Without Data you’re Just Another Person with an Opinion
Matthew Farmer shares his insights on measuring the impact of your corporate volunteering program, following his presentation at the IAVE European Corporate Volunteering Conference 2015.
Corporate volunteering programs are growing in popularity and are considered to be vital for achieving the recently launched Global Goals for Sustainable Development. However for many people, volunteering is an instinctive act. Making the commitment to volunteer is often a values-driven decision and the objectives in doing so are largely associated with the desire to help someone, or to assist an organization in need of support. Most people who regularly volunteer would acknowledge that it makes them feel good and therefore that they benefit. However an understanding of other ways in which they may benefit has probably not occurred to many.
In corporate volunteering things are different. Corporations are used to asking, “what kind of impact am I getting for my investment?” Increasingly, large companies are being asked to offer their staff three days paid volunteering leave per year - when you consider that this could involve a workforce of over 52,000 people (the average size workforce of a Fortune 500 company), it doesn’t take a particularly high percentage of uptake to before, in effect, the company is making a highly significant investment through corporate volunteering.
Add to this the increasing sophistication of corporate volunteering and the associated cost of organizing it as it become more skill-based and international and it’s no wonder that corporate volunteering program managers are increasingly being asked to demonstrate the value that their initiatives bring.
When the sun is shining, program managers can carry stakeholders along with their enthusiasm and commitment to the cause. However, when sceptical stakeholders raise their heads and want to understand the ROI, it’s vital that you have the data to back up your arguments. Otherwise you’ll be left as simply another person with an opinion – and if other people don’t see things in the same way you do, that means you are left high and dry. I’ve seen this happen before, when a wonderful corporate volunteering program gets canned due to changes in company circumstances and a lack of proper data to justify what may have been outstanding value.
At Emerging World we take impact assessment very seriously and build it into the design of all of our programs. Indeed, we try to raise the bar concerning the impact assessment of volunteering programs because we believe there is amazing value in them and that this value needs to be demonstrated. I was therefore delighted to be asked to participate in the panel on measuring impact at the IAVE (International Association for Volunteer Effort) Conference in September 2015.
Within Emerging World’s approach to impact assessment we consider three primary beneficiaries of a corporate volunteering program: the participant (the one volunteering), the partner (the receiving organization or individual and their beneficiaries) and the business (the employer of the volunteer).
We’ve learnt that the impact on the participant and the business are the driving force for stakeholders, because it is the business that commits the resources in the first place - and if the company decides it’s not worth it, no-one gets to volunteer on company time and no social value can be created.
There are many different impact areas for a business, ranging from improved staff morale to deeper community understanding - but in most surveys I have seen, it is the development of staff skills and competencies that comes out on top as the primary business benefit of corporate volunteering. Being able to clearly show how new skills have been developed and what impact this learning has on subsequent behaviour and work performance is therefore particularly important.
We use Kirkpatrick’s Level’s of Learning framework to guide our work in this area, as this is the best understood and most well-used framework for understanding the quality of learning impact data within HR departments.
We’ve also identified a range of global leadership competences that companies seek to develop amongst employees and developed impact assessment tools in order to assess how participants measure up against these. By using the same questions in different companies, we can also benchmark and thus provide companies with information about where they could most improve.
Another key area of business value is employee engagement and I was struck by a recent piece of research from Edelman concerning employee engagement scores. They made the point that engagement scores are often relatively high but that is because companies report on all the positive data obtained using a Likert scale (Strongly agree, agree, Neutral disagree etc.) questionnaire. They propose that companies focus more on those that respond on the highest levels of satisfaction (Strongly agree) - as these are the individuals that will most actively champion.
So where is the vanguard for impact assessment in this field? At EW we have been investing heavily in cross-company research, in order to get the benchmark data which will enable us to help companies better. This is because the next step in measuring company impact is perhaps in comparative data. For example, looking at how a volunteering initiative impacts staff in terms of learning or engagement, versus another method of doing the same.
However, what struck me at IAVE was that we must not forget the impact on the communities and society we serve through this work. Most companies try to evaluate the impact on their partners, but many find it difficult to measure the impact on the ‘cause’ or on the beneficiaries which those partners serve, or strive to make a positive social impact for.
More work needs to be done in this area but a very positive related finding from our most recent research – the CISL Impact Benchmark study, is a strong positive relationship between the degree to which an assignment meets genuine needs of partners and the level of impact it has on participants in areas including learning, engagement and retention. What it means is that the more the assignment meets a real need, the bigger the impact on the volunteer and their employer. In other words, there is a strong failsafe in corporate volunteering which ensures the assignment that address the most real needs have the greatest value for everyone involved. This is good news for all of us I - and vital to bear I mind as companies scale up their work in this area.
If you have some impact assessment requirements that you’d like to discuss, contact Matthew Farmer.