Nonprofits often rely on the assistance of volunteers to keep their doors open. However, managing a volunteer program can actually be pretty difficult. Even though the main benefit of volunteers is that they aren’t paid a salary and thus come at a lower cost, there is still an initial investment associated with them. Not only is recruiting volunteers important but finding a way to manage, train, schedule, and keep in touch with volunteers are also cornerstones of a successful program.

In other words, to be effective, volunteer programs need to be well-run and organized. An article from Fieldstone Alliance outlines the steps necessary to start a successful program. First, you need a coordinator, or person responsible for running the program. An extensive volunteer program may have several different positions, each with its own description. Then, once you have volunteers, you need to keep them engaged and provide thank-yous and recognition to reduce attrition. According to the website, about one-third of volunteers leave an organization after just one year, so keeping this type of initiative up and running can be hard.

On top of all of that, there are risks and legal issues to deal with and the training that goes along with them. Once the volunteer program is planned, you have to keep it going over the long term, which means taking time to determine schedules and keep in touch. To make a really good program, you may want to consider volunteer management software to streamline all of these processes.

In short, while volunteers make life easier overall, there’s an initial time and money investment that has to take place first. Over time, you may find you need additional funding for your volunteer program.

Measuring volunteer impact

As Nonprofit Technology Network pointed out, there’s a catch-22 to nonprofit volunteer programs: You need more money to invest in these initiatives that will eventually enable you to save money. This is where data comes in. By measuring the impact of your volunteers, you can grow your program and use it to add even more value.

Like any other business initiative, the first step to gaining more funding for your volunteer program is to demonstrate a return on investment. In general, you need data to do that. Luckily, many organizations are already measuring such benchmarks. According to a report from Software Advice and VolunteerMatch, 55 percent of nonprofits measure volunteer impact. Also, 19 percent increased recruitment and retention as a result of these efforts. On the negative side, 34 percent lack the resources to measure volunteer impact.

How to measure

There are many methods organizations can use to measuring the impact of volunteers. Volunteer management software can help compile information about volunteer backgrounds and hours. Polls are another source of information.

According to the survey, nonprofits used a wide variety of data collection methods. More than 80 percent used direct observation and volunteer surveys. About 70 percent used beneficiary surveys, and about 65 percent used software or an automated system.

You may want to consider looking at the following for measures of volunteer impact:

  • The dollar value of volunteer hours
  • Project output
  • Increase issue awareness
  • fundraising benchmarks
  • volunteer retention rate

Measuring the impact across all different parts of an organization can help nonprofits improve processes. While many charities understand the importance of using data to determine how they are helping their communities, there are many areas of a nonprofit that can be analyzed similarly. To get the most of a volunteer program, you may need to invest more in it. To justify this expense, data can be your best bet.