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Measuring Volunteering

At the end of June I attended a workshop called Measuring Volunteers: From Inputs to Impact. This was hosted by Museum of London, Docklands – a museum I hadn’t been to before. As someone who works at a collection of historic buildings, I thought they could have made more of their fantastic building – I only found a few plans on display of their imposing early 19th century sugar warehouses. However, the other displays were excellent and gave an engaging history of trade in London. It was interesting to see that their visitors on a Tuesday morning were school groups and mums with small children!

It was great to talk to other “Volunteer Managers” (or “people who work with volunteers”). They came from museums large and small, as well as museums that don’t exist yet (like the Postal Museum – which I’m quite excited about) and cultural/community organisations. This really brought it home to me how different volunteering organisations are – there is no “one size fits all” solution to creating a good volunteering experience.

It was reassuring to hear that other places have a similar approach to us. We currently do very little to measure volunteering, mainly looking at number of volunteers, the number of hours those volunteers give and the activities they do. These can be viewed as inputs into our organisation and we looked at the potential pitfalls of equating these with a financial value or working out a return on investment (a ratio of the “financial value” of volunteers to the “cost” of involving them).

A different and probably better way would be to measure the results of volunteering – the outputs (immediate results – e.g. more guided tours, more presentable site), outcomes (the effect of the immediate results – e.g. higher visitor satisfaction) and impact (higher level strategic results – e.g. more return visits, better understanding of Chilterns history). The difficulty of this approach is that the outcomes and impacts are often intangible or unquantifiable, or at least harder to measure.

We also need to take a step back and consider what our reasons are for measuring volunteering, as this will influence our approach. Across the museum sector, organisations measure volunteering (often in input terms) to justify and apply for funding. If we measure the results of volunteering we can aspire to change peoples’ attitudes towards volunteering by showing its value for the organisation, for the individual and for society more widely. Ultimately at COAM we need to measure volunteering as this will allow us all to develop the organisation to better achieve our mission statement:

“Telling the story of the unique history of the Chilterns through buildings, landscapes and culture for the enjoyment, inspiration and learning of present and future communities.”

George Hunt
Visitor Services Team Leader

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