Volunteer Management System: Standalone or Consolidated?

This is an excerpted preview of Idealware’s “A Consumers Guide to Volunteer Management Software,” created in partnership with TechSoup Global. The full version of the guide is available here.

Guest post by Chris Bernard, Idealware

A Consumer's Guide to Volunteer Management SoftwareVolunteer-based organizations have to keep track of a lot of data – everything from contact info and schedules to time sheets and job sites – and the right software can help, freeing time for managing volunteers. When we found a number of products out there designed to meet these needs, but not much information about them, we set out to remedy the situation.

To write an introduction to volunteer management software that looks at what’s out there, what to expect, and how the different solutions compare, we began our research by talking to different consultants, experts and volunteer managers about what they wanted from the software and the systems with which they were familiar.

Then, reinforced by Internet research and information from volunteer management email discussion lists, we defined a list of the three standalone volunteer management systems (Samaritan eRecruiter/eCoordinator, Volgistics, and Volunteer Software’s Volunteer Reporter) and the three consolidated constituent management systems (Volunteers for Giftworks by Mission Research, Donor Perfect, and The Raiser’s Edge(i)™ by Blackbaud) most frequently mentioned. The vendors demonstrated the systems for us, and we spent some hands-on time exploring the software to better understand each system’s strengths and weaknesses.

Our report covers the basic features and functions that might be desirable in a volunteer management package, including Volunteer Profiles, Activity Tracking, Scheduling, Email, Print Communication, Online Features, Reporting and Exporting, Customizability, Ease of Use, and Affordability and Support. But when considering Volunteer Management Systems, the most important question we wanted to answer was whether it was better to track volunteers, donors and other constituents in a single database, or separate systems.

We interviewed consultants, experts and volunteer professionals during our research and asked for their recommendations. The results were mixed.

Of the six we reviewed, we expected the standalone systems to be strong on scheduling functionality, but weaker on back-office and general functions, like broadcast email, or the ability to mail-merge for printed letters or mailing labels. These expectations held true.

We also expected the consolidated systems to be strong on back office features and weak on scheduling – here, however, we were surprised. Through the addition of new modules, donor management systems like Giftworks have added a strong scheduling interface for volunteer management.

We also looked at online functionality. Can volunteers edit their own profiles, schedules and hours from home? While the standalone systems tended to be stronger online, the difference seemed to be based less on the type of software than on whether it was hosted online or installed.

What does this all mean?

Our research shows that the consolidated databases are adding and improving volunteer management modules, and that the two types of systems will converge in the near future. Currently, standalone systems still seem to have more functionality than most consolidated databases, and organizations with a larger budget and more complex needs can find more feature-rich options with standalone systems, but most organizations will be able to save money and meet a broad range of needs with a consolidated database.

As with most software decisions, start by looking at the software you already have. Does your existing system provide enough support for volunteer information? Could you buy an additional module to add this functionality? If you’re happy with the way you’re handling other constituents, but can’t get the efficiency you need in tracking volunteers in the same system, then it’s time to start considering standalone solutions.

To learn more about choosing a volunteer management system, or to read the free report, please visit http://idealware.org/volunteer_management.

Chris Bernard is the senior editor for Idealware, a nonprofit that provides thoroughly researched resources to help other nonprofits make smart software decisions.

6 thoughts on “Volunteer Management System: Standalone or Consolidated?

  1. We are looking for a solution to help us better manage our volunteer reviewers and site content providers. They are in different parts of N.America and we’re looking for a web based solution that is designed for online digital media like ours. Tracking reviews,what they’re working on, etc….
    Does anyone have any recommendations they could forward on?

    • Hi Murray,

      I didn’t see any other responses to this post you made last December. I’d need to know a bit more about the definitions of “reviewers” and “providers” but Samaritan has previously been used to handle diverse types of volunteers and how they are matched, scheduled and tracked. We’re doing some similar stuff with the Smithsonian Institute right now. Please feel free to contact me at your convenience, if needed.

      888.904.6060 ext. 206.



  2. Chris,

    This article does an excellent job of highlighting the important features that an organization should look for in a potential volunteer management software. This day in age, having a volunteer management system in place that can organize, schedule, and track volunteer activity has never been more important. By taking the time to fully evaluate each software platform and find the system that best fits your organization’s unique needs, you can significantly reduce administrative labor and costs associated with managing volunteers.

    Your section addressing the features to look for in a volunteer management software really hit home for me. Often times, organizations overlook the importance of making the volunteer process as easy as possible for the volunteer. Having online features enables the volunteer to manage their own information, sign up for volunteer events, track hours and more – all from their own home computer. This makes the act of volunteering much easier on the individual and also reduces the work load of your volunteer coordinator. Likewise, it is important to consider customization. Having the ability to set up “user groups” or restrict attendees based on group or individual criteria can help to ensure that you have the right volunteers for the task at hand. For example, you wouldn’t want someone who is terrified of heights helping with a roof repair project. If this is a problem you would like to avoid, look for a software that offers a fully customizable interface, which allows your organization to set industry-specific fields for your upcoming opportunities

    Organizations considering a volunteer management system should carefully consider the features outlined in this article and compare with the features offered by their chosen software. Great article!

    For other nonprofits reading this article, what features are most important to you when it comes to choosing a volunteer management software?

  3. A really well-written report. However, we just wish that you included a section on some free online volunteer management options like YourVolunteers.com.