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22 Jan. 2015 | Comments (1)

Reimagining Service, a group of service and volunteering leaders backed by Bank of America, Deloitte and Gap, Inc., was established in 2009 as a time-bound campaign to increase social impact through effective volunteer engagement across all sectors. This month, the group concluded that the original purpose of Reimagining Service had been achieved, and that it will therefore sunset its work. Over the past five years, Reimagining Service has sought to “convert good intentions into greater impact” and has inspired new research and practices as well as several initiatives that have changed the way organizations from all sectors are engaging volunteers, including the Civic 50 and the Nonprofit Service Enterprise Initiative.

In celebration of the closure of its effort, Reimagining Service has assembled a report that details the group’s principles, its observations regarding emerging volunteer trends in the various sectors, and its thoughts regarding the opportunities that still exist to further deepen volunteer engagement.

Among other information, the report details a series of emerging practices in volunteer service, as well as reflecting on areas in which more work needs to be done.

Emerging practices

  • Changing the mindset/making the case: Through the use of data, compelling volunteer engagement case statements are being developed to help organizational leaders reframe their view of volunteers as a strategic organizational resource.
  • Reimagining roles for volunteers: Although volunteers are still needed for the proverbial “stuffing of envelopes and packing boxes of food,” volunteers can be used in more transformative ways, fulfilling tasks that could add significant value to an organization.
  • Return on investment: Research conducted both by the National Council on Aging Respectability Program and New York Cares has demonstrated that for every dollar invested in volunteer engagement, an organization can expect a four to six dollar return on that investment. In most instances, ROI calculations reveal that volunteer engagement is a cost-effective strategy for increasing organizational capacity.

Work to be done

  • Making the case with funders: Overall investment in volunteer engagement still lags behind that of other capacity building approaches. The sector must continue to document and share compelling data that demonstrates the linkage between volunteer engagement and organizational capacity. This data, along with the growing impact investment movement, presents a unique opportunity to position volunteer engagement as a cost-effective and impactful capacity building tool.
  • Making the case with nonprofit leaders: Many nonprofit leaders still consider volunteering only a “nice to do”, and not a necessity. Efforts to educate leadership regarding the contributions and possibilities of volunteer engagement can lead to greater understanding and investment.
  • Expanding the collection and use of data: Organizations from all sectors must continue to refine their data collection practices to inform organizational changes, as well as share this data with funders and supporters alike.
  • Evolving nonprofit-corporate partnerships: Companies need to think about how they can contribute the most valuable resources to meet the most pressing needs of agencies. Moving beyond the number of volunteers and hours served and more transparent conversation between partners will lead to better community outcomes.

I find these final two points the most compelling. Both deal with the issue of data and how more sophisticated data collection and analysis can prove the impact of resources better, therefore helping to build a robust case for more. There are countless leading organizations that are pushing the boundaries and experimenting with new ways to measure impact and prove the effectiveness of charitable contributions, but volunteering so often seems to be left behind.

In a “business implications” summary related to our larger report, Framing Social Impact Measurement, we consider how better impact measurement of volunteering and other employee engagement tools can help you improve engagement overall. I also hosted a webcast on this topic in December, featuring representatives from Points of Light, HP, and Sigma Aldrich.

I feel strongly that the sector is letting itself down by closely guarding the information and data individual organizations collect about impact. Helping companies and nonprofits to become more comfortable with sharing this information widely among grantmakers and grantees would go a long way to achieving some of the goals that Reimagining Service poses for the sector.

  • About the Author:Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson is Principal of Parky Communications, a communications agency specializing in sustainability and CSR reporting and communications. He serves as the Co-Leader of The Conference Board Cor…

    Full Bio | More from Alex Parkinson


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  1. Eleanor Estrada 0 people like this 06 Dec. 2017 04:18 AM

    Thanks for sharing helpful content. Glad to know about your interest in non profit organization. Most of the non profit organizations runs with the help of volunteers. One can go on a voyage humanitaire as a volunteer ( with shammesh to aid the people who are struggling for their life.

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