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.



Nicole Ouellette
Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she's not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

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