Demonstrating Impact, One Person at a Time

The need to demonstrate results is growing in the nonprofit sector.  We need to show that our volunteer programs and services are genuinely impacting our clients and communities.  This push – from funders, donors, clients, staff, and volunteers – is a push in the right direction.  At Volunteer Maryland, we train our VM Coordinators to write and report on measurable outcomes.  Often times, this is one of the most challenging parts of the service year.  How do we demonstrate tangible change in 11 months?

It’s not easy.  So when VM Coordinator Michel Elben witnessed a real-life outcome, she had to share her story.

When I met Ashley she was sitting alone on the stairs of the stage in the cafeteria.  She quietly read a book about horses while the other girls ran around jumping rope and playing basketball.

There were six of them, these little tiny women, a potent mix of vinegar and sugar – except Ashley.  She sat in the back and didn’t talk, just read.  I wasn’t really sure why she wanted to be in an environmental education program with these other loud girls.  They were singing Lady Gaga and writing their boyfriends’ names on their jeans.

When we reached Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC), Ashley climbed out of the van and helped me get out the snacks and water.  The other girls ran around getting their energy out, ate their snack, threw the trash on the ground, and then impatiently listened to our volunteer educator talk about Chesapeake critters.

Ashley had started to warm up and even giggled when the girls had to partner up with animal shells, feathers, skulls, and pelts to draw then and try to identify what each one might be.  She seemed to find a friend in the other Ashley, who was a year younger, because they were both interested in the “weird stuff” like horseshoe crabs, oysters, and toadfish.  At the end of the day, they received field journals and were told to record their findings of animals at home.  They would be able to take home a PWEC critter over Christmas break.

I grew to know all the girls pretty well.  By Christmas, all the girls wanted seahorses but Ashley decided to take a horseshoe crab home.  She was the only one who had researched something else.  She was scared of the crab itself and I talked to her about their care, how to hold one, and where their special features were.

“So they’re kin to spiders?” she said.

YES!  A measurable outcome that was sooo worth it.


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