Additional Methods of Acquiring Data

While we have primarily discussed surveys, interviews and focus groups, there are several additional methods of collecting data you can use to paint a more complete picture of your progress. In this section, we will focus on two additional methods: open data and program evaluation.

Open Data

There are many data sets available to the public that you can use to help answer your guiding questions or that you can use to help make meaning of your data.

The easiest way to find what data is publicly available is to search online using keywords like “open data set” and the topic of data you are looking for (e.g., “open data set volunteers in the United States”).


The U.S. Census Bureau conducts a national survey to obtain information about the number of individuals in the U.S. involved in unpaid volunteer activities and to measure the frequency with which individuals volunteer. The survey also identifies the types of organizations that facilitate volunteerism and the types of activities in which volunteers participate. The survey includes household members that are age 15 or older. It is a self-response survey that only takes proxy responses as a last resort.

You might be able to use this data to understand how individuals in your community compare to other respondents in different counties and states, as well as nationally. Access the data set.

Some data sets require you to download and analyze them yourself. For these kinds of sets, you may need a consultant to help you with the analysis.

Some data sets have built-in tools to help you pull relevant data.

Program Evaluation

One of the most common methods of data collection is through a formal program evaluation designed to answer key strategic questions: “What is the result of my program? Did it have the intended effect?” There are many good resources to help you create an effective evaluation:

Budgeting for a program evaluation

Whether you plan to use internal or external resources for answering your guiding questions, there will be associated costs. You might require a full-time evaluation consultant to work with you for a year, a part-time staff member to manage the data collection process or a data consultant to help you visualize the data when you have your results. As a rule of thumb, evaluations often comprise about 5-10 percent of the total program cost.

  • Staffing: Who will be supporting this project? How much time will be needed?
    • Be sure to include overhead costs if you are using internal staff time and to estimate the number of hours you think the staff will need to spend to complete the project. It may be helpful to break the project up into sections or phases (planning, data collection, analysis, etc.).
  • Materials: Will you need to host an event to collect data or release the results? Will you be publishing the results?
  • Technology: Do you need to purchase a data collection tool? Data storage capacity?
  • Travel: Will staff need to travel? How often? How many staff members?