Methods for Tracking and Recognizing Volunteer Impact

Posted Wednesday, May 12th, 2021 by Sterling Volunteers Staff

Volunteers choose opportunities to serve in order to make a difference and help their communities – to have an impact. The crises of the last year haven’t changed that. Still, like so many other areas of volunteer engagement, the events and restrictions related to the pandemic have accelerated changes in how we recognize volunteers for their efforts and the way they impact your mission.

It might be time for your organization to rethink how you go about tracking impact and volunteer recognition. Especially, as virtual volunteering has increased during the pandemic.

In a recent webinar, which is now available on-demand, nonprofit expert Beth Steinhorn, President of VQ Volunteer Strategies, shared insight into how organizations are thanking volunteers amid changes. She reviewed a few proven strategies to track and recognize impact, tips for tracking volunteer impact from her experience, and tools to help develop a meaningful volunteer recognition plan.

Volunteer engagement practices are changing among a growing hybrid volunteer community. Traditional methods of tracking volunteer impact and recognizing volunteers are not as relevant with so many volunteers serving remotely, however measuring impact and showing appreciation are more important than ever.

Impact Measurement

In general, traditional focus has been on tracking hours and monetizing that value, but it is noteworthy that time-tracking only communicates quantity, not efficiency or impact.

The conversation is beginning to change. We don’t brag about spending more money on a program or event – yet we do boast about how many hours we “spend” of volunteer time. Contributions of time, talent, and testimony are valuable resources that should be stewarded, but they are only part of the bigger picture. If we were to only share hours contributed over the past year, many organizations would be telling a limited story due to limitations that stem from pandemic safety concerns.

Organizations should instead consider measuring and tracking volunteer impact.

Value of Impact Measurement

Measuring volunteer impact rather than just hours helps to drive accountability, motivation, case-making and evaluation. Use these value-focused questions to guide your plan:

  • Accountability – Are you leveraging volunteers for meaningful work in relation to your mission?
  • Motivation – How can you use the data to motivate and inspire others?
  • Case-making – Can you make the case for internal leaders and board to invest in engagement? Can we inspire funders?
  • Evaluation – Can you evaluate the efficacy of your programs and services and operations?

Think about how various stakeholders in your organization will value volunteer impact and how you plan on sharing your measurements with them. As we review models for measuring impact, consider who might be most compelled by each method:

  • Leadership
  • Funders
  • Staff
  • Volunteers
  • Beneficiaries
  • Community members

Method: Value of Volunteer Time

When calculating the value of volunteer time, most organizations “monetize” the total hours – they assign dollar a value to a volunteer’s role. There are multiple methods for accomplishing this that can give your organization a good idea of a volunteer’s true impact, including wage replacement and return on volunteer investment.

Method: Wage Replacement

Most organizations value hourly volunteer contributions at rates designated by Independent Sector. The national value was $27.20 in 2020, and state-based values are also available. You can find that on the Independent Sector website.

The wage replacement model lets you be more specific. It suggests you look at the type of work a volunteer is providing and what it would cost to hire someone to do that work. You can find that data through the Bureau of Labor Statistics or other sources.

Be careful with messaging to stakeholders when using the wage replacement model. You don’t want to imply that these are funds saved. Framing it as savings could imply that volunteers are replacing staff. If these values are used, then consider referring to them as “extenders of resources.”

Method: Return on Volunteer Investment

Another approach, developed by Points of Light and others, looks at your organization’s return on investment into your volunteers. While others look solely at the output of volunteer hours, this model, takes the investment into consideration through a series of calculations and steps.

  • Calculate the Value of Volunteer Contribution

The number of volunteer hours multiplied by the value of volunteer hours you’ve determined.

  • Calculate the Total Investment

Add together the cost of staff, outreach, training, recognition, etc.

  • Calculate Return on Volunteer Investment

Subtract your Total Investment from the Value of Volunteer Contribution and divide that number by your Total Investment.

This is a valuable way to talk about volunteer impact that can provide good context to stakeholders at your organization. Yet, as is often the case, it is only part of the story.

Method: Outcomes

Outcome measures tell a story that goes well beyond finances and ties a volunteer’s work to your mission. Volunteer impacts and outcomes could include:

  • Number of individuals reached as a result of volunteer-led programs
  • Number of individuals served directly by volunteers
  • Services delivered (e.g., meals served, trees planted, pounds of food collected, etc.)
  • Changes in behavior and condition for those served (e.g., increase in reading level among those tutored, changes in high school graduation rate among students mentored, improved health among those who receive volunteer-led training in managing chronic conditions)
  • Increased organizational capacity or resources (e.g., staff time saved, new volunteers recruited, funds raised, or in-kind gifts collected)

Additionally, organizations have adjusted how they measure outcomes and shifted engagement considering Covid-19. A few examples include how organizations have measured the number of event volunteers who have taken on new leadership roles or counted how many volunteers became donors, even if they couldn’t volunteer. Some have tallied check-in calls to isolated adults and other vulnerable groups, while others have partnered with communities to find new ways to leverage volunteers.

Method: Balanced Scorecard

The balanced scorecard is a strategic planning and management system volunteer organizations can use to make decisions from a more balanced perspective. It includes financial measures as well as operational measures that drive future success, such as stakeholder satisfaction, internal processes, and the organization’s innovation and improvement activities.

Kaplan and Norton, the originators of the scorecard, found that organizations that used a more balanced approach to planning and measurement were more successful. There are four key perspectives that like the original scorecard align with the vision, mission and strategic priorities/goals of the organization.

Another helpful tool, developed by Volunteer Canada, is the Value of Volunteering Wheel. It drives internal conversations about how volunteering can build “Confidence, Competence, Connections, Community” across different stakeholder groups – organizations, volunteers, businesses, neighborhoods, and society.

Volunteer Recognition

Measuring impact has many purposes, but one that is especially relevant for us today is how understanding impact can fuel meaningful recognition for volunteers. More ideas about volunteer recognition and planning tools can be found in the Volunteer Recognition e-Tool Kit: Beyond Pins, Plaques, and Parties available for download.

Building a culture of appreciation benefits both volunteers and paid staff within organizations. Particularly, in a culture of appreciation:

Volunteers are…

integrated into the organization’s work

valued for their contributions

celebrated for their impact


build teams

include volunteers  in meetings

celebrate together

While people value being appreciated, expressing gratitude and appreciation doesn’t come naturally for us at work. A Gratitude Survey, by Janice Kaplan conducted for the John Templeton Foundation, showed that 50% of Americans regularly express gratitude to their family members, however only 15% do so with their colleagues. Yet, nearly all respondents said they wish their colleagues would say ‘thank you’ to them more frequently.

Being appreciated at work translates beyond having employees or volunteers who feel good and leads to greater productivity. In other studies, researchers found that people were more than 50% more productive after having been explicitly thanked for their work, whether by the beneficiaries of the work or by a supervisor.

Further, research can inform your decision-making and help to align recognition with what volunteers desire. In Sterling Volunteers’ 2020 Industry Insights report with VolunteerMatch, both volunteers and organizations were asked what keeps volunteers engaged, and their responses mostly aligned:

What Volunteers say keeps them engaged:

81% Understanding the impact of my volunteer service

59% Relationships with other volunteers, staff, or the community I am helping

45% Continued opportunities to build skills and gain experiences

24% Ongoing recognition by staff and the organization

What Organizations do to keep volunteers engaged:

81% Share the impact of their volunteer service

79% Relationship building with other volunteers, staff, or the community I am helping

74% Ongoing recognition by staff and the organization as a whole

56% Continued opportunities to build skills and gain experiences

The gap between what volunteers seek in terms of recognition and what organizations provide is closing – and that’s good news. Remember, listen to others who have developed new ways to track and recognize impact of both virtual and onsite volunteers. In fact, delving into case studies can inspire us to creatively and safely celebrate volunteer contributions.

Rethinking Recognition

Setting the stage for successful volunteer recognition is done by creating impactful roles, building an infrastructure of support, and nurturing a culture of appreciation at your organization. Be sure to give volunteers opportunities to share the impact of their work, gain or develop new skills, and small yet meaningful tokens of appreciation. It is also worthwhile to brainstorm fun and memorable ways you can show appreciation, such as a photo album or slideshow.

Feel free to use the Volunteer Recognition eToolkit and develop a plan for your organization. There is a helpful template which includes three sections: Ongoing Formal Recognition, Ongoing Informal Recognition and Annual Recognition.

Overall, remember these key takeaways:

  • Identify meaningful goals and metrics for volunteer impact
  • Communicate volunteer impact strategically
  • Develop a recognition plan that works equally for all volunteers
  • Create a welcoming environment
  • Embed training or networking with celebrations around volunteer recognition

Watch the Webinar On-Demand

To learn more, watch the “Tracking and Recognizing Impact in a Hybrid Volunteer Community” webinar.

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The information contained herein is for informational purposes only. Sterling is not a law firm, and none of the information contained in this notice is intended as legal advice. Clients are encouraged to consult with their legal counsel about the impacts of any requirements. This, and other important information can be found on the Sterling website at