Check out the Volunteer Management Progress report for some answers — and a lot more questions

Here’s a saying that you’ve heard umpteen million times:

There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

And while that might be generally true – we want to inquire without feeling judged – I have a whole new respect for good questions and more questions after speaking with Tobi Johnson.

Tobi released a survey full of good questions last fall, when she launched the second annual Volunteer Management Progress Report. The report compiles the results of 53 questions that pertain to the state of volunteer management and were answered by volunteer managers. In total, over a thousand leaders of volunteers responded to the survey from the US and 18 countries.

The report is one of the most comprehensive sources of information around about our experience as leaders of volunteers in recent years.

When it comes to the survey, the findings shared by Tobi and her research team (Trina Williard  of Knowledge Advisory Group and Pam Kappelides of LaTrobe University) suggest that we need to answer a whole new set of questions.  We need to keep drilling down to get a handle on what’s occurring in our profession and how to advance our impact.

Take Tobi’s number one striking takeaway in the progress report – diversity. It looks like we have some work to do here.

89% of the survey respondents were Caucasian, 7% more than the national average for nonprofit employees. The figure suggests that volunteer managers are even more homogeneous than their other nonprofit counterparts.

Can we run with that finding?  Tobi says, “Not yet. We did not have as many responders from government agencies or faith-based organizations. Although we had a respectable response size, we need to make sure that this data accurately represents our field as a whole.”

But, should the numbers hold up, the diversity findings raises a whole new set of questions, like:

  • How does the lack of diversity affect our ability to engage a diverse volunteer base?
  • And does the figure reflect the diversity of the clients we serve?

Or let’s look at the results of the budget questions. It turns out that 25% of responders did not know the size of their organization’s budgets – and in the U.S. that figure climbed to 27%.

Even more striking, 22% of responders did not know their own program budget. That’s a result that merits much more scrutiny. Perhaps we need to ask:

  • Do some volunteer managers have program budgets at all?
  • Do we feel disconnected enough from leadership that the agency budget does not seem relevant to us?

One unexpected finding was that 18% of the survey responders have worked in the field for 20 years or longer. With that information, Tobi wants to know:

  • What kind of succession planning is taking place to retain all that institutional knowledge?
  • And as professionals, how to we retain all that collective knowledge and train the next generation?

A conundrum surfaced from the survey, too: while the majority of participants reported feeling satisfied and supported by their organization’s leadership, the open-ended written responses seemed to contradict this finding. “There were a preponderance of responses that named buy-in and respect as top challenges,” Tobi observed.

It might be time to ask:

  • Is the lack of buy-in coming from leadership?
  • Is the lack of respect more common among staff than our leaders?

All of these questions matter for reasons that go way beyond our professional status or job satisfaction.  Our work affects so much within our communities – the individuals who volunteer, the nonprofits that use volunteers to address important causes, and the clients whose quality of life improves from volunteer engagement.

As Tobi says, “Our job is to paint a picture.” The more detailed the picture, the more we can make decisions for our stakeholders that are based on fact rather than conjecture.

Don’t you think?


We want to hear from you!

Take a look at the Volunteer Management Progress Report (you can download the 46-page PDF for free) and let us know: what questions do we need to ask next year? Leave your responses here to be shared with Tobi.