Way better ways to use your valuable time than counting volunteer hours

Guest Blogger Erin Spink has plenty of ideas for demonstrating volunteer impact

For many years, a gold standard that many board, funders and leaders of volunteers have touted like an Olympic Gold Medal is the number of hours volunteers contribute to the organization. It is included in Board Reports and Annual Reports, it is submitted to funders and stakeholders with pride. Behind the scenes, both volunteers and Volunteer Managers alike are driven nuts counting, submitting, collecting and inputting these numbers. And for what?

Too many Volunteer Engagement professionals tell me how strapped they are for time, how they wish they could spend less time on basic administrative tasks, like counting hours, especially when hours tell us nothing of the difference volunteers have made or the steps forward we’re taking towards delivering on our organizational missions because of their involvement.

Here’s a simple timesaver:

Whenever possible, stop counting volunteer hours – or at least explore how you might streamline the process.

If you’re absolutely required to submit volunteer hours, see if it’s possible to use a simple mathematical computation, such as having an average of hours served per role and then multiplying it by the number of volunteers in the role. If this is an option then Presto! You’ve gotten back your Friday afternoons.

For those who must continue with the drudgery of manual counting, consider making a short-term investment of a little additional time to educate, inform and demonstrate volunteer impact to senior management and your Board in more compelling ways. This may include sharing articles, examples from other non-profit annual reports, or presenting stories and quotes specifically from your stakeholders. While it is something else to add to your to-do list, in the long run this effort could save you lots of time by better explaining the value that your volunteers provide to your organization.

If you do want to develop some insightful metrics, here are some I’ve used to better understand the volunteer landscape. I’ve organized the various types of information by category, metric, and information source to show you how this data might help improve your program.

Category Metric Information Source
Who Are Your Volunteers? Bio breakdowns: ages, genders, employment status Application Form, Interviews & Surveys
Organization affiliation: are they involved with your mission (ie patients, users, clients, parents, caregivers, friends) or drawn by cause or no affiliation? Application Form, Interviews & Surveys
Depth of Volunteer Involvement: tenure and number of roles Database, Surveys
Who Are Your Applicants? Channel Source: where are people finding your volunteer opportunities? Which sources get you the best fit for volunteers? Google Analytics (campaigns), direct applications (depending on which site you use), Application Form and Interviews
Application patterns: which month do you see the most/least applications? Which roles are most popular? Which program or geographic areas are most/least represented? Application Forms
How Do Your Volunteers Support the Organization Beyond Volunteering? Rates of activity in areas like donations, participation, social media Database, Surveys
CSR affiliations (employee-supported volunteering, donations for employee volunteer time, etc) Application Form, Database, Surveys


Net Promoter Score (word of mouth referrals for both volunteering and donating) Surveys


These are all information sources that I have used personally to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of my volunteer engagement practices. I’ve also used the insights gleaned to illustrate the value of volunteers and volunteer engagement to senior management and the board. This is the type of information that demonstrates just how volunteers expand the functioning and success of our organization.

These practices fall into the wheelhouse of what I’ve dubbed Data-Informed Volunteer Engagement, where we don’t lose sight of the individual people who make up the metrics. When we make use of these data sources and share more varied examples of volunteer impact, we are able to keep volunteer engagement top of mind for our stakeholders. What better use of time for a leader of volunteers is there than that?


About the Author

Over the past 20 years, Erin Spink has been passionately involved as a volunteer, advocate, and employee in the social profit sector, focusing exclusively in volunteer engagement. In 2008, Spink completed an M.A. (Leadership), submitting a major research project which was the first-ever academic work to quantify the concept of “Volunteer Engagement”. Erin currently volunteers as the Training Designs Editor for e-Volunteerism, the premiere journal for Volunteer Engagement practitioners. Connect with Erin through her website at www.spinktank.ca 


  • Great post Erin! Thanks for sharing.
    It can also be valuable to share data of the services/outcomes the volunteers provide e.g. 48 dogs were fostered in June, 28 patients transported etc. as this directly links to the Mission of the org.

    We have recently started sharing “special moments” which our volunteers. The volunteers tell us the highlight of their shift and each week we share a selection in our volunteer newsletter. This has been great because we have been able to share positive experiences with volunteers and staff, increase engagement and recognise volunteers. For example when a volunteer has shared the highlight of their shift has been the guidance and support of another more experienced volunteer we can recognise and thank the volunteer, creating a culture of appreciation.

  • Thank you, Christine! I love those ideas. Closing the loop, especially when a volunteer may only see one part of the whole is so important. Excellent point! And your ‘special moments’ idea is lovely!

  • Erin,

    Solid post! Two questions:
    1) Can you share a link to your MA paper? Sounds interesting. 🙂
    2) What tools have your used or seen others use successfully that help solve for the data collection burden? Is anyone offering a solution that begins to solve this problem holistically (vs point solutions) worth mentioning?


    • Hi Mark!
      Thank you!
      I don’t have my MA paper posted online anywhere, but please connect with my on LinkedIn and I will find it and happily share it.
      Re: tools I’ve seen used- personally I don’t count hours at all. I literally look at general volunteer numbers, to get a sense of how many active volunteers I have and in which roles and based on the average demands of the roles, use simple math plus some guesstimation for rounding. I’m not familiar with any systems per se for counting hours, but a simple thing could be to ask different volunteers to track their hours for a month at different times of the year to get a sense of the average contributions (if you don’t have set volunteer shifts) and get a pulse feel for numbers that way. I hope that helps, but would encourage others to jump in and share their ideas for specific software/solutions you’d recommend.
      Cheers, Erin

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