Here at Reimagining Service, a national multi-sector coalition dedicated to increasing the impact of volunteers, we are thrilled to find out about a compelling source of data that clearly links volunteerism to nonprofit effectiveness. This, of course, has huge impact on communities. We want to share the research with you and let you know who you can contact to apply these lessons to your organization.
A national program and evaluation firm, TCC Group, designed and regularly administers the Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT). This is a rigorous metric that measures nonprofit effectiveness. The survey asks specific questions that examine how well an organization does with a number of tasks: recruiting, retaining, providing role clarity and direction, developing, valuing, and rewarding volunteers. These practices serve as the basis for a 300 point scoring system. If an organization scored 240 or greater on these measurements, and engaged 50 or more volunteers on an annual basis, the organization was deemed a service enterprise. Such an organization fundamentally leverages volunteers and their skills to successfully deliver on the social mission of the organization. Engaging that many volunteers may not be a realistic number for your organization, but you can still achieve similar results, if there is a strong volunteer engagement model in place.
Here are two key findings and a recommendation that we’ve learned from this data:
Finding #1: Increased Organizational Capacity
When organizations engage AND manage ANY number of volunteers well, they are significantly better led and managed than organizations that do not.
Finding #2: Reduced Costs of Operating
Engaged and well managed volunteers mean the organization is getting more, far more bang for the buck! A service enterprise is able to deliver as much as twice the service for the same cost. If you have a budget under $125,000, for instance, this means your organization operates at $9.25 an hour vs a non service enterprise cost of $27.73 an hour. This significant return on investment elevates an organization’s capacity to deliver on its mission while also preserving its financial bottom line.
Similarly, the TCC Group discovered that there is a wide range of returns on investment from volunteers. The decisive factor is the level of adoption rate of volunteer engagement practices. For instance, if your organization engages 1-10 volunteers on an annual basis and you have a basic volunteer engagement model (at a 25% rate of adoption of volunteer engagement practices), you will receive a return of $1,000 on those volunteers. As your organization deepens and grows its practices up to the 75% adoption level, the return steadily grows to $3,000. This trend continues up to $10,000 of return. So, if your organization continues to invest in volunteers, you get more in return.
A real example:
And that is exactly what has happened to a small nonprofit, focused on creating a college-going culture for youth in underserved communities. Experiencing dramatic expansion, they increased from 24 to 300 students a year, with no additional cash resources. The staff knew that in order to scale up, the organization needed to rethink the engagement of volunteers. Paying attention to the elements measured by TCC, the organization is now a certified service enterprise. They are now pursuing more multi-sector partnerships and creating leadership opportunities for experienced and dedicated volunteers, thus freeing up staff time for other strategic priorities.
Re-engineer your Volunteer Engagement Practices
These findings clearly demonstrate that to amplify impact, it is crucial to have a strong volunteer engagement model. Naturally, with any programmatic efforts, some elements work well, and other areas need attention. To maximize the return on investment, the TCC Group found that three practices to need improvement: 1) balancing the use of skilled and unskilled volunteers; 2) identifying and clarifying volunteer roles; and 3) resourcing volunteers to do their assignments.
Expertise is available to you! Points of Light National Service Enterprise Pilot, and the Maine Commission on Community Service was competitively selected to participate in this initiative. They are ready to hear from you!
Additional TCC Group findings are available at www.ReimaginingService.org under the nonprofit section.
Written By: Season Eckardt, Reimagining Service, Coordinator of the Bank of America Fellows Program