volunteer

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.



Why I Don’t Volunteer Web Work

About a year ago, I made a policy that I don’t do volunteer work related to my field. And I told people.

I will gladly get in a lobster suit for charity, I just won't do anything that involves a computer. (This isn't me, but I did offer to do it.)

I will gladly get in a lobster suit for charity, I just won’t do anything that involves a computer. (This isn’t me, but I did offer to do this. Just for the record.)

99% of people totally got it… and some even said it was a ‘great idea’.  About 1% don’t say anything (and secretly think I am a jerk I’m sure).

Note that the lack of volunteer work is in my field only. I will happily lug boxes for the food pantry. I will help clean my church during spring cleanup. My help just doesn’t come in the form of a website, blog, social media, or email newsletter.



There are a few solid reasons for that:

1) Less time at the computer. For someone who once had carpal tunnel and tendonitis in both arms, being at a computer 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week is enough for my body. More seems like asking for trouble.

2) Get to do/learn new stuff. Although I get to problem solve all day, it’s fun to solve a completely not-typical-for-me problem or learn to do something completely new. Sometimes this knowledge (like taking on credit card processing for the MDI Seafood Festival) ends up being helpful in my daily work, though sometimes it doesn’t. I’m fine with either.

3) Heads off bad leads. The other day at Rotary, one of the other members said to me, ‘This non-profit was asking me about you because they need a cheap website and I told them you don’t do volunteer work.’ I could have kissed her. If I am going to lose money on a project (and I’ve gone over why websites cost what they do and why social media marketing costs money), I don’t want to do it as part of the business.



4) It’s not fair. For awhile, my policy was to do three volunteer projects a year. If you hadn’t gotten to me in January, basically it was a no go. But ‘you helped so and so’ worked against me when I said no to a new volunteer project. So even though I helped three organizations FOR FREE, I was still being guilted. Now to give you an idea of the workload, there are more than 400+ non-profits on the island I live on. Just the island itself. Add to that my actual family and friends who don’t make a ton of money who I’d like to help and you see a workload I could never take on for a reduced rate, let alone for free. So I just charge everyone the same so no one can feel slighted.

5) People don’t value what they can get for free. I once volunteered for a very big website project for a non-profit that had ‘no money’. It took over 100 hours of my time and made the lives of all involved easier. I took phone calls nights and weekends. I came on site three times for staff training. Three years after, when they had a budget for a website redesign, did they come to me for a bid? Nope, they went straight to a competitor. I was mad, not because I didn’t get the project but because I wasn’t even considered for the job. My theory: when you get it for free, you don’t value it, even if it is awesome. Paying for something means thinking about what you want… and the time involved for someone else to do it. Both of these mean the person is happier with the end product, even if it is actually crappier.

6) I have a big enough portfolio. When someone tells me their project could ‘build my portfolio’, I have to smile. I’ve been doing this six years. I’ve helped build over 100 websites. I have worked with over 300 companies and non-profits with online marketing. (P.S. It’s kind of condescending to a professional to imply they need to build their portfolio, especially when you have not looked into their actual past work.) Every paid project I’ve ever done has helped build my portfolio, and will continue to do so. Volunteering is something I do for good, not to further my business.

So if you are looking for a cheap or free website, I suggest you go elsewhere… but if you have insulation you need sprayed in the crawlspace of your homeless shelter or want some bread baked for your cocktail party fundraiser for the local skate park, I’m actually pretty good at those things too.