Take the Lead: How to Use Technology to Develop a Volunteer Action Plan
When the time draws near for the yearly 10K run or the cleaning drive at the local park, nonprofits always call on their volunteers to take the lead and make sure things run smoothly. If your nonprofit hasn’t gotten around to setting up a workflow for volunteer management or if you’re still on the fence about using volunteers, it’s time to reflect on that decision (or lack of a decision) and figure out a way to make volunteers a part of your organization.
Most nonprofits try to operate as lean as possible and cannot dedicate time to develop an actionable plan for volunteers and then see it through. I understand the concern. Most of your volunteers won’t stay for the long run; you’re not as familiar with them as with permanent employees or interns, and it can seem risky handing out responsibilities to people you hardly know. Even if you are using volunteers, managing a large number of people spread across multiple locations engaged in a variety of activities is an arduous task.
That’s where technology comes in to take a load off your back. Optimizing processes associated with volunteer management—whether it be hiring long-term and short-term volunteers, setting up an effective communication channel, building and managing teams, or allocating and monitoring tasks—has become extremely easy and cost effective with modern tools.
Hopefully, this article will help alleviate your concerns regarding volunteer management and help you use technology to develop an actionable plan for your volunteers.
Once you’ve decided on why you need volunteers and how many you need, it’s time to figure out a way to recruit them. While employee referrals, flyers and business cards are a good way to get the word out, it’s better to use the technology freely available at your disposal to ease the recruiting process. While websites like VolunteerMatch and LinkedIn help you reach out to prospective volunteers, maintaining an updated volunteer page with all the requisite details will help you convert the people who come looking for you. Writing about needing volunteers on your nonprofit blog also helps give more exposure to your needs. With creating web pages and writing blog posts, make sure your content is optimized for SEO. It doesn’t matter if you're writing the best volunteer pitch in the world if interested people cannot find it in their web searches.
If your nonprofit is using a Content Management System like WordPress, you can directly include a contact form on the volunteer page to make it easy for interested people to get in contact with you. Using a connector plugin, you can export submitted form data into Google Sheets for review.
Once you have a sufficient volunteer list, you can start the interview process. While face-to-face interviews offer the best means to judge a candidate, video-conferencing tools, such as Skype or Google Hangouts, and voice-conferencing tools, such as Uberconference, are the next best thing.
When recruiting long-term volunteers, the methods mentioned above work just fine. But time-sensitive events where there is an immediate need for volunteers need a different approach to recruiting. That’s where Typeform comes in handy. You can either use the custom templates for volunteer application forms and event registration forms, or you can create you own forms using the drag-and-drop interface. After you’re done, embed the code into WordPress or directly into your HTML code. Typeform lets you directly export your results from their dashboard, or you can integrate it to Google Sheets with an automation tool like Zapier. It’s quite simple to do and saves you a ton of work.
While this is more of a slow and steady way to recruit volunteers, social media advertising, as well as Google Adwords, offer a quicker—albeit costlier—way to recruit volunteers. Nonprofits can avail themselves $10,000 of in-kind advertising every month through Google Ad Grants.
Team Building and Communication
Your volunteers are going to work on a variety of tasks at multiple times in different locations for the duration of their time working for you. For this to happen smoothly, you need to be able to be in constant communication with them and you need to make it easy for your volunteers to talk with each other. Conference calls are one way to achieve that, but it is cumbersome and hard to keep a record of conversations and relay information in the form of files.
Slack, a team collaboration tool, is your best solution. The host of features available in the free plan is more than enough for most organizational needs, but if you do find them lacking you can apply for the free upgrade for nonprofits. Slack lets you create custom channels for each volunteer group, as well as a substantial list of integrations that connect the multiple volunteer management applications you use to Slack channels.
Task Allocation and Monitoring
Google Sheets is absolutely fine for keeping track of volunteer activities. But a lot of grunt work goes into updating the spreadsheets daily, and the chance for making mistakes is relatively high. Trello was built as a project-management application on the web, but it works just as well for volunteer management. That includes allocating and scheduling tasks to your volunteers and keeping track of volunteer activities. It also helps with volunteer appraisals by showing you the whole gamut of individual volunteer activity. The application has a simple drag-and-drop interface that gives users an immediate visual overview of all tasks and the person allocated to each task. You can modify individual Trello cards with due dates, labels, checklists and attachments for more in-depth volunteer analysis. It also comes with a Slack integration that lets you keep track of volunteer activities from your Slack channel.
Tools such as Slack, Trello and Google applications meet specific requirements for managing volunteers. But aside from these tools you also have to consider Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) software, which are capable of overall volunteer management. While a CRM tool can make your volunteer management process a tad complicated in the short run because of the relatively steep learning curve, it will work out to your benefit in the long run. Benefits of using a CRM extend beyond volunteer management to every other part of managing your nonprofit. CiviCRM is arguable the best open-source solution in the market that is tailored for nonprofits. The CRM comes with a multitude of "extensions" that extend the capability of the CRM. The CiviVolunteer extension is part of that list helping nonprofits sign-up, manage and track volunteers. Because implementing the CRM requires technical knowledge and familiarity with the tool, CiviCRM provides a list of experts who help organizations with implementation and customization.
Do not consider the tools I’ve mentioned as a one-stop solution for your volunteer management needs. Consider them as a stepping stone to infusing technology into every part of your volunteer management. All of these tools save for CiviCRM have a reasonable learning curve, which means you can easily shift to another platform if you find something that is in better sync with your needs. New and better tools at extremely competitive prices are coming up every day. Just be sure to be always on the lookout for the ones that will make life easier for you at your nonprofit organization.
Augustus Franklin is founder and CEO of CallHub, a California-based Voice and SMS service company bridging the communication gap for political campaigns, advocacy groups and nonprofits. When he is not working, he is either making toys with his kids or training for a marathon.