our obligation to focus on their accomplishment and how they made a difference through there volunteer effort. Think about measuring their success against the mission of your organization. It is a shift in thinking about measuring success of our volunteer program from inputs (the hours they contribute or time on a clock) to outputs (what are the accomplishments).
How do I measure accomplishments of our volunteers? I first need to identify outputs that reflect accomplishments of the volunteer’s effort. Look for actions, goals, or other activity that can be counted. For example, trees planted or meals served. Volunteers with your organization may be involved in several activities or events. Knowing the ROI for each activity, will give you information that you can monitor over time to manage the volunteer staff to the best advantage.
You might even consider another variable for consideration and place a value on the outputs as they are related to the mission. This will give you a new perspective on prioritizing the work of volunteers. As I suggested in the Identifying Roles for Volunteers (asynchronous learning opportunity #1), you could use a wish list. You can identify a role for one volunteer, such as one single task you want that volunteer to accomplish for your organization. Focus on defining the task, not creating a position title. When your list is complete and ranked with the most important task as #1, this list will be a starting point in assigning relative values for each task or output. The number of volunteers you would recruit to accomplish each task also provides a clue as to its relative value. Let’s say I was operating a local food bank, part of the Feed America Network. Looking at my ranked list of tasks, I would recruit 10 soup kitchen cooks (my number 1 task) before recruiting a home visitor (my number 2 task) for our organization, as the value of the task of soup kitchen cook would be greater than for the task of home visitor. The value assigned to an output is arbitrary. However, if your well-prioritized list identifies tasks or outputs that focus on reaching the mission of the organization and you maintain the values to apply for each output from year to year, you can compare ROI over time.
As a manager of your volunteers, you want to utilize your human and cash resources wisely. Measuring their number and hours of contribution is the place to start. What tasks or outputs do the volunteers do that are at the core of your mission? It is important for you to know how they contribute to the mission and vision of the organization. More importantly, recognize the volunteers for their success in doing just that.