Today’s expert: Beth Kanter, Author and Master Trainer.
First of all, what is your chapter about? My chapter is about how to measure your volunteer program outcomes and engagement. When my first book, The Networked Nonprofit, came out in 2010, a lot of people in the nonprofit world wondered how its ideas could ever be applied to volunteer engagement. Facebook and Twitter may make sense for fundraising campaigns and awareness building, I heard, but they don’t quite fit with the needs of volunteer programs. Now, four years later, many of those naysayers use those exact tools to strengthen volunteer relationships and leverage connections for greater impact.
My second book, Measuring The Networked Nonprofit, which was awarded the Terry McAdam Nonprofit Book Award in 2013, focused on what nonprofits can do to measure and assess their social networking. Again, I heard from many nonprofit professionals in volunteering that these ideas didn’t really apply to them. Yes, they were tracking and measuring key metrics such as volunteer hours worked, but those metrics were far removed from the insightful, social media-oriented data points I was talking about.
In this case, while I see some changes happening, more remains to be done to help the volunteer engagement field adopt a culture of data-informed decision-making. Collecting data to measure success is essential—but often, we only see part of the equation done well. Sometimes they’re not even collecting the right data!
Why is this topic important? Are you struggling to listen and engage with your volunteer community? Measurement helps you understand how your community perceives you, what they do with the information you send out to them, and where to direct your volunteers’ efforts.
In addition, boards and senior management increasingly expect results expressed in the language of measurement—and funders require data to evaluate impact (and not just any data; they want to see standardized measurement criteria, because data without insight is just trivia). Communicating the actual value of volunteer engagement is one of the more difficult challenges that nonprofits face. Hours donated is an important metric, but other important metrics, like the amount of trees planted, meals served, or young minds opened, need to be quantified in a way that demonstrates the value of the work and impact on the community. Measurement offers that.
Explain your background on this topic. (In other words, what makes you a “volunteer engagement expert?”) I’ll be honest with you. I don’t consider myself to be a “volunteer engagement expert.” I am an expert at training and capacity building, especially related to technology, networks, leadership, and using data effectively. I think measurement is really about learning and using that feedback to get more impact–and that’s what I know how to do really well.
What did you learn and/ or struggle with when writing your chapter? Even though I’m known as a prolific blogger and writer, I struggle with writing all the time, especially the first draft. The reason is that the first draft is always going to suck no matter what and you have to learn accept writing as a continuous improvement process. You write a draft, you get feedback “data” from your editor, in this case, Robert Rosenthal, who was fantastic! So, writing is a lot of a good measurement process, you learn from feedback and iterate and improve.
What is the one piece of advice you would give volunteer managers to take with them to the future? Just remember that measurement is not a one-time add-on to your planning process. Much like those ideas that are successful in small steps, so too is measurement—and it’s an effort that builds your organization’s capacity and helps make your results get better with time. And be sure to have time set aside to reflect and do something meaningful with what you discover.
Make measurement your first measurable goal, in fact—and get ready to chart your success!
Beth Kanter is a master trainer, author, and blogger. Her book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, was awarded the Terry McAdam Nonprofit Book Award. She facilitates training and capacity building programs, and her clients include The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Knight Foundation, and others. You can connect with Beth on her blog, Beth’s Blog.
Tess loves her role as VolunteerMatch's Senior Marketing Manager because she gets to put words to work for social good! When not reading and writing, Tess spends her time obsessing over her cat and getting excited about food. She holds a Master’s of Nonprofit Leadership and a B.A. in Public Relations.