While my fascination with data has recently drawn me into the space of data visualization and it's effective communication, I am no stranger to analytics. When I developed the Volunteer Satisfaction Index (VSI) in 1999, I never dreamed that now, in 2023, it would have over 358 academic citations and have gained renewed and sustained interest thanks to the work of global scholarship.
During recent workshop and webinar presentations to healthcare experience leaders, the conversation invariably included a discussion focused squarely on the root concept of measurement. Interest in measurement in the nonprofit experience space has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few decades. Researchers like me seek to quantify impact and assess the experience of volunteers.
It reminded me that I’ve been having this conversation for the past 30 years.
The Volunteer Satisfaction Index (VSI) is a multi-faceted, psychometrically validated measurement scale designed expressly for the unique context of the volunteer experience. Its development was a foundational contribution to the study of measurement in nonprofit organizations throughout the world.
I invite you to join me on a journey.
I’d like to share with you the development, sustained use, and the future implications for the Volunteer Satisfaction Index as the only globally validated measure of the volunteer experience.
This is the story of a measurement that moved a movement forward.
THE DATA SCIENCE BEHIND THE DEVELOPMENT
The Volunteer Satisfaction Index emerged from graduate work at California State University, Chico where I studied organizational communication and was introduced to Dr. Ruth Guzley, who would become both mentor and friend. The College of Communication contributed to a supportive and intellectually stimulating environment in which to pursue and complete a master’s degree.
The Volunteer Satisfaction Index is a multi-faceted measure of volunteer satisfaction that was empirically validated using advanced statistics. I performed factor analysis, t-tests, Pearson Product Moment correlations, and forced-entry multiple regression analysis.
In 1999, the context of the unpaid
work of volunteers has not yet been explored to this level of granularity.
Relying instead on borrowed measures from paid work or on in-house, home-grown surveys, the unique aspects of the volunteer experience were all but missing from the research literature.
Later, Dr. Guzley and I would go on to co-author the publication version of the VSI in the journal of Social Service Research in 2001.
Galindo-Kuhn, R. & Guzley, R. (2001). The Volunteer Satisfaction Index: Construct Definition, Measurement Development, and Validation. Journal of Social Service Research, 28 (4), 45-68. https://doi.org/10.1300/J079v28n01_03
INTELLECTUAL CURIOUSITY FROM THE PROFESSION
The hypotheses that were posited for exploration of the Volunteer Satisfaction Index emerged from my own first-hand experiences as a professional in the nonprofit sector.
I had observed a similar phenomenon in two different volunteer organizations with whom I had worked that caused me to question the volunteer experience. Why, I had wondered, did some volunteers that for all seemingly apparent reasons are having a very satisfying experience leave an organization; but yet, others who were not having a particularly observably ‘good’ experience would stay?
It made sense to explore, so I set out to write a quantitative research methodologies paper using a volunteer satisfaction measure. However, I would quickly find that nobody had done that just yet. In the late 90's, there was incredibly little work in the field of volunteerism research. It was just beginning to emerge as its own field.
I had just discovered a gap in the literature. A brand-new measurement tool, the Volunteer Satisfaction Index, was about to be created to fill it.
The findings of the study supported the assertion that volunteer work is qualitatively different from paid work.
I returned to the field to practice and lead volunteers in healthcare . I built a flagship volunteer program where every aspect from recruitment to recognition, from placement to performance metrics was couched in the framework of the VSI. I used my newly gained knowledge for good and readily shared it with others in the field.
Using spreadsheets for simple data extraction, it was an excellent needs assessment tool but not able to be mined deeply. However, the data provided actionable insights that led to strategic decision making. I was routinely able to identify and pull levers as needed to maintain a dedicated group of highly engaged volunteers.
While my data extraction capability was limited, my data sharing abilities were not. I began to share the measure with my colleagues in healthcare. I heralded an early call to measurement in the sector with a 2008 presentation at the California Hospital Association with a program clearly entitled “Measuring Volunteer Satisfaction”.
Although I did not know it at the time, where I had put it down, others were going to pick up the research and advance it for me.
FURTHER SCALE VALIDATION
The reality of time and resources found me extracting insights from the VSI for practical and strategic decision-making. While I was using it for exploratory business analysis, others in the field continued to apply more empirically driven methodologies to further establish its validity.
“From an exploratory viewpoint, the current study was successful in providing reliable construct definition and measurement. Only continued research will provide the necessary data to further establish reliability, construct validity, and support the predictive validity of the newly developed Volunteer Satisfaction Index.”
Galindo-Kuhn, R. (1999) Development of the Volunteer Satisfaction Index (VSI): construct definition, measurement, and validity [Published master’s thesis]. California State University, Chico.
In 2011, researchers at the University of Hong Kong confirmed the validity of the measure in a Chinese cultural context. Similarly, in 2022, researchers at the University of Novi Sad in Serbia validated the volunteer satisfaction measurement in an Eastern European context.
Wong, L.P., Chui, W.H., & Kwok, Y.Y. (2011). The Volunteer Satisfaction Index: A Validation Study in the Chinese Cultural Context. Social Indicators Research, 104 (19-32). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-010-9715-3
Perić-Prkosovački, B., Brkić-Jovanović, N. & Čubra, B. The Volunteer Satisfaction Index: A Validation Study in the Cultural Context of the Two European Titles—Youth 2019 and Culture 2021, Novi Sad, Serbia. (2022) Voluntas 33, 334–346. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-020-00309-3
The VSI has 358 citations via Google Analytics at the time of this writing and growing. Over the years the VSI has found various stronghold pockets of research in different regions of the world.
The VSI has found niches in sports, social, religious, emergency, military, and healthcare volunteers. In the European Union it has found use with sporting event volunteer research. In Southeast Asia, emergency response volunteers. In Southeast United States, faith-based volunteers.
The volume of permission requests that are received for the VSI have increased over time from a few a year to a few a month recently.
I am more than a little pleased to see the wealth of research literature that has been published since the Volunteer Satisfaction Index was introduced.
Academic scholars seeking to request use of the VSI for scholarly research may do so by completing the permission request form.
VOLUNTEER SATISFACTION MEASUREMENT
“The implications for future research are limitless with regard to acknowledging the nonprofit sector as an area of under-researched organizational phenomena”. Roseanna Galindo-Kuhn, 1999
There is still so much to talk about in this space, but clearly, we are at a point in time where people are paying attention.
The Volunteer Satisfaction Index (VSI), a multi-faceted measurement scale developed to measure the experience of engaged volunteers, received renewed interest with its recent research attention in 2022.
As a psychometrically globally validated measure for work in the unpaid context, the Volunteer Satisfaction Index is ready for refinement, sector use analysis, construct meta-analysis, and further development in its evolution.
Roseanna Galindo, ECBA, CAVS
Roseanna Galindo is Principal at Periscope Business Process Analysis and a champion for data literacy, the human experience in healthcare, and volunteer leaders everywhere. Learn more about Roseanna and her blog, The Periscope Insighter, by reading the opening post, Venn The Time Is Right.