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Sometimes, what’s second from the top deserves your full attention

When I first started Twenty Hats, my primary focus was clear: I wanted to help volunteer managers achieve their biggest goals: advocate for resources, expand their programs, earn a place on the leadership team.

I blogged and trained around what are typically called “soft skills,” sharing advice on how to influence upwards or how leverage our power. These abilities are essential if we want to see our volunteer programs recognized for the value that they bring to their nonprofits.

And while I still feature these topics (see Jenna Jones’ recent guest post) and still love to train around buy-in, my attention has shifted to something on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Now I’m focused on helping us measure the impact of our volunteers.

Why the shift?

If you asked me which was more important, learning to influence or learning to measure, I’d lean towards influencing. No matter what our skills, our greatest power lies in our ability to set a goal and bring others around to seeing it through. That kind of vision requires us to ramp up our leadership skills.

Here’s the thing, though: measuring impact takes a very close second to all those soft skills, because buy-in becomes much easier when you back up your case with data that points to progress.

So I thought it might be useful to get super-specific about why you, too, might want to prioritize the building of your impact-measuring skills.


1. Mastering leadership skills takes time. Our abilities evolve over months or years.

Mastering interpersonal skills is an extension of personal growth. In order to lead, we must change ourselves. We must work through difficult situations that we might otherwise avoid. We have to shift our perceptions about other people and what motivates them. We have to manage our own reactivity to address a problem in a whole new way.

This kind of personal development takes a long time. We can pick up ideas or techniques in a workshop, but you can’t master these skills in a classroom.

The real progress takes place in our daily lives, through trial and error, when we commit to changing our behavior to experience different results. When I train around soft skills, I’m just opening the door to a process that is ongoing.


2. Volunteer impact measures are teachable – and much easier to master

You can learn how to create measurable outcomes in a workshop. And while it may take more time to apply the concepts to your own program – when I train, I generally schedule follow-up sessions to help with the implementation – you can begin to track outcomes in a matter of weeks.

There are also some fine points around measuring impact that are best learned through instruction.  It’s hard to develop relevant indicators. It’s challenging to pinpoint the goals that best align with strategic priorities. You need an experienced guide to walk you through these steps, share relevant examples, and answer your questions.


3. Volunteer impact measures are often the missing piece of the influencing process

Once, when I still worked in a nonprofit, I received training in a popular fundraising model. What made this model so effective was the emphasis on appealing to a donor’s emotions and their rational side. Our instructors drummed it into us that people give when their hearts and intellects are both engaged in the cause.

The same principle applies to volunteer programs. No matter what your goal – whether it’s having a strategic voice or adding staff to your team, you need to marry your leadership skills with the hard data that makes your case. It’s not an either-or, it’s a both-and.


4. Understanding volunteer impact makes you more valuable

While there is a growing trend in the nonprofit world to illustrate impact, plenty of nonprofits don’t know how to create these metrics, let alone measure volunteer contributions. In fact, I’ve met with nonprofits that have dashboards for everything except volunteer impact. That’s a void in outcomes reporting that you are best equipped to fill.

When you master this process, you acquire a specialization that makes you infinitely more valuable to your organization and to future employers. Isn’t that worth prioritizing?



Volunteer managers: want to report on more than the # of volunteers and the # of volunteer hours?  My Impact Measurement Scorecard helps you assess your readiness for creating strategic volunteer impact measures.  Email me to receive your free scorecard and join my mailing list.

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