How-to: Leverage Volunteer Data

Submitted on Fri, 9/7/2012 - 3:43pm
Collecting and synthesizing volunteer data may take a little time on the front end, but it should pay off in the long run. It's all about turning the raw numbers into usable tools for evaluation, decision-making, and action plans for the future.

When it comes to obtaining, storing, and using data, volunteer situations are just like any other: the more data you collect, the better off your program will be. Having accurate and meaningful data will give insight into your volunteer base and help you pinpoint demographics to target when launching a new volunteer recruitment campaign.

Of course, once you know what makes your volunteers "tick", you'll also be able to serve them better, and, in turn, they will be able to better serve your organization and its mission. Happy volunteers are also important to your organization's public relations -- volunteers who speak highly of their experience are sure to bring in other volunteers and possibly even donors.

Know Your Volunteer

For starters, review your current volunteer application.

Are you collecting as much demographic data as possible? Look at the data collection process the same as would a marketer. Before embarking on an advertising campaign, professionals take the time to figure out the age, location, and economic status of their target audience. Then they go out and find people that meet those criteria and market to them.

As a volunteer coordinator, you will essentially be marketing your events to a pool of current volunteers. The more you know about them, the greater the likelihood of engaging them in opportunities. Think to yourself, "What would I like to know about my volunteers to make the program better and/or expand it?"

For those just joining the agency, you'll want to at least know the following: age, address, occupation, professional affiliations, and how they heard about your organization. (If you don't have that information on your existing volunteers, make sure to do so, perhaps in a once-a-year contact info request.) Once a volunteer is part of your organization, it's time to track tendencies, like the number and type of events he or she volunteered for, as well as hours spent on each job.

Synthesize the Data

Just as important as capturing volunteer data is the process of synthesizing it. Look for strong trends and correlations. Do certain age groups volunteer more or less often? Perhaps people with children volunteer often but at shorter intervals. Maybe residents in one zip code tend to volunteer more than some others. Don't forget to look at things like seasonal effects, as well. Maybe certain groups volunteer more during the holidays, while others are more available during the summer months.

There are many ways you can slice your data to analyze it and give you the best chance of having successful programs. However you decide to quantify it, just think it through to see what metrics make the most sense for your particular agency. Taking relevant aspects into account will not only help fill your rosters for events, but additionally, volunteers will be happier, which in turn leads to longer relationships with your organization.

You Have Info…. Now What Do You Do With It?

The data you obtain will only take you as far as you use it. When you find something meaningful, make sure key players in your organization are privy to the trends you are seeing. All executives involved in strategic planning need to know these details as they attempt to formulate moves that will bring growth to the agency. While using data to strategize, keep the statistics as simple as possible. For scientific purposes, correlational data is suspect, but for the typical volunteer coordinator, it should hold up just fine.

Once you have these numbers, be sure to share them not only with executives and board members, but consider using them in press releases, newsletters to your volunteers/donors, and other marketing pieces. Supporters and stakeholders appreciate being able to see what is going on in a quantifiable way.

Recruit New Volunteers

As your organization grows, and as your volunteer program experiences the normal process of attrition, you'll want to find new volunteers. This is a good time, of course, to examine all the trends you have found analyzing your own data. Another invaluable resource is the Volunteering In America website, run by the Corporation for National and Community Service. It compiles volunteer data from the US Census Bureau.

The Volunteering in America site's statistics can shed new light on your potential volunteer pool and give you additional insight into a volunteer recruitment campaign. Under the site's "Export Data" tab, you'll be able to drill down to the volunteer statistics for large/midsize cities, which is broken down by age, gender, type of volunteering done, factors impacting volunteerism in the area, and a variety of other variables. While you're there, check out the site's other valuable volunteer information, too, including recruitment suggestions under its "Tips and Tools" section.

Collecting and synthesizing volunteer data may take a little time on the front end, but it should pay off in the long run. You'll know your current volunteer base better, get a larger return on your recruiting investment, and have important statistics to share with your volunteers, donors, and stakeholders. In short, it's all about turning the raw numbers into usable tools for evaluation, decision-making, and action plans for the future.

Shawn Kendrick holds an MBA from Ohio Dominican University and has over a decade's experience in the nonprofit and business sectors. He enjoys researching and blogging for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based, online volunteer management system.