4 Steps to Finding Your Volunteer Software Match

If you’re struggling to manage your volunteer program with Excel spreadsheets, manual emails, and shared Google Docs… you’re not alone.

Find Your Volunteer Software MatchA new report from nonprofit technology review firm Software Advice shows that only 7% of small nonprofits (nonprofits with an annual budget of less than $1 million) use formal volunteer management software. This is understandable. With tight budgets and even tighter schedules, who has time to search for new systems?

If you’re struggling with your current systems… you should make time.

Why? A common reason that nonprofits eventually search for better methods is that they start to lose volunteers, or receive complaints about their current system. Don’t wait until you get to this point. Make your processes as easy as possible to keep your volunteers as happy as possible.

Some nonprofits also report that they spend more time managing their systems than actually getting things done. Sound familiar?

Ok, so you’ve determined you should improve your volunteer management system. Now what?

  1. Understand why you want a new system.

Are you part of the 25% of small nonprofits that want to improve the accuracy of your data? Do you want to have proof of your volunteer program’s impact? Maybe you want to lessen your response time to potential volunteers. Determining your reasons will help you find the right software.


Top Reasons for Evaluating New Software

  1. Create a list of your must-haves.

Before you start searching, you need to know what you’re looking for. 93% of the nonprofits surveyed by Software Advice site tracking hours and activities as the most important functionality to them. But maybe for your nonprofit, it’s more important to have easy-to-manage volunteer shift scheduling.

Make a list of the most important features your new volunteer management software should have, ranked in order of importance. This will help your search.


Top-Requested Functionality

  1. Do your research.

Don’t jump into a commitment with a new software vendor because it’s the cheapest, or because you know someone else who uses it (and loves it!) A cheap solution could potentially cost you more in time spent managing it, and what works for another organization won’t necessarily work for yours. Invest in your research upfront so that you save time and money in the long run.

  1. Don’t be afraid of change.

If something’s not working, don’t stick with it just because it’s a hassle to change. This is true of many things, and volunteer management is no exception. Technology is invaluable for nonprofits, and finding the right technology for your nonprofit is the most valuable of all.

Afraid of Losing Volunteers? Start Giving Constructive Criticism.

Guest post by Monique Goodyer

Offering Constructive Feedback is an Important Part of a Volunteer ProgramYou’ve shed blood, sweat and tears getting enough volunteers to join your nonprofit.

(At least it feel like that sometimes; am I right?)

And even when they need it the most, you are afraid to give feedback or constructive criticism. Why risk loosing your hard-earned volunteers?

This situation describes the thought process of many nonprofits. While the logic may have some appeal, this way of thinking is actually counter-intuitive and hurting your organization!

Creating a constructive feedback loop for your volunteers will make them feel more valued, as well as increase the quality of your volunteer program. In short, they will be more likely to stick around.

Formal Guidelines
The first step in providing constructive feedback is setting up appropriate guidelines and expectations prior to work. The aim is to make volunteers understand they are helping a worthy cause and they can develop vital skills through volunteering. This will make constructive feedback a normal course of their development.

Some procedures that you should consider include: establishing a chain of command, clearly defining their role, outlining outcomes and showing the potential impact of their work.

The Feedback
A useful and easy technique to master for giving constructive feedback is called: The Sandwhich Theory. This is where you ‘wrap’ the feedback within two positive statements, so the structure looks like a sandwich.

When you are giving positive feedback, make sure it is sincere and not generic. For instance, you should not say “Good work” but instead say: “I love your positive attitude, you’re always the first to arrive at work”.

When offering feedback on how a volunteer can improve, delivery is very important. Avoid any words or phrases that put others in a defensive state of mind. For instance, avoid phrases such as “you should not do X” but instead focus on phrases such as “a better way of doing X might be Y”. Your tone and manner should also be very calm and open.

By the end, volunteers should be fully aware of the areas they need to improve in as well as their strengths.

Constructive feedback is very important to develop volunteering skills and improve the quality of your operations. By implementing formal guidelines and giving feedback in friendly manner, you can forget about the fear of losing volunteers.

Do you agree? What has your experience been with constructive criticism and feedback for volunteers? Let us know in the comments!

Monique Goodyer works at Monaco Compensation Lawyers, one of Australia’s compensation law firms.

Beyond Intuition

When you interview volunteers, trusting your gut leads to mixed results.

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

Thumbs Up DownThis post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

True or False?

Our gut feelings about a volunteer are the best predictor of volunteer success.

Since I’m asking the question – and it’s a leading question – you’ve probably guessed the correct answer: FALSE.

Five years ago I would have answered ‘True’. The program where I have worked, Fairfax CASA, takes volunteer screening seriously. We expect candidates to complete a one hour orientation and two interviews before being considered for training, and then the staff discusses each candidate before making the weighty decision to accept or reject someone.

About those “gut feelings”
Despite all this rigor, our decisions often came down to our “gut feelings” about a candidate – even though our gut feelings were not paying off. We were having a tough time meeting our recruitment goals because so many trainees either dropped their cases or never even took one. This was a huge problem because our judges want to see a volunteer on every single case that enters the court.

The pressure to bring in qualified volunteers had a silver lining, because it forced us to take a good hard look at our recruitment and screening methods. And we were fortunate to receive help from a human resources specialist who taught us how to conduct behavior-based interviews.

A Better Way
The concept behind behavior-based interviewing is pretty simple: past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. You ask questions that require your applicants to give examples of the competencies you seek. If you need a volunteer who is reliable, you ask your prospect to describe situations where others could count on him to deliver. If a position requires good interpersonal skills, ask your candidate about a time she handled a disagreement with someone.

Questions usually begin one of two ways: “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of…” Then you assess how closely the candidate is able to answer the question. The response, or lack of an adequate response, speaks volumes about that person’s ability to handle a similar situation with confidence.

Shrinking the Gray Area
Fairfax CASA experienced some striking results from the shift to behavior-based interviewing. We shifted from a typical year with over a dozen non-engaged trainees to an average of two volunteers per year not taking a case. And the number of applicants falling into the “gray area”, when we are on the fence about someone, has become much smaller.

There are other factors that play into volunteer screening, like getting clear on the competencies you seek and spelling out expectations, but if I had to choose just one factor, I would pick interviewing. It’s one area where volunteer engagement still relies on the human resources best practices for excellence.

Want more info on behavior-based interviewing? Request your spot for the Beyond Intuition free webinar, Thursday, March 26, 2:00 pm – 3:00 (EST).

5 Surprisingly Easy Ways to Lose Volunteers

Guest post by Isabel Wiliams

Three young professionals ripping paper.Recruiting volunteers is one thing – making sure that they continue to be interested in what you’re doing is another. That’s when many nonprofits struggle and start to lose their volunteers.

Here are 5 examples of how to quickly lose the support of even your most dedicated volunteers. It’s a cautionary tale…

1. Lack of clear organization

Imagine you’re a volunteer: you’re giving up your time for a higher cause, only to discover that the staff of the organization lacks clear structure. Team members are late, tools are missing or incomplete, and people around you are uncertain about their actions and strategies.

For some people, a level of disorganization is acceptable. But you can be sure that your high-capacity volunteers will get quickly discouraged from participating in your activities, feeling that their time could be spent more productively somewhere else.

2. No concrete goals

If your vision, strategy and mission are unclear, you’re in for trouble. The ‘why’ behind your cause is what motivates volunteers to spend their time helping you achieve your mission – if you cannot provide the ideological basis for your actions, volunteers won’t feel the drive and passion to share your goals.

3. Failing to recognize their contribution

Volunteers help you without being paid for it, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t appreciate some form of recognition. If you fail to reward them and rarely ever recognize the passion and enthusiasm they bring to your cause, you’re bound to quickly lose their attention. Remember that being recognized is what ultimately motivates people to go the extra mile in their work.

4. No strong leadership

Without a clear structure and a strong leader, your organization is doomed. No volunteer will be willing to waste their time on a nonprofit that has no clear leadership – it simply suggests lack of coherent strategy. You organization should be divided into various departments and teams, each with a leader who sets the tone and inspires others to help your cause.

5. Lack of training or investment

Another vital mistake that can cost you a lot of helping hands is failure to provide training or lack of investment in your volunteers. Both training and investment show that you value your volunteers and their work, and are willing to help them develop new skills and qualifications they can later include in their resumes, perhaps opening up new career doors.

Keeping volunteers motivated and engaged isn’t easy – but the effort is well worth it. It’s only through smart management of your human resources that you’ll be able to make your voice heard and your cause recognized in your communities.

Isabel Wiliams is an HR Specialist at BizDB.

Looking for a Magic Number

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

Girl holding books, looking at math symbols.This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

Last month, I wrote about volunteer orientations, and about how facilitating orientations is a critical and often overlooked part of the event’s success.

This month, as I debated moving on to another topic, I realized there is still more to say about orientations and why they are such a valuable practice within volunteer management.

That’s because your volunteer orientation is the gateway into your organization. It is there to inspire the ones you want to volunteer– and screen out the prospects who are not a great fit.

Don’t you wonder?

And if you run an effective orientation, it also begs the question: what is a reasonable return on an orientation? Should we expect everyone who attends to hand over a volunteer application?

I know the answer for the organization where I have recruited and trained volunteers – it’s 43%. For any given orientation, I can expect about 43% of the guests to submit an application. The reason I know 43% will apply is because I have tracked that figure month by month for seven years. It’s an amazingly reliable figure that has allowed me to forecast how many guests I need at an orientation to reach my target number of volunteers.

What’s interesting about that 43% is that other programs have reported a similar return. When I taught a course on recruitment planning a few months ago, I asked my students to track the percentage of guests at orientations who apply. Surprisingly, they also landed somewhere between 40% and 45%.

Getting Quantifiable

So is 43% a magic number? I doubt it. My course was small and probably too tiny a sampling to be statistically accurate.

And that makes me curious. What do other volunteer managers experience in their programs? Do you have a higher or lower rate of return on orientations?

If you have an answer…

If you already track this data, please email me and share your results. Perhaps we all hover around that 43% mark, or perhaps we can pinpoint the factors that shift that number up or down.

Or to track the answer…

And if you don’t track this data and want to start, let me know and I will send you a spreadsheet with this percentage calculations – already embedded in there.\

Twenty Hats is authored by Elisa Kosarin, CVA, a nonprofit professional with 15+ years of experience in nonprofit marketing, development, and volunteer management. She founded the site to help volunteer managers master the skills they need to make their jobs easier.