Episode #036: 5 Nonprofit KPIs Your Volunteer Program Should Be Tracking

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson. And if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause, membership, or movement, I made this podcast just for you.   

Hey there everybody. Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast! I’m Tobi Johnson, and I’m your host. And hey there, shout out to my VisionWeek participants! Gang, I’m having so much fun hanging out and leading people through a strategic planning process.  

It is a ton of fun. There’s a ton of energy in the group. And I wanted to put together a supplemental episode. Now, this is our regular Volunteer Nation episode for this week, but I wanted to supplement the other content we’re sharing in VisionWeek. 

So folks who aren’t in VisionWeek, we’re sorry that you’ve missed working with us, but you get a little bonus here. So shout out to our VisionWeekers and enjoy the rest, to the rest of our folks.  

This is really about key performance indicators. So we’re gonna talk about nonprofit KPIs or key performance indicators, specifically related to volunteer engagement. 

So as you as VisionWeekers, the folks who are coming up with your strategic plan, you’re probably starting to wonder, okay, how am I gonna track my success? How am I gonna know that I’m reaching my goals?  

Now, there are goals related to your strategic plan. We talk about that in VisionWeek. But there’s also goals in general that you should be tracking in your volunteer program. So I want to offer a few that I think are important.  

Not all of these are tracked by everybody. In fact, I’m gonna suggest at least one that most people don’t track, and that I think is an important indicator to track. So we’re gonna get started, but you know, here’s the deal.  

Getting respect for volunteers and volunteer services starts with really knowing your program inside and out. It starts with knowing your numbers. Nonprofit KPIs, or key performance indicators, are sort of like your vital signs.  

So if you think about it, when you go to the doctor, the first thing they do is check your vitals. They weigh you. They take your blood pressure, they take your pulse/ox, and then you might do some urinalysis, you might do some blood work. 

These are all metrics that your doctor uses, or your medical professional uses, to help assess your level of wellness and to help your medical team diagnose if there are any issues that need support. And whether our treatment plan that’s already in place might be working.  

So our nonprofit KPIs are very similar. Knowing your KPIs for volunteers can help you identify early issues and assess whether certain interventions are making a difference. As volunteer-involving organizations, you are hopefully assessing as you go what’s working and what’s not working. But you can’t do that unless you have the KPIs.  

So think about it. Your doctor will not know if you have high blood pressure. You can explain your symptoms, but those symptoms might be for a variety of reasons. But if the nurse puts on your blood pressure cuff and runs your blood pressure, then they’re gonna know, Hey, guess what? You have high blood pressure, right?  

So these numbers are really helpful in increasing the speed to finding a solution, for diagnosing an issue and finding a solution. They’re really helpful management tools. Unfortunately, most organizations are not tracking their key performance indicators when it comes to volunteers, at least in any systemic way. 

They might once a year figure out the annual value of the volunteer, those kinds of things. But there’s a systemic way people need to do this. I would say on a weekly and monthly basis and quarterly basis, rather than just an annual basis.  

That I know for a fact that these non-profit KPIs are not being tracked. And how do I know? Because I will often ask someone that I’m working with one of the first questions, “How many active volunteers do you have?” 

And the answer is often, “Hmm, I’m not sure. We don’t know exactly.” And then I know when that answer comes up, that if it’s a vague one, then they’re not doing a sufficient job tracking their KPIs.  

So that’s just one way I know. I also ask other questions and I realize, okay, we’ve got some work to do around KPIs. But the good news is I’m gonna run through some today, so you’ll get a good list. 

Some nonprofits want to track KPIs, but they’re at a loss as to how to improve or even start tracking. This year in our Volunteer Management Progress Report survey, which is an annual global state-of-the-industry survey we’ve done for eight years running, this year I really wanted to ask about benchmarks and KPIs. 

I wanted to see what the benchmarks were. And ask if people were tracking certain KPIs. And if so, what were the results? And so I thought I would share in this episode, those five key KPIs that I asked about in the volunteer management progress report.  

Now, those of you who took the survey know what these are. I’m gonna remind you of them. So some of you have heard of these KPIs before because you took the survey. And these are gonna remind you of those, but I’m also gonna talk about why they’re important.  

So that might help add to your decision making around what KPIs you’re gonna track in 2023. And so let’s get this list going. We don’t have any standards in our field. Some people think we have some standards somewhere.  

Globally, we do not have a standard set of key performance indicators around volunteer involvement, but it’s probably about time we started figuring what those were. And figuring them out so that we can start to compare and contrast and start to have conversations about who’s doing what.  

Before we get started though, I wanna talk quickly about some of the definitions we’re referring to, just so you’re clear. I’m gonna be speaking about these KPIs, but also in general how this terminology is used when it comes to performance management.  

So an outcome, let’s start with that. An outcome is a change in behavior or state of a person or system that can be attributed, at least in part, to an activity. So we can’t always say that one thing is entirely responsible for an outcome, but at least in part, it’s moving the needle on that. So it’s a change in behavior or state of a person or system. That’s the outcome.  

The key performance indicator is a measure of change brought about by the activity that indicates that progress has been made toward a goal. So an outcome may or may not have measurable, some type of measure associated with it. The key performance indicator is the measurable that you’ve decided to assign to that outcome.  

A target is the numbered amount of that KPI, or that key performance indicator. So it’s a value that you achieve, that you hope to achieve by a specific date or a series of dates, you know, every month or every quarter or every year. So the target is the numbered value of the performance indicator.  

A milestone is similar to a target, but it’s really just an activity that’s scheduled to be completed at a specific date. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be a target of a KPI. Okay?  

A baseline of a KPI would be what the value is when you started. So what’s the baseline when you first started tracking that KPI? And it can be very helpful because you can see where you started and then where you’re progressing to.  

A benchmark instead of a baseline. When compared to a baseline, a benchmark is a little bit…it’s a point of reference that’s determined by reviewing best practices and results from other organizations.  

So when I say the Volunteer Management Progress Report is, we’re attempting to establish a baseline. The reason we’re able to establish baselines for some of these KPIs that I’m gonna discuss is because we asked them and we surveyed a bunch of organizations to report out. 

Aand we usually have over a thousand organizations or individuals around the world participating in our survey. So we think our results are fairly valid. So once we have those results, we will be sharing them.  

In January, we’ll release the report and the report will be free. You can go to volpro.net/volunteer management progress report. We will link to this in the show notes, so you can go and grab that link or you can just go to volpro.net. And at the top of the page, if you just click on “research,” it’ll take you to that page.  

So every January, the new report gets released and you can download it. You can also download all the previous reports on that page as well. So if you’re interested in what the benchmarks are for the KPIs I’m gonna talk about in a minute, then check out that report. 

All right, before we get into the details of these five KPIs that I wanna share with you, I’m just gonna take a quick break. And after the break, I’ll offer my recommendations, not only what you should track, but also why. So stay with me.  

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VolunteerPro Premium Membership helps you build or renovate an effective what’s-working-now volunteer program with less stress and more joy, so that you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward. 

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Okay, everybody, we’re back with our discussion of nonprofit KPIs, and now I’d like to share my list of must-have KPIs for every volunteer driven organization, and what you should track and why.  

So let’s start with number one: new volunteer conversion rates. I love this because it helps you really figure out what’s wrong or what’s working with your volunteer recruitment. 

So a new volunteer conversion rate is the percentage of people who begin active service after they initiate contact. Now you’re probably wondering what do you mean by initiating contact? Well, that’s up to you to decide.  

Is it when they submit an interest form? Is it when they complete an application? Is it when they call you? Is it when they email you, a prospective volunteer specifically? So you decide when that is.  

In general, it’s really the percentage of people who begin active service after they initiate contact. Now, why is this nonprofit KPI important? Well, it determines, as I said, if your onboarding and recruitment is effective.  

If you track each microstep in that process – so for example, how many people who complete an application come to our orientation training, how many people who complete the orientation training show up for a shift? How many people who complete a shift, end up volunteering for 90 days?  

You decide what those micro conversions are, but if you can do that, you can start to pinpoint and diagnose where there’s an issue. Because if you see there’s a drop off at one of those steps along the way, that’s where you can put your attention towards fixing things and improving.  

And you might ask volunteers, what’s stopping you after this point? So if you track each step of the recruitment process and onboarding process, you can troubleshoot and perfect your conversion rates over time. So it’s very helpful.  

New volunteer conversion rate. The general conversion rate, but also the micro conversion rates are super helpful. So that’s one of the must-have nonprofit KPIs that I would recommend.  

The second one, which many people, it’s a very common KPI to track, is annual volunteer retention rates. So an annual volunteer retention rate is the percentage of currently active volunteers who were active 12 months ago.  

So of the volunteers who are in your program now, what percentage of them were contributing time and talent 12 months ago? That’s your annual volunteer retention rate. So why is this nonprofit KPI important? 

Well, it really helps you. It stands in sort of for a proxy for your volunteer culture and whether or not volunteers are happy, because if you have really high churn rates, it might be because volunteers are not satisfied.  

Now it might not be that as well. You’ve gotta look at your context. If a bunch of your volunteers are students and they’re completing their semester of service and you’re having a high retention rate, you may decide, you know what? 

We’re gonna actually track the retention of students throughout the semester and we’re gonna do a semester retention rate. That makes complete sense in my mind. Annual retention rate is great for ongoing volunteer programs where people have volunteers long-term.  

So this helps you also estimate how many volunteers are needed in the future because if you know how many volunteers are rolling off, or what percentage of turnover you’re having, you can start to make estimates on the level and intensity of volunteer recruitment you’re gonna need in the future. 

It also helps you assess whether improvements in the volunteer experience are making a difference. That’s the change. If you compare your baseline of volunteer retention, you make some interventions and some improvements in the volunteer experience, and then you track again, you can see whether or not they are making a difference and whether or not that investment of time and energy is worth it. 

So annual volunteer retention rates, or whatever period of time makes sense in your organization, is a must-have KPI for your volunteer program. Okay, number three of our nonprofit KPIs, volunteer event participation rates.  

Now, this is great for both days of service, but also event-based volunteering. So if that’s a type of volunteering you have going on in your organization, then this KPI makes sense.  

It’s the percentage of people who sign up for a shift at your event who actually show up. So it’s just a show rate basically. This helps you determine if your reminder campaigns for the day of service or event-based volunteering are working.  

So if you have a reminder campaign, “Hey, your shift is coming up” or “Really excited, here’s what you need to know” and you’re having a lot of people drop off and not show up, then you can surmise that it might be because you don’t have an effective enough reminder campaign. 

It might also indicate that you’re not engaging the right kinds of partners who can supply committed volunteers, specifically for days of service. So it may be a conversation you have to have with potential partners who are supplying volunteers.  

Event participation rates are relevant to organizations that have episodic, what we call episodic volunteering. So short term volunteering, one-off volunteering. It’s definitely a great diagnostic tool. It’s also something you can celebrate with your partners. 

If you have high participation rates, that’s something to celebrate with any partners, whether they be educational academic partners, whether they be corporate partners, et cetera, to share with them those results so that they also know the impact of their work. 

Volunteer event participation rates is another must have non-profit KPI. Okay, let’s talk about number four. Now, this is one that almost no one uses. And I think it’s a hidden gem.  

It’s a hidden gem. It’s a truth teller. I’m gonna tell you right now, this KPI is a truth teller. It will tell you exactly what’s going on. It is a KPI that we use in online community management. It’s a clear telling KPI.  

So let me get into it, because you’re probably wondering what is this KPI that she keeps raving about? Okay. KPI is your monthly volunteer churn rate. And most people do not even know what that is. So let me explain what it is. 

It’s the percentage of volunteers from your entire team who become inactive each month. It’s sort of the opposite of your volunteer retention rate. Your volunteer retention rate is how many volunteers stayed? What percentage of volunteers stayed. 

Your churn rate is what percentage of volunteers left. Now, there’s a few reasons why I love this KPI. Mostly because it helps you really actively keep track of who is contributing time and talent every month. 

And whether or not you have active volunteers across the board, in what roles, and if there are gaps that need to be filled. It is a great barometer for the volunteer experience, because if you start seeing double digit churn rates in your volunteers every month, then you’ve got to take a look. 

You know, it helps bring the belts. A canary and a coal mine, sort of, to tell you, Wow, we’re losing a lot of volunteers this month. What’s up now? There might be a good reason.  

You know, like I said, in the case of students, maybe it’s the end of the semester and everybody’s rolling off of their volunteer roles. Well, and you say, yep. We are going to have a high churn rate. That’s okay.  

So one of the things you can also do is use churn rate to really predict the cadence, sort of the flow, the ebb and flow of volunteers throughout the year. So you start to get a sense of seasonally when you’re having larger churn rates and shorter churn rates.  

So it really helps you track the ebb and flow of volunteer capacity, so that you can anticipate shore up shortfalls in the coming year because you’ll start to see. Okay, you know, every June we have a high churn rate in June, so we’re gonna shore up our volunteer recruitment in April and May to make sure we don’t have a shortfall. 

So it’s a great predictor. Volunteer retention rates look backwards. Volunteer churn rates are telling us in the moment what’s happenind. It requires you to do work. There’s no fudging your volunteer churn rate.  You need to know. 

So you’ve got to figure out, in order to track this accurately, you’ve got to figure out and define who is an active volunteer and who is not an active volunteer, so you know who to include in your count. 

Now, because someone is not counted as an active volunteer does not mean they might be counted as an active volunteer later on. They might be re-upped, right? Or they might be included back into your active volunteer pool. 

You might create things like a set of guidelines, so a definition for active volunteer. An active volunteer is someone who has worked a shift in the last 90 days, or in the last 60 days. And if they haven’t, they can either be on leave or they are inactive.  

You know, you can decide for yourself what you wanna call an active volunteer. But it’s absolutely essential that you have a standard definition and then you can track your churn rates. 

And if your active volunteer means someone has served in the last 90 days, then even if they didn’t serve last month or the month before, they’re not counted as volunteers who have left yet. See what I’m saying?  

So make sure you have a very clear definition. You know, it might be volunteers who haven’t contributed time in 60 days and haven’t opened our emails. You decide for yourself what you wanna call it, but keep yourself honest.  

This is a very, like I said, a truth teller. It’s a real truth teller. You’re not trying to fudge how many active volunteers you have. You’ll know for sure. Because you’ll know your churn rate.  

So it’s a very powerful number and it adds to your credibility when you’re reporting out volunteer numbers to funders, leaders, stakeholders, et cetera. So I love, love, love this KPI.  

So let’s talk about our final and fifth must have non-profit KPI, and that is your net promoter score. So your net promoter score is the percentage of volunteers who are super fans, that would recommend volunteering with your organization to a friend or family member.  

Now there’s a net promoter calculation, a formula. You can go online, just google “net promoter” and you can get that calculation. It requires a survey qustion, on a survey. So it could be a 30-day survey, a 90-day survey, an annual survey, whatever. Volunteer satisfaction surveys.  

It could be all of your volunteer satisfaction surveys. And you ask folks, how likely is it that you would recommend volunteering with our organization to a friend or family member? And the scale is zero or one to ten.  

So there’s 10 data points and there’s a calculation of people who are super fans. So they’re gonna say 8, 9, or 10. And then there’s just neutrals that are in the middle. And then the detractors, which are like the 1, 2, 3, 4.  

I don’t have this exactly right, so make sure. I always gotta go check it on it when I’m checking, when I’m using net promoter. Some survey software already has the net promoter question loaded into it. And so you don’t actually have to do the math yourself, so that’s fantastic.  

So when you track net promoter score, you get to track whether enthusiasm grows or is negatively impacted through the volunteer experience. If you’re tracking 30-day, 90-day, annual, or 30-day, 90-day, six months.  

If you’re track every few months or intermittently with volunteers throughout their life cycle, and you can see, you can track overall, does the net promoter score go up or does it go down? So you can use it as a baseline and a benchmark for yourself to see if you can improve.  

Because if you think about. If your volunteer experience is super fantastic, wouldn’t the net promoter score go up the more volunteers are engaged with you, and the more deeply they become engaged with your organization?. It would stand to show.  

And if net promoter score goes down, then maybe there’s something in your organization that’s happening that’s turning volunteers off, so you can check that out as well.  So you can see how through these non-profit KPIs, you can really take a look at, not only your progress at one point in time, but your progress over time, and that can help you start to ask questions.  

Now, data never gives all the answers, never does. It always asks you and promotes more questions, and that’s good because as a leader of volunteers or an executive at a nonprofit, you need to be asking questions in order to improve your volunteer engagement. 

So those are my top five ways to track nonprofit KPIs specifically related to volunteer engagement. If you want to learn more and get more deep information on how to develop your own set of KPIs that you can track year-round, I have a process that I use with my VolunteerPro Member community.  

And I take folks through a process, and I have a workbook where they can not only brainstorm the types of KPIs they wanna track, but also to prioritize which are the most important. Because you don’t wanna have a list of 25 KPIs.  

That’s just too much to track. Nobody has time for that. You wanna focus on the ones that are gonna get you the most traction, are gonna help you meet your goals. So if you wanna do that, join our VolunteerPro community.  

I really recommend it, and you can get access to that training. We’ll be doing a special training on that in February. There are also training modules and resources inside our on-demand library. So it’s a great way to get your KPIs nailed down.  

You can also, in a coaching call, have me take a look at them. Sit in the hot seat and have me give feedback, so the group can also hear feedback on your KPIs. So it’s a fantastic opportunity. If you wanna learn more about the VolunteerPro membership community, go to volpro.net/join.  

All right, so that’s the show for this week. I hope this episode has helped you pinpoint some nonprofit KPIs that’ll help you know exactly where you stand with your volunteer engagement strategy. That’s my goal for today.  

I hope that this has inspired you to think more clearly about how you can describe volunteer impact using just the right KPIs for the circumstances. So thanks for joining us for this episode of The Volunteer Nation.  

If you liked it, please share it with a friend and rate and review. In that way, we can reach more people. I hope to see you next time for another episode. We will be here. Same time, same place next week. See you then.  

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe, rate, and review so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause.  

For more tips and notes from the show, check us out at TobiJohnson.com. We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.