Too often, in an effort to track something, corporate social responsibility and ESG leaders focus on metrics that don’t hold much meaning. When it comes to employee volunteering specifically, there’s a pervasive “check-the-box” mentality that values inputs over outputs and processes over people.
For instance, the number of volunteer hours your team logs (input) doesn’t mean much if most of the time was spent sitting around waiting for instructions instead of doing work that actually improves peoples’ lives (outcome).
In contrast, impact measurement seeks to understand the relationship between your efforts and real, meaningful outcomes. You want to know: are you moving the needle?
Impact measurement requires you to be more intentional about how you define and identify “impact.” This effort will not only help your team understand your program’s ROI today, it will help you evolve your initiatives to be more meaningful for your business, your employees, and the community in the long term.
Track the true impact of corporate volunteering
Impact measurement is a guide, not a grade. You’re not trying to slap a passing or failing grade on your program. Rather, you’re earnestly asking tough questions about how your efforts make change.
Does your employee volunteer program:
- Create positive change in the community?
- Tap into your organization’s full potential?
- Successfully engage your employees?
- Provide the right framework for a transformative experience?
- Give meaningful support to your nonprofit partners?
These questions are large and unwieldy. There’s rarely a simple answer, and it can be difficult to tie specific inputs to clear and quantifiable outcomes.
To measure the impact of corporate volunteering, you have to embrace the complexity. Here’s how.
Prioritize outcomes over activities
The activities you do matter much less than what effect you make. Think about it this way: if you’re trying to put out a fire, you wouldn’t measure your success by how many gallons of water you pour on the flames. What matters is if you put the fire out.
It’s easy to get distracted by measuring inputs (like the amount of water you use), but be sure to tie the inputs you track to the outcomes you want (flames extinguished). Pumping a lot of water may feel important, but if you don’t aim that water at the fire, you’re not having the impact you want.
Focus on meaningful contribution
As you set goals around specific outcomes, keep in mind that even an incredibly successful volunteer program isn’t going to single-handedly reverse negative trends or solve big issues. Set goals that are not only attainable, but also recognize the role your program plays within the larger context of your company, community, and society as a whole.
For instance, your program might play a role in increasing employee retention at your company, but that’s not the only factor determining whether people stick around. Other internal initiatives and policies matter along with external market forces. Measuring the impact of corporate volunteering is not about taking full credit for progress, it’s about making a meaningful contribution.
Consider how metrics are in conversation with one another
As you choose metrics to track, you’ll likely find some overlap. That’s natural. What’s good for employees is often good for the community, which is good for the brand. Be less concerned about drawing hard borders or categories and make space to think about how outcomes might influence one another.
Now, let’s get into what metrics you might choose to track for your volunteering program.
Which corporate volunteering metrics should I track?
To measure the impact of corporate volunteering, think about your impact across four categories: participants, corporate, the nonprofit, and the community.
The people who take part in volunteering stand to benefit from the experience of giving back.
- Personal fulfillment: Volunteering can be personally rewarding. A Harvard report found that “higher levels of volunteer work were associated with higher levels of overall life satisfaction.”
- Skills development: As a venue to try on new roles and take risks, volunteering can help support employees’ professional development. One study found that “40–45% of the employee volunteers claimed some level of improvement in skills pertaining to leadership, mentorship, motivating others, project management, and public speaking and presenting.”
- Exposure to new people and perspectives: Stepping into a volunteer role can enable participants to meet people from different backgrounds and encourage them to be more open to perspectives that differ from their own.
What metrics to track:
- % of employees who participate in volunteering
- % of participants who would recommend volunteering to others
- % of volunteers who report improved skills
- % of volunteers who continue to volunteer
- Level of engagement in dialogue at the volunteer event
- Qualitative feedback from volunteers
The business itself can benefit from the impact of corporate volunteering.
- Brand reputation: 77% of consumers support brands who share their values. Using your resources to give back shows that you’re willing to put your values into action.
- Recruitment and retention: CSR efforts can help you stand out from other companies as you vie for top talent. Plus, employees who volunteer are 32% less likely to churn.
- Improved company culture: Volunteering is an exercise in empathy and collaboration, two important building blocks of a healthy team culture.
What metrics to track:
- Customer loyalty metrics like customer satisfaction score
- Employee retention
- Employee satisfaction metrics like employee net promoter score
- % of employees who would recommend the company to a friend
By building partnerships, you can leverage the power of your brand and resources to strengthen community nonprofits.
- Increased capacity and reach: More volunteers means more capacity to reach new people and launch new programs. That’s no small thing. A projection from United Way estimated that if each company with the largest revenue headquartered in (or with a major office in) each state implemented one day of volunteer time off, it would add 75 million volunteer hours—that’s 9 million days—to the nonprofit capacity.
- Improved strategic planning and innovation: With volunteer support, nonprofit staff have more time to dedicate to the deeper strategic planning and innovation that’s necessary for long-term success.
- Name recognition and credibility: By partnering with a nonprofit, you can help increase their brand awareness in the community, helping them secure even more support.
What metrics to track:
- Volunteer hours contributed
- Increase in nonprofit outputs
- Number of beneficiaries reached
- Number of new donations secured
- New partnerships formed
- New programs launched by the nonprofit
An effective volunteer program not only benefits the institutions and participants, but it makes a meaningful difference in the lives of community members.
- Increased access to services: Meeting people’s basic needs can have a profound impact on their ability to thrive. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that food insecurity, for example, was “associated with poorer mental health and specific psychosocial stressors.”
- Improved quality of life: No matter what causes your volunteers are dedicated to, they have the potential to improve the quality of life for the whole community, whether that’s through direct service work with people or projects that improve communal spaces and resources.
- Deeper awareness of community needs: A volunteer program is also a natural way to draw attention to a cause. As volunteers learn more about community needs, they become advocates, spreading awareness and building support for new initiatives and policies.
What metrics to track:
- Number of people served
- Qualitative feedback from community members
- Quality of life metrics like unemployment, mortality, or graduation rate
Learn more about how to measure your impact
Get step-by-step instructions and more real-life examples in our guide.
Build the right framework for your volunteer program
Do not try to track all the metrics listed above. If you’re just starting to measure the impact of corporate volunteering, choose one or two meaningful targets and build from there. You don’t want to get so bogged down with reporting that you lose sight of the mission at hand.
As you build structure around your program, keep in mind that you can rely on systems that are already in place. Rather than starting from scratch, you could use existing:
- Employee surveys
- Sales and revenue tracking
- Retention metrics
- Nonprofit impact reports
- Community statistics and indicators
Identify what levers you think will support change. If employee engagement is one of your goals, you might want to ask yourself what mechanisms are in place to ensure that volunteer events align with employee values. If you can’t point to anything specific, that’s a red flag. You might consider democratizing the process to allow employees a voice in building nonprofit partnerships and planning events.
Don’t view impact measurement (or your program) as static. You’ll need to stay open to iteration as your team and the community evolves. The right technology can help you manage this dynamic process.