How to Build a Volunteer Program Continuous Improvement Process


It’s no secret that volunteer services departments suffer from an often stunning lack of adequate resources, but by practicing volunteer program continuous improvement you can begin to generate the respect and resources necessary for success.

Our Volunteer Management Progress Report survey found that about one-third (31%) of nonprofits have annual budgets of $1-$5,000 set aside for the volunteer program (not including staff salaries and benefits) and six percent (6%) have no budget at all (perhaps most alarming — nearly one in four don’t know what their program budget is).

So, the perennial question — how do we get more money? One way to encourage deeper support is to routinely and concretely show how the resources were used effectively today and to make a case for how they can optimize operations tomorrow.

By demonstrating that the initial investment had a return both now (in terms of addressing an identified need) and into the future (in terms of key insights that can improve future project spending), leaders of volunteers can show they are adept and proactive stewards of funds.

This means promoting a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

Double Your Volunteer ROI Through Continuous Improvement

So how can you encourage a culture of continuous improvement?

Continuous improvement involves feedback (self-reflection about processes), efficiency (the identification, reduction, and elimination of things that don’t work and the promotion of things that do), and evolution (making consistent, incremental steps forward rather than giant leaps).

Try regularly conducting reviews of any of your activities and integrating what you learn into your next iteration. What should you review? 

Consider reflecting on any number of program activities, such as:

  • Ongoing Operations
  • Special Events
  • Pilot Projects
  • Team-based Work
  • Research Projects (volunteer surveys, etc.)

By simply taking the time to ask — How did it go? What could have we done better? What will we do next time? You begin to build a body of knowledge that is more deeply aware and better equipped to make the best use of the next injection of funds.

What also helps the process is having clear outcome indicators for each project so that you know whether or not you reached your stated goals.

You can get volunteers involved in creating the performance measures. And, if you have them present outcomes reports to their peers and leadership, you will also begin to build internal experts and thought leaders that can make your program more interesting (and a less “risky”) place to invest.

By setting goals, reflecting on results, setting a plan to improve next time, and communicating evolving insights to those who appropriate budgets, you can set the table for future funding. 

You will send a powerful signal to those who hold the purse strings that you have a legacy of insights to share and are worth “betting on” again.

Sample Outcome Indicators for Volunteer Services 

Concrete outcomes metrics will also help you both benchmark and show progress on your continuous improvement efforts at your volunteer program

Many organizations focus on volunteer hours and retention, but funders want to know more than participation rates. They want to know what has occurred as a result of the volunteer effort overall. 

Below are just a few of the general possible outcomes you might track. To be most compelling, those you settle on should directly align with your mission and strategic goals.

For Volunteers 

  • Volunteer satisfaction or referral rate 
  • % volunteers with improved skills 
  • % volunteers with increased confidence 
  • % volunteers who feel they’ve made an impact 
  • # of new volunteer friendships/professional relationships 
  • % increase in advocacy activities 
  • % increase in volunteer leaders 

For Organizations/Programs 

  • # volunteers recruited, trained, certified, deployed 
  • $ in-kind resources generated by volunteers 
  • $ financial resources generated by volunteers 
  • % of the target population aware of issue/services 
  • % decrease in administrative costs or increased ROI 
  • % grant or State Plan outcomes achieved 
  • # of service beneficiaries reached (or reduced waitlist) 
  • # of earned media mentions 

For Service Beneficiaries 

  • Increased quality of life for clients 
  • Increased feelings of well-being or safety 
  • Client satisfaction or referral rate 
  • Increased health outcomes (for health-related organizations) 
  • Decreased crisis events (for social service organizations) 
  • Money saved clients (for health, finance, or insurance-related organizations) 
  • % reduction in unemployment (for employment-related organizations) 

These are only a few examples of ways to demonstrate the impact of volunteers. If you can settle on a few measures that truly represent the impact and communicate the insights and key takeaways you glean from the data you collect to funders, you will be far ahead of many volunteer organizations and well on your way to securing sustainable volunteer grants you need.

Moreover, the better organizations can explain the value proposition of volunteer services — and develop and track metrics that matter — the better we can position ourselves for more robust volunteer grant funding for the sector as a whole.

Share the Story of Your Volunteer Program’s Continuous Improvement in a Compelling Way

Your effectiveness and ability to stretch program contributions and resources matter to many different stakeholders – executive leadership, members, volunteers, the community, etc. Now it’s time to show them what you’re worth and that volunteers are priceless!

Similar to annual reports distributed by most nonprofits, an Impact Portfolio tells the story of your organization’s work on behalf of the community. 

In a more focused way, however, an Impact Portfolio can depict the impact of a single program or the volunteer services department. It can shed light on the collective experiences of clients, volunteers, staff, your community, your founders, and others who are affected by your work.

It is also a fantastic way to continue to highlight the continuous improvement at work in your volunteer program.

Annual Report vs. Impact Portfolio

While the format and content for an annual report are generally bound by tradition, an Impact Portfolio can serve as a program’s evergreen virtual scrapbook. It can include photos, videos, testimonials, data, infographics, etc. that are updated regularly and continuously document what occurs when a group of caring people work in partnership to make the world a better place.

Similar to a Facebook newsfeed, an Impact Portfolio can keep your supporters in the loop on your program’s life changes. For the leaders at your organization, you can demonstrate how you have realized your mission in concrete ways through effective volunteer management.

A Focus on Change

As the name implies, an Impact Portfolio should focus on the outcomes brought about by your program and volunteers, rather than general news, updates, and requirements.

Given your mission, what has changed because of the work of volunteers and program staff? How is the world a better place, specifically? An Impact Portfolio can vividly bring to light transformation and renewal versus focusing on the status quo. It might also include areas of challenge and focus.

What to Include in Your Volunteer Management Impact Portfolio

The good news is that since developing an Impact Portfolio is a new idea, there are no rules about what you should and should not include. Here are a few things you might consider:

  • A Calculation of Your Program’s Return on Investment (ROI) (keep scrolling for a freebie to help with this)
  • Video Interviews that Share “Before and After” Stories
  • A Visual Map Depicting Your Program’s Journey of Change
  • Simple Graphics Showing Your Program’s Most Significant Outcomes
  • Scanned Thank You Notes from Clients and Their Families
  • News Articles That Cover Your Program’s Successes
  • Photos From Your Most Recent Volunteer Recognition Event
  • Links to Your Most Recent Grant Report or Outcomes Dashboard

Where to Share Your Portfolio

If you don’t have immediate access to an online environment, you can compile your Portfolio into a three-ring binder, but why limit yourself? There are plenty of free and low-cost software options that allow you to upload, house, and share your documents.

If your IT department has the time to create and maintain a page on your agency’s website, that’s great. If not, try setting up your wiki. Give staff and volunteers access so that they can upload their contributions to the Portfolio. Set up a Facebook page focused entirely on your stories of change. A blog is also a great way to showcase that volunteers are priceless through transformation stories.

Share your Portfolio publicly. And, whatever platform you choose, be sure to link to it from your agency’s website and include the web address in your brochures, fact sheets, and volunteer application materials, so that it can be found easily.

Also, be sure to enable social sharing widgets so readers can share the good news with others inside and outside your organization.

Free Tool: Return on Investment (ROI) Calculator

You can also build buy-in and track your volunteer program’s continuous improvement with hard data. By tracking your Return on Investment (ROI) periodically as you make improvements to your program, you can begin to demonstrate why investments matter and how they make a concrete difference.

With our free ROI Calculator, you can estimate your volunteer Return on Investment (ROI) in as little as 10 minutes! Grab it HERE >>

Our VolunteerPro Return on Investment (ROI) Calculator makes it easy. All you need to get started are some rough estimates of your program costs and volunteer hours. The formulas are baked in, so you don’t have to do the math.

Volunteers are priceless and are so much more than an extra pair of hands. They add value in many ways. Isn’t it time for a full accounting for their true worth?