I’ve always thought that buying software is a little like picking out an ice cream flavor from one of those places that has dozens of options.
Choose wrong and you are stuck with an entire cone of mediocre ice cream. Choose a winner, and it is a happy day.
OK, so that may be the extent of the analogy, but now that you are craving a treat, here’s a 5 minute read about volunteer management systems. This will go quick (and you might even have time to make an ice cream run when you’re done).
1. Make ‘User Friendly’ a top priority.
Ease-of-use is one of the most important considerations for any volunteer management software. A solution that is hard to navigate, slow to respond or requires a lot of training will cause frustration for both your staff and volunteers.
Buy the software they will actually use. Oftentimes, this simply means finding the system that everyone can understand.
2. Demo the software as a volunteer, too.
If your volunteer management system isn’t simple, easy to access and visually clear, your volunteers won’t use it. The right software solution should prioritize your volunteer’s time and user experience. Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google have changed the game in terms of consumers’ expectations for how software should be used, keep this in mind as you select your software.
3. Plan for growth.
Invest in a volunteer management system that can accommodate your needs as they change over time. For example, you may wish to elevate key volunteers into leadership positions. This means you’ll need captain-level administrative access settings to help delegate the work. Perhaps one or two rogue volunteers will prompt you to consider a flagged volunteer list.
Make sure the system you select has features like these (and more) available and ready to deploy when you need them. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to ask for a demonstration of features that may not be what you need today, but things you could want in the future.
4. Make sure you will be well supported.
You don’t want to be approaching the final days to your event with unanswered emails and phone calls hanging. Look for free, unlimited support. We think the best software providers offer live chat, phone and email support for starters. They should guarantee 24-hour (or less) response times on all emails. Extra points if they have a YouTube channel with tutorial videos to help guide your staff during off-hours and weekends.
5. Seek the wisdom of the crowd.
As you explore different volunteer management systems, stack them side-by-side, and evaluate each product’s strengths and weaknesses as it relates to your priorities. If you want a flexible volunteer registration tool or check-in on a mobile app, iPad or laptop on the fly, give those features more weight in your evaluation. Once you’ve done this, research each vendor’s online reviews, paying particular attention to those features and read customer testimonials on their websites. Look to sites like Capterra and Software Advice for ratings, and always ask for references.
6. Survey your volunteers.
Use an online survey tool (like this one, or this one!) to create a survey about the overall volunteer experience, throughout the lifecycle of their relationship with you: awareness of the opportunity, signup/registration, advanced communications, arrival, staff interaction on-site, fulfillment of responsibilities, and wrapping up. Find out what areas are important to your volunteers. Ask them for ideas on how processes and communications could be improved.
Share the survey results with your software provider – good or bad, the right software company will love this kind of feedback, and they’ll be immediately responsive to changes or updates that the volunteers suggest might improve their online experience.
7. It’s OK to feel a little uncomfortable.
Taking your volunteer management activities online for the first time (or switching to a new software provider) comes with some discomfort. It’s ok and very normal. That discomfort however, should quickly dissipate as you engage with your software provider.
The right software vendor will work with you to make sure you understand how the technology will support you and your volunteers every step of the way. If you don’t feel the love, don’t take the leap.