When volunteers raise awareness, what does it look like? Can you define the amount of awareness that was raised? Can you see it? Touch it? Is it a nice tactile and tangible outcome that you can hold in the palm of your hand? For most of us, no. It feels like a vague concept.
Those of us entrenched in the business of “raising awareness” typically have a love-hate relationship with the term. We love the infinite potential for outcomes ranging from improving programs to influencing policy. We can engage any number of people in a public audience who may en masse pay our message forward to others or self-organize to create a follow-up campaign or even an entire movement. We hate the ambiguity of not knowing exactly how motivated our audience is to pay our message forward. How many members of our audiences learned from us, received our message, and committed to a follow-up action? What were the differences in learning for each audience member? As for larger outcomes, what slice of the public influence pie did we have in improving policies and programs? Do we know exactly how many people benefited from these improvements? Can we quantify and qualify those improvements for each and every individual impacted?
When I ask myself these questions, I like to think of this image and quote from Advertisers Without Borders. To me, it captures the dilemmas that come with trying to track all outcomes of raising awareness:
“Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”
It is difficult to capture the linear relationships between every individual stakeholder of an awareness raising event or movement. This can create a sense of ambiguity for volunteers at the origin of the awareness raising activity hoping to have a clear picture of the outcomes of their work, especially when their work is international in scope. It is important for organizations to communicate back to their volunteers all available information about audience feedback, policy change, program enhancements and service population outcomes. Additionally, organizations can help their volunteers fill in all pieces of the awareness raised puzzle by guiding their volunteers in dialogue that helps them visualize and co-construct the connections between all stakeholders in the awareness raising network and really see the full outcomes of their work.
When completing my Masters thesis back in 2011 about youth volunteers and the outcomes of their indirect service work, I identified awareness raising and fundraising as two types of volunteer activities common to youth and explored the ambiguity dilemmas they identified as well as solutions to help make the outcomes of their work more clear. I did so by conducting in-depth interviews with youth engaged in indirect volunteering and asked them several questions helping them identify all of the stakeholders of their work as well as all of their anticipated outcomes for each stakeholder. One of the results was a framework modelled closely after Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological System’s Theory that places youth in the centre of their indirect service network with the outcomes of their work trailing from stakeholders in their micro-system out to those that fall within the macro-system of their service network. A survey and sample framework modelled after those developed for my Masters thesis is provided below, and can also be viewed as the second of my two approaches to evaluating outcomes of youth volunteer projects here.
What impact do you imagine your awareness raising and fundraising efforts via club meetings and campaigns have had on the following communities:
- The members of your youth group?
- Students in your school who have participated in your activities?
- Teachers/professors in your school who have participated in your activities?
- The greater population of local youth volunteers within this organization?
- The greater population of all local staff and adult volunteers within this organization?
- The greater municipality in which this youth group is located?
- Staff/volunteers from this (or a partner) organization providing the services abroad that your activities supported?
- The vulnerable population being served in the international communities you supported?
- All citizens within the international communities you supported?
- Other service partners/stakeholders working on the ground in the international communities supported by your activities?