Charity Support, Advice, Impact Measurement, Philanthropy Impact – NPC

Volunteers and data collection

By Ellen Harries 24 January 2013

Volunteers are the lifeblood of many charities and play an integral role in the services they provide. A volunteer-based service model can present challenges, however, when it comes to collecting impact data. Raw data often needs to be collected by volunteers on the front line, but how do you get motivated people to spend their time ticking boxes, as well as actively helping people? At NPC’s Impact Leadership Conference last week, we heard from two charities that had successfully motivated their volunteers to collect reliable impact data.

In the first instance, it is important to understand what motivates volunteers. ‘Unlike organisations, volunteers do what they do because they want to do good’, explained Norman Blissett, Director of Resources at Family Action. Volunteers are not motivated by KPIs but instead give their time because they are passionate about the services charities provide.

While this is not rocket science, it is very important when encouraging and persuading volunteers to collect impact data. Charities should communicate to volunteers what is done with impact data: from securing funding to highlighting areas for improvement, this data has a range of important applications that volunteers care about.

As well as communicating findings, data collection needs to be integrated into the daily processes of staff. One way to increase the likelihood of success is to engage volunteers in designing the tools. Jed Marsh, Assistant Director of Body and Soul, involved volunteers right at the beginning of their impact strategy. He said ‘these are people working on the ground, so they often have good ideas about what will work’. Norman Blissett agreed with this, and advocated that data collection processes and tools should engage both volunteers and service users.

Although collecting data is a burden on volunteers, it is also an opportunity to demonstrate the difference that the charity makes. Volunteers, as well as funders and trustees, should be aware of the impact of  their work, and need to be supported and motivated in collecting reliable data. This not only benefits charities, but also reminds volunteers why they do what they do.