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UNDERSTANDING VOLUNTEER MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS

Prepared by Syah Putra Shahrul Zahrin

Volunteers are indisputably the most precious asset of nonprofit organisations (NPOs), making it critical for organisations to have volunteer management systems (VMSs) in place to properly manage and connect with them. It is crucial to have a solid volunteer management strategy to guarantee that their volunteers’ efforts are being used properly and to inspire them to continue completing their obligations. But what exactly is VMSs? Find out more on how you can effectively handle your volunteer management using the VMS software by reading through this article.

Table of Contents

Volunteers are undeniably the most valuable assets of nonprofit organisations (NPOs), which makes it particularly important for these organisations to have volunteer management systems (VMSs) in place to both manage and communicate with them effectively This article will touch on the definition of a volunteer management system, common issues faced by NPOs, and how VMSs may help to alleviate them..  

Volunteer management is the process of creating systems for recruiting, training, engaging and mobilising both on-the-ground and online volunteers. Having a proper volunteer management plan in place is therefore essential for NPOs to ensure that the efforts of their volunteers are being efficiently utilised as well as to motivate them to continue performing their duties.  

What exactly is a volunteer management system? As the name suggests, a VMS is a piece of software that centralises and streamlines all the processes related to volunteer management into a single, unified system. It is a tool used by organisations to ensure that their processes within this area run smoothly, while also enabling them to focus more on what they want to achieve in the long run instead of just their day-to-day operations. 

Common Pitfalls

Both Client and Case Management Systems (CCMS) and VMS are essential client-facing tools for nonprofits to have and utilise. The CCMS acts as a database or an information hub for organisations to store and access data or information on its clients and beneficiaries, while the VMS, when used together with a CCMS, can match visitor’s data against the client database, allowing for management to easily compare or import details of pre-registered visitors between the systems or automatically send appointment invites to visitors’ emails based on their schedules within the database. 

Here are some common issues that NPOs typically face around volunteer management: 

Volunteer Recruitment 

The first step in volunteer management is the recruitment process. Without the help of the proper tools, the recruitment process can be both daunting and time-consuming, with certain roles that need to be filled and specific sets of recruitment criteria that must be met. In some cases, there might be a specific role that only people with the correct skillset are able to fulfill, and failing to fill that role quickly might put a significant damper on an organisation’s workflow. 

Volunteer Training 

After recruiting the right people for the task, it is important to ensure that the volunteers on board are clear on what they need to do, and are able to execute the tasks at hand. However, this becomes a problem when there is no centralised source for guidance and/or training resources to refer to because volunteers would then have to find their own resources, which might lead to desyncronisations and miscommunications between volunteers and potential disagreements. 

Volunteer Time Management 

It is important to understand. when working with volunteers, that they typically do not operate on a a fixed schedule, meaning that they do not have a set number of hours to commit to the organisation. For the most part, these volunteers will only be participating in volunteer work during their free time, and might therefore have to deal with sudden unavailability in their schedules, which makes it necessary for these NPOs to have a system in place to quickly and efficiently fill any open spots in order to keep their operations running smoothly. Organisations may also want to ensure that their volunteers are not overworked, and that work is distributed evenly within the organisation to prevent volunteer burnout.

Volunteer Communication 

It is important for NPOs to communicate effectively with their volunteers to ensure that everyone is on the same track and kept updated on all the details of the organisation’s progress, since a lot of information can be lost and it would be difficult for organisations to keep track of who knows what without these proper channels of communication in place. Using social media for communication might not work because some volunteers might not use or be available on certain social media channels. Other volunteers might avoid phone calls and emails like the plague, which makes it especially important to establish alternative channels for the purposes of communication. 

Benefits

Recruitment

Organisations may save time during the recruitment process by centralising processes such as resume screening, interview scheduling, and job posting into a single platform. Having a volunteer management system available also allows NPOs to set predetermined parameters or preferences for the volunteer profiles that they need or wish to find, which helps to speed up the recruitment process by ensuring that they find the candidates that they are looking for.

In 2015, the Washington Trails Association (WTA) had to organise around 4,400 volunteers to help manage and maintain the hiking trails in the state of Washington. The organisation previously relied on staff members to perform manual data entry procedures involving the use of paper forms as a part of the process, which was far from ideal. WTA was able to use Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud to enhance their user experience, which enabled them to experience a 7% increase in annual volunteer count (which amounts to over 4,700 volunteers) by 2016. 

Scheduling 

Keeping track of volunteer schedules and events through the use of traditional methods can often be a daunting task. Volunteer management systems help to ease this process by scheduling and storing calendar data within the cloud, allowing volunteers and management to access it from anywhere, and at anytime. Having the information online also ensures that the knowledge on these schedules remains synchronised between departments, leading to fewer discrepancies and miscommunications between individuals.  

In a case study, Aha Apps details how their nonprofit client needed to upgrade their current systems for maintaining member and volunteer data, as their legacy systems were not integrated, which eventually lead to problems like data duplication, lack of collaboration across departments and the recording of incorrect details. Aha Apps therefore decided to implement Microsoft Dynamics 365, which helped to solve those issues and streamline their work process by allowing them to efficiently manage their event activities and budgets. 

Communication and Engagement 

A volunteer management system makes it easier for volunteers to communicate and coordinate their efforts, since using a single standardised platform across all departments allows for information to be instantly relayed to the necessary people within the organisation.. Having such a platform in place also allows for clients and beneficiaries to easily contact people-in-charge within the organisation to make inquiries.  

In the event of an emergency, it is crucial that information gets spread quickly to respondents on the ground, which is why the American Red Cross decided to implement Salesforce’s ExactTarget Marketing Cloud to allow for quick and efficient communications between its staff members. Besides having a platform for sharing information internally, it is also beneficial for organisations to make use of social media platforms as valuable tools for them to engage with the general public. ExactTarget Marketing Cloud helps in this area by allowing the Red Cross to read or listen in to conversations on social media in order to effectively gather information or monitor their levels of public preparedness for a given situation. The data acquired through social media can also help them determine which populations are in greater need of assistance, and prioritise their operations accordingly. 

Personalisation 

Another important feature that volunteer management systems have is customisability since it is important for organisations to be able to tweak their systems to suit their individual needs.

A case study on Colliers International Indiana showed that the organisation was able to utilise Microsoft Dynamics 365 to customise their workflow, keep track of their deals, and monitor their communications, which ultimately made them more attractive to potential employees.

Training and Information Resource 

Volunteer management systems allow for organisations to ensure that all of their training resources and information remain constantly accessible to their volunteers, which allows them to stay up-to-date and informed even when they are out in the field. 

Volunteer Management Systems in the Market

The wide range of volunteer management systems available on the market may make it difficult for NPOs to decide which one of them to select for their operations. The following list attempts to ease this process by providing some popular VMS options that are currently available on the market along with the features that each of them offers:

Microsoft 365 for Nonprofits

Microsoft 365 for Nonprofits provides users with free email and online document editing. Volunteers may also conduct video conferences and use instant messaging channels to connect with others. Their basic plan, which is mainly for use in small organisations, is available at only USD$3.00 per user/month.

Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud

Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud provides features such as donation management, engagement plans, customisable nonprofit reports, and more at a price of $360 per year, which makes it suitable for medium to large-sized organisations that want a more feature-heavy VMS to assist with their operations.

ClubRunner

ClubRunner provides a lot of basic features like event calendars, attendance managers and committee management systems for smaller organisations at only USD$18 per month (for the Lite package).

MobileServe

MobileServe provides a similar experience to the previous options, with features such as attendance tracking, event management and scheduling. Although, unlike the previous options, it does not have any calendar or communication management features available. The price of the VMS starts at around USD$500 per year.

Alternative Methods and Tools

In some cases, organisations might not be ready to adopt a new volunteer management system, or they might have some specific functions or needs that the suggested tools or VMS systems are unable to provide. NPOs may choose to use the following alternative tools as replacements in such scenarios:

  • Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel are great tools for contact and profile management. Google Sheets comes with the added advantage of it being stored in the cloud, which allows for users to access it from anywhere. However, it is important to always ensure that data is arranged or organised correctly within these documents, and stored in a single database from which they can then be extracted and used according to an organisation’s needs. 
  • For scheduling and appointment management, staff members can simply use the preinstalled calendar app on their smartphones, computers or laptops. However, while this may be sufficient for very simple tasks, it would not as efficient for higher volumes, which makes collaborations near impossible to carry out. An alternative to the calendar app would be Google Forms and Google Sheets. These solutions make good foundations for organisations to start their digital transformations, as the data stored within the cloud may be shared with other individuals. 
  • For intakes, surveys and assessments, organisations may choose to collect data through Google Forms. These forms may be generated online and shared easily through various social media channels to facilitate the intake of new volunteers. 

Summary

  • Volunteer management deals with the recruitment, training and dispatchment of volunteers. Volunteer management systems are systems used to facilitate and streamline those processes.  
  • Common processes that relate to volunteer management include recruitment, training, scheduling/time management and communication. 
  • The benefits of implementing a volunteer management system include more efficient recruitments centralised training and information resources, better scheduling, enhanced communication and engagements, and additional personalisation features. 
  • Some available volunteer management systems include Microsoft 365 for Nonprofits, Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud, ClubRunner and MobileServe.
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