project management

Volunteer Organization: Three Ways To Do It Online

ivolunteerastributeI was approached recently by a non-profit about volunteer management. This seems like something you should be able to do online, right? (Or maybe that’s just how I think.)
If we break down the volunteer management process, we can see it comprises a few things. Some of these are mandatory (ex: signing on volunteers), some are extras (ex: letting volunteers self schedule).
Need:
  • volunteer sign up (collecting appropriate information about the volunteer in this process)
  • scheduling/matching volunteers for activities (this could be done by a coordinator or by the volunteers themselves, if activities/schedule was available to them)

Would be Nice:

  • searching for volunteers (allowing organization or individuals to search volunteers, ideally not just online for everyone to see to protect volunteer privacy!)
  • volunteer orientation (what should they know? do they have to sign something? onboarding process communicated or ideally fully enacted online)
  • contacting volunteers (this should be easy and possibly be able to be done as the full volunteer group for large scale communications)
We have a couple approaches to any project, including this one.



Option 1: Handle the absolute needs only with an easy solution people already kind of get.

In the example of a volunteer management, making a Google Form whose responses fed into a spreadsheet that only volunteer matchers could see is not exactly an elegant solution but technically meets the needs. Here’s an example form: https://docs.google.com/a/breakingeveninc.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd3sGh-U_0d2orvk_7zdVEijR2GIhF4VOST96LYUmfIRMgnmg/viewform?hl=en&formkey=dDl6U2RIdDAtak9IN3RwQzlselpFaEE6MA (Of course we can’t see the spreadsheet of responses because we don’t own the form but it exists.)
The pros are that this is dead simple. The cons are it would make the coordinator and anyone else doing volunteer matching/scheduling look through a spreadsheet to find people. Option 1 usually involves manual labor on someone’s part as it’s only a partial tech solution.



Option 2: Code something custom for yourself and be ready to do some planning.

If we were doing this on a Wordpress website for example, we’d probably use a combination Gravity Forms + Custom Searchable Fields. To let multiple people find their own volunteers, we’d have to password protect or otherwise make the search area private.
The closest thing I could find to this (thanks to Matt Baya for it actually) is the http://changingmaine.org/ website where they have a list off different non-profits that is searchable in multiple fields (location, type, etc.). If you modified this to have it list people with tags for different skills it would work something like what you are talking about.

Pros of anything custom is it typically works with what you already have to do exactly what you need it to do. Custom basically equals perfect for you.
Cons would be it would cost. Custom also means time and time means money. If you were going to use something across multiple schools or districts, sharing that cost with them could lower the price (but it also means your perfect solution also has to be theirs, which means more planning/conversations.)



Option 3: Find a third party solution and be ready for trial and error.

The idea with a third party solution is that someone else has already solved your problem and will sell you the solution to yours. Everything I’ve found related to volunteer management is software trying to do lots of other things (donor relations! events calendars! etc.) That said, I did just find this: http://theschoolvolunteer.com/take-tour/ and there may be more like it. (Of course, they aren’t saying pricing here but digging around online it says $0.16/user not sure if that means per volunteer or per month or what. It does have good reviews though.)

In many cases, we can transform the phrase ‘third party solution’ into ‘awkward sales call to find out how much it really costs and what it really does’. You may have to try a few things before you find a third party solution that works for your project.

I’ll stand by what I said and I could take this three option approach to almost any tech problem. You either go basic so you can deploy something quickly and at least partially fix a problem; do something custom and have lots of talks about feelings; or find something that already exists and is ‘good enough’. Depending on your timeframe, budget, and internal politics, the right approach may become apparent to you.

We’ll see what they decide about volunteer management but it’s nice to know they (and you!) have some options on that front.



Project Management Software

asanalogoIt seems like it would be pretty easy to run a two person business with a few subcontractors, right?

Well increasingly, it wasn’t easy. Emails get lost or misfiled… that and I can’t easily look at my email and know a project status if Alice is working on a design or Matt’s working on fixing a functionality issue for it.

Matt found Asana in his travels and we’ve been using it really successfully over the last three months. Every client is a ‘project’ and we can assign tasks to each other with due dates, easily attaching notes, comments, and actual files if we wanted to. Then if a client calls or emails, any of us can check on the project status and let them know what is going on. It’s integration with Google Apps made it an easy choice for us… oh, and it’s free.

In addition to the business side of Asana, there is also a ‘Personal Projects’ section which no one else on the team can see but you. You can put reminders to ‘bring back library books’ or ‘make bedroom curtains’ which can have subtasks associated (ex: buy fabric, measure windows, etc.). There is also the same ability to set due dates.

What the Asana interface looks like. From http://allthingsd.com

What the Asana interface looks like. From http://allthingsd.com

What are Asana’s weaknesses?

  • There is no way to locally download (ie download onto a computer) the file. In other words, not being able to back up ourselves means we are a little vulnerable (But with Dropbox and Foursquare also using it, we feel in good company).
  • Asana emails you when others in your team make changes with no way to control the amount of email you get.
  • There is no Android app. Since we are an entirely an iPhone company at the moment, this isn’t a problem yet but as we grow it might become one.

Now, no project management software will ever be perfect. You’ll probably need to try out a few to find one you like. I would suggest doing this by yourself or in a small group before making your company use it. Nothing like making people learn a software they will never use to lower company morale and make people not tolerate other changes in the future. In your shopping around here are some questions you may want to ask:

On your network or web based?

The first big decision is whether you are ok with your system being ‘in the cloud’ or you want it on your local computer network. Clearly, I am pro-cloud (hence using Asana, which lives online and can be accessed in any web browser or on my iPhone) but if you aren’t there are systems out there you can install on your computer network for internal use only if you feel like you want the system to be more insular.

Do you need full CRM capabilities?

Basecamp and other software like it is pretty full featured… and at $50+/month, you’d expect it to be. But we don’t need a full CRM where clients can log in and other bells and whistles related to that so we are forgoing it. What you don’t need is as important as what you need in terms of making any software decision. It could save you money… or simply a steep learning curve.

How can tasks be organized?

Sometimes you may feel limited by how a project management system categorizes. Maybe you can make subtasks but can’t assign deadlines to those like you want. Maybe you want the search box to search for content words within project notes and it won’t. You’ll only know if you like how your project management software organizes things if you organize a few separate projects in it.

Do you need other features (time tracking, live chat, etc.) or can these be accomplished elsewhere?

We use spreadsheets for hours/billing and Google chat for chatting so we weren’t looking to have these functions… but you might be. Make a list of ‘dream’  integrations (Time tracking to Quickbooks, client login with their Gmail, etc. dream big!) and prioritize each one and you’ll be more likely to end up with something that’ll work within your company.

But if you are looking for some relatively simple software to make you more efficient, we love Asana and think you might too. Let us know what you end up finding/trying so we can get to know other options out there!

This Week In Business: The Roll With The Punches Edition

There are some weeks where it seems that you get a lot done but it all seems like small and unrelated things keep coming up for you to deal with? That was this week at Breaking Even Communications. Good news is it was all pretty manageable.

Here are a few things that happened this week:

Forgetting to do something finally made me try Basecamp project management software.

Project management is one of those things you always mean to do, like cleaning your bathtub. All it takes is one metaphorical slip to finally make you get on your hands and knees. Yup, I finally forgot to do something so it was finally time to manage the details of these different projects at BEC.

I’ve tried a few different free or cheap project management software options only to find something missing. I finally decided to try out Basecamp, which is one of if not the most popular project management software online that will end up costing me around $50 a month if I decide I like it.

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This Week In Business: Pitch Session Edition

To many, I am known for my charm and my habit of procrastination, no more so by my sometimes copy editor/ oftentimes friend John.

I posted on Facebook that I was looking for a few sets of eyes to look at a one page pitch I was going to present this coming weekend.

“When’s it due?” he asked.

“Tomorrow,” I said. I added a little wink, you know, for charm.

He proceeded to tell me I should be more on top of this kind of stuff and that’s when I told him I had decided to go to this pitch session the day before.

Another exciting week at Breaking Even Communications!

A creative economy conference in Camden where I could get some funding for my business? Yes, please!

I will be presenting my ‘pitch’ at the Juice Conference for a chance at $25,000 in funding.
Would a little capital make me sleep easier at night? Definitely!

But just as important as winning the grand prize would be to get the opportunity to present in front of funders and get some feedback on my business. (OK, it might rock a little more to win, but still…) According to the email information I got, there are about 40 participants. Gulp. Here’s me getting my game on for Friday.

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This Week In Business: Back To It Edition

Coming back from trip is always interesting, especially realized you have agreed to housesit the week immediately following your return. This makes me glad I invested some time last week making my business more mobile!
Here’s what else I haven’t been up to, you know, besides driving hundreds of miles.
I’ve given myself much more reading to do by joining some LinkedIn groups.
LinkedIn is a professional social networking website but what I’ve heard from most of its users is that its power lies in the groups. Various LinkedIn groups have been set up around geographic location, occupation, or even hobbies.

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