Guest post by Elisa Kosarin. This post originally appeared on Twenty Hats.
Your volunteers tell a compelling story. It’s time to share it.
If you’ve been reading the Twenty Hats blog lately, you might think you’ve switched to the ‘Volunteer Impact Channel.’ I’ve focused heavily on this question because strategic volunteer outcomes do the heavy lifting when it comes to volunteer program credibility. These metrics connect the dots in a concrete, data-driven way between your organization’s mission and the value of your volunteers.
One thing, though — for all the emphasis, there is one important message I want you to remember:
You don’t have to wait until you’ve created volunteer impact measures to start promoting your volunteer program.
If you’re not quite there yet — and I know many of you need to plan the process for a future time — you still have plenty of quality material to educate and inform executive directors, board members, corporations, faith-based organizations and even your volunteers.
And best of all, you can achieve this education by creating a document that is easy to access and full of great info — a Volunteer Management Annual Report (VMAR).
This report is very similar to an organization-wide annual report. It’s a summary of information about what your volunteers accomplished within a given fiscal year.
Consider this report your special platform for bragging about your volunteers’ accomplishments. It’s an opportunity to share multiple perspectives on the value of your program – perspectives that will both impress your stakeholders and help you advocate for higher budgets, more staff and greater influence.
The notion of a Volunteer Management Annual Report is not new. There are volunteer programs that have made the publication a standard practice. CVA Liza Dyer, for example, once shared her program’s annual report with Twenty Hats readers.
Ideally, data about your volunteer program is part of the organization-wide annual report. But if your nonprofit has not started to include this kind of information ― or if the only stats that get reported are the # of volunteers, the # of hours served and the $ equivalent of those hours ― then you have an excellent opportunity to take the initiative and create your own supplemental report.
Are you sold on this concept? Yes? If so, you’ll want some basic guidelines to get you started:
- Mix up the content. You’re going to want statistical information in your report, but relying purely on data makes for a stale document. It is acceptable (preferable, really) to vary the content with plenty of anecdotal information (more on what to include in a moment).
- Give your report a professional look. If you have access to a graphic designer, great. If not, there are lots of online templates that you can use to create something that looks as professional as the volunteer program you operate.
- Make your pride palpable. Your executive director may wish to write the opening statement for your report. If not, use the report as an opportunity to create your own message, one that conveys your enthusiasm and gratitude for the contributions of your volunteers.
Those are the basics. Now on to the types of content that you’ll want to include. As you’ll see from the list below, there are many ways to sing the praises of your volunteers, and chances are, you already have this information on hand:
- Outcomes-based impact data. Again, you don’t have to wait until you gather this type of high-impact data to produce a VMAR. On the other hand, if you DO collect this data, your report is a prime vehicle for sharing it.
- Other incremental types of data that you may track. Most likely, you’re currently tracking all kinds of data to improve the internal workings of your program. That’s great information to include in an annual report – it demonstrates how effectively you run your program and illustrates just who your volunteers are. You might include stats such as:
- Volunteer retention
- Referral sources
- Volunteer demographics
- Number of volunteers who also give
- Results from satisfaction surveys sent to your volunteers, staff or even clients
- Baseline stats. It’s still helpful to include information on the # of volunteers, # of volunteer hours and $ equivalent of those hours. This data helps readers understand the scope of your program.
- Feedback from surveys. Chances are, you’ve got some great positive comments to brag about from those satisfaction surveys. Make sure to include them.
- Include plenty of visuals. It’s much harder for our brains to absorb text without images to accompany the narrative. Start gathering up plenty of photos of your volunteers, staff and (if possible) clients.
- Volunteer stories. Humans process information fastest when they receive the message in story form. Make sure to include several stories of volunteers and the results of their efforts for clients. Meridian Swift has an excellent blog post on this subject – make sure to check it out.
- Any special recognition received. External appreciation is a powerful credibility-booster. Have you volunteers been recognized in any way? Any awards won? Any special media coverage, such as newspaper articles or television stories? Make sure to include links within your report.
A few weeks back, Rob Jackson revisited the question of volunteer manager salaries, speculating on how we might elevate our status within organizations. The more I reflect on the question, the more convinced I become that it’s up to us to demonstrate our value and document our enormous contributions to our communities. What better way to do that, than by gathering your facts, assembling them in an easy-to-grasp format and then hitting “Publish.”