By: Marsha Doucette, Head of Partnerships at Timecounts
Nonprofits need to get rid of cumbersome spreadsheets and adapt to volunteer management tools that are there to help
Technology has grown significantly in the nonprofit sector — yet many organizations are slow to adapt to these opportunities. Nonprofits should look at technology as a positive change that makes work easier and more efficient. This is especially true when it comes to the world of volunteer management.
We are still seeing organizations use spreadsheets and ask potential volunteers to download, print, complete and sign application forms — then mail each form to the organization’s address. One wonders why a non-profit would use a process that is not only tedious, but also presents barriers to potential volunteers. For example, imagine how many would-be volunteers abandon registration when they realize they’ll need a printer to complete the process.
Let’s face it, we all live busy lives and technology (whether through our phone apps or emails) has become second nature. There is a plethora of software solutions to help improve and organize all aspects of your life. As a volunteer, wouldn’t you prefer to search for opportunities and sign up for shifts online, and receive email or text reminders? I know I would.
Volunteer management software can help make it easy for your nonprofit to recruit, register, and manage your volunteer base. And yet many organizations are still on the fence. So in this piece, I’ve rounded up the most common misconceptions and objections we hear from nonprofit staff who are unsure about adopting volunteer management software. Also, I’ll share what the standard features you should look for in a platform you adopt for your non-profit.
So what’s holding organizations back from using volunteer management software?
“What is volunteer management software exactly?”
Software for volunteer management has been around for at least 15-20 years, yet it’s only recently that volunteer coordinators have started to realize there are all-in-one solutions out there. Instead of hacking together multiple products, it makes more sense to find a dedicated software solution that can do everything. Plus, with the mass adoption of social media, especially by millennial volunteers, most volunteers now expect to be able to apply or sign up online for opportunities.
“I don’t know where to start, tech software and trends can be overwhelming.”
What do you spend most of your time doing as a volunteer manager? The first step is to identify what your current pain points are. Software should alleviate that burden or massively reduce the legwork it takes. Make sure the volunteer management software you choose, can check a majority of those boxes, or at least has a dedicated roadmap towards doing so. It helps to ask trusted peers for recommendations. You should be able to give software a test drive, either with a free plan or a trial period. That’s really the only way you’ll find the right fit.
“We don’t want to change.”
We get that change can be daunting, and your non-profit staff may not even feel that they have the capacity to enact changes. People in your organization may be set in their ways or happy with the status quo. You may have to be the champion advocate for change in order to introduce a more efficient way of recruiting and scheduling volunteers. Others may not realize the immense amount of work it takes to coordinate volunteers. Above all, a change in switching to volunteer management software can be the solution to a lot of the tedious functions and inefficiencies in your volunteer management operations.
“We have a limited budget.”
Great news — there are many free solutions out there (especially if you don’t need advanced features). Investing in professional software for managing volunteers will take the pressure off you and your colleagues, so you can focus on what really matters.
“Other departments take priority when it comes to new software.”
This is one we hear too often. Organizations need to keep volunteers top of mind when thinking of overarching goals. According to Fidelity Charitable’s Time and Money: The Role of Volunteering in Philanthropy, 87% of people who support charity, do so with both time and money - of that, 43% say that the causes they give to are the ones they volunteer at. We agree that organizations need to invest in areas where they will see a return and therefore building out a robust volunteer program will directly impact the bottom line.
“We’re a small organization and don’t think we will need this.”
There is a misconception that you have to be a large organization to benefit from a volunteer management software. But effective volunteer management is no small task, no matter the size of your organization. If you are a small group, your team likely wears multiple hats juggling your operations, so volunteer management becomes even more essential to coordinate everything. After all, regardless of your organization’s size, keeping track of data on volunteers is a key task. It’s a matter of finding the right one that fits your organizational needs.
“Our organization faces regular employee turnover.”
It can be hard when there is a lack of consistency within a department or leadership role. This is exactly where having volunteer management software can help. Keeping a record of volunteer commitments, forms and contact information, it will make the turnover workload easier to take care of. Having this information on a shared service will speed up onboarding and build trust with volunteers who will already expect you to know their history.
“I don’t know how to code.”
Advancements in technology mean that any system you start using should allow you to get started easily and be able to customize what you need. These days you don’t need to be a developer or rely on an IT department to build out your volunteer portal and publish opportunities. Most software companies have resources available to support you and help you succeed: tutorial videos, webinars, training, online help centres, and customer service representatives.
So you’re ready to invest in volunteer management software, what should you be looking for?
Volunteer Management Software is designed to support an organization in building both an online and offline community. Standard features should include:
- A volunteer database;
- The ability to schedule events and ongoing shifts
- An online portal where volunteers can sign up for opportunities;
- Auto-confirmations, invites, and reminders.
The software you choose should also help you keep track of your community growth —with reports on volunteer time, search and filter, skills, tags. The role of this software is to save you and your organization time, all while empowering your volunteer community to feel more engaged, organized and happy.
Remember, technology is just a tool, and it must be used effectively to reap the benefits. Managing volunteers with or without software can be overwhelming at times, but wouldn’t you want to put your trust into a product that has been designed to specifically help with the pain points? For all of these reasons, investing in a volunteer management software to free up your process and better manage your data is one way your organization can better achieve its mission.
About the author:
Prior to joining Timecounts, she worked in the non-profit space for over seven years; from organizing large-scale fundraising events for The Canadian Liver Foundation and motionball for Special Olympics, to presenting in front of thousands on stage representing Ronald McDonald House Toronto, to securing multi-year partnerships with major corporations at WE. She now connects nonprofits globally with Timecounts, a software solution for managing and organizing volunteer programs.
In her spare time Marsha enjoys raising awareness for the environment through her start up Strawless Toronto, scuba diving with sharks at any opportunity.