For two years, I served as the Assessment and Systems Coordinator at the Center for Community Engagement at Eastern Connecticut State University. Working with key staff, we designed and implemented a rigorous assessment plan with the primary goal of assessing volunteer impact. We looked at how volunteering and civic engagement would have a positive impact on Eastern students and on the surrounding community of Willimantic, CT. We made tremendous progress in our assessment efforts during that time and Eastern continues to be a leader in monitoring volunteer impact, often leading to improved programs, better outcomes for the community, and an enriched learning environment for the students to develop leadership skills.
A recent study by Software Advice and VolunteerMatch looked at the approaches that 2,833 nonprofits take to measuring volunteer impact. It inspired me to take a moment to reflect on my work at Eastern to see how well our work aligned with national trends.
The infographic below offers some highlights from the study.
Only 55% of the organizations surveyed said they measured or tracked volunteer impact. A key reason they cite for not doing a more detailed assessment of volunteer outcomes is a lack of resources. The lack of resources for impact is also reflected strongly in the 2014 State of the Nonprofit Sector survey conducted by the Nonprofit Finance Fund where 46% of respondents cite not enough staff or time as a barrier to impact measurement, among other significant barriers.
At Eastern, our ability to track and measure volunteer impact was heavily dependent on the leadership of our Executive Director Kimberly Silcox and the support of executive leadership within the university, which was essential for getting the financial support we needed for staff and technology. This is evident in the improvement and expansion of our ability to track even the most basic metrics on our volunteers.
Center for Community Engagement
The CCE has been the leader of civic engagement activity at Eastern since 2008 and continually improved its tracking and measurement of volunteer impact.
Total Volunteer Hours
# Unique Volunteers at Recurring Programs
# Unique Volunteers at Events
# Service Learning Volunteers
*During these years, the number of volunteers is in aggregate, rather than unique, as we did not have system in place to individually identify each volunteer.
In the table above, you can see that additional categories of data collection are added each year. The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) offers volunteer opportunities for Eastern students through service learning, long-term community programs, and special events. Systems have been put in place to track information about each student individually across each of these types of programs so that we can track their involvement without duplicating or over-stating the impact of our volunteers. Besides these basic metrics, the CCE also has a number of learning outcomes that it uses to see how civic engagement impacts the educational experience of students who volunteer. According to the Volunteer Impact Report, Eastern stands near the head of the pack for the breadth and comprehensiveness of its assessment practices.
One of the standard ways to illuminate volunteer impact is to use Independent Sector’s state-by-state value of volunteer time. The hourly value of volunteer time in Connecticut is $26.43. If you multiply that by the number of hours performed by Eastern students in the 2012-13 academic year – 12,900 – you can see why it is a useful impact metric. The CCE managed volunteers that gave $340,947 worth of time, skills, and energy back to the Willimantic community.
The value of time is only an estimate, but the CCE is actively working to understand much more meaningful metrics like the way that volunteerism incubates better educational outcomes for children in the community and measurably improved educational experiences for students at the university.