Should Volunteers Manage Their Own Data?

Technology continues to evolve, and consumers are getting more and more accustomed to doing things both online and by themselves. No longer do you need to hire a travel agent to plan a vacation. Instead, you can utilize sites like Priceline or Kayak to book your own airfare, hotels, and make the perfect itinerary. While this is usually a welcomed new way of doing things, other processes that push the onus onto customers aren’t as widely accepted. For example, some of us are resistant to going completely paperless – while others frown upon having to log-in to a web portal to update their address or contact information.

So, how does this all fit into volunteer management? Well, technology solutions like VolunteerLocal have made it easier to recruit and manage volunteers as well as events. But when it comes to actual volunteer data, who should control it? Should volunteers be able to update their own address or phone number? Or, should organizations be ultimately responsible for making any updates? We believe that there is no right answer to this question, and it usually depends on your organization’s unique situation. However, we thought we’d lay out some pros and cons to these two approaches. 

 

Volunteers Self-Schedule (and Complete Registration) Online

  • This approach reduces manual work for you and your staff. Not having to reach out to volunteers to make sure their information is accurate can save a significant amount of time. 
  • Allowing volunteers to control both the registration process and their shift assignments gives them control (and ownership) of the schedules they build. Allowing users to manage their own information can be empowering.
  • Accuracy is improved. Consistently collecting new and updated information from your volunteers helps counter (sometimes) changing variables like t-shirt sizes, mailing address, or marital status.

 

Administrators Manually Input Data & Assign Volunteers

  • This approach gives you (the coordinator) total control of volunteers who are entered into your database, and the role(s) or shift time(s) they’re allowed to work.
  • Different organizations have different requirements for acceptance and admission to the volunteer program. Holding a little tighter to this volunteer data gives you the ability to fully vet and, when necessary, cross-check volunteer data to ensure that there is no false or misleading information in their profiles.
  • When you’re manually adding and assigning volunteers, you’ll naturally have better recall of your volunteers’ personal information, especially if you’re seeing someone’s profile picture each time you open his/her profile in VolunteerLocal. Who doesn’t want to be that coordinator extraordinaire who remembers every volunteer’s name, birthday and unique preferences?!

We hope these thoughts have been helpful to you! Please share in the comments what strategy you’ve chosen and why you made that decision.

 

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Diagnosing and Curing “Volunteeritis”

Volunteer management is a significant part of my community relations role at a medical school. Our students are incredibly brilliant, generous, and hardworking people. I’m fortunate to have a highly motivated volunteer pool, but I have come to realize that my success in coordinating them corresponds closely with the other stressors in their lives (biochemistry tests, for example).

If we have a big event on the eve of an exam, there is likely to be an outbreak of “volunteeritis,” as I’ve dubbed the disease of last minute “something came up” cancellations from my volunteers. Here are a few tactics I’ve come up with to prevent this event-crippling disease:

Photo Credit: GettyImages
  1. Pad your volunteer slots – slightly. Deciding upon the right number of volunteers in a job is as important as administering the right dose of a medication. Too many in a position and your volunteers feel like you’re wasting their valuable time and might not feel they’ve had a good experience. Too few and you’re in panic mode. Volunteer atrophy happens, so adding an extra spot or two can help offset last-minute cancellations. I also keep e-mails from people who are interested in volunteering but didn’t have a chance to sign up before the slots filled as a virtual waiting list.

  2. Send a couple rounds of volunteer detail messages. An outbreak of volunteeritis typically strikes a few minutes after I send out the details confirming where to check in, what to wear, etc. I like to have all of the details before I communicate them to volunteers, but sometimes everything doesn’t come together until a few days before the event. I’ve begun to send volunteer details a little more than a week out, whenever possible, and then a second e-mail a day or two before the event that’s been fine-tuned to address questions that have come in, or offer a better map or additional information on the event hashtag, etc.

  3. Set expectations on finding replacements. I’m fortunate that my volunteer base is well-connected with one another, both in person and in a Facebook group specific to sharing campus volunteer opportunities. I try to set up an expectation that volunteers seek a replacement whenever possible. I think this also sets student volunteers up to have stronger professionalism skills when it comes to making career commitments.

I’ve begun to address “volunteeritis” at our big orientation meal packaging event training, which is a kickoff to service for the school year. The med students humor me by laughing when I tell them I’m going to share information about a secret disease they won’t find in their medical school textbooks, but addressing the issue at the start of their experience at school has definitely helped me as they seek out opportunities to make a difference in the community.

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Mind the Gap: Managing Generational Differences in Your Volunteer Force

FREE PIZZA! FREE PIZZA!

While this tactic might work to gather young folks to learn about your cause, it probably won’t be a selling point for older generations. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as enough pizza. As baby boomers begin to retire and have more free time for contributing to their causes, and younger generations feel more connected and civically-minded, it’s crucial to make all ages feel engaged when volunteering.

It’s true that most folks volunteer thanks to a genuine desire to help their communities. However, research suggests that motivations vary by generation.

How can a volunteer manager bridge this gap, pointing out individual successes while cultivating a community that brings everyone together?

Step one – be creative. Flyering in a coffee shop and making a Facebook event might not cut it. Talk to current volunteers about what events they are attending and ask them to help you recruit there. Reach out to new media sources and venture to new parts of town. Utilize your organization’s network – if they’re passionate about your mission, they’ll be thrilled to help!

 

 Step two – be deliberate. Once you’ve got a solid crew of volunteers, learn as much as you can about them. Consider personality types – who is going to be a great leader of a committee, and who has the technical skills to get work done fast? Establish a clear problem-solving protocol so that your volunteers know from the get-go that they can be honest with you and their teams.

 

Step three – be gracious. Consider your volunteers’ motivations when expressing your gratitude. A young volunteer might like to know how her contribution directly impacted the organization’s mission, whereas an older volunteer might like to know how his contribution made you feel. When possible, let each volunteer know that you are paying attention to them and are thankful for their specific abilities.

 

The benefits of age diversity in your volunteer group are obvious: more perspectives, more community engagement, and a better network. But it goes beyond that. One study on age diversity suggests that having people of different generations making complex decisions together leads to higher work performance and self-reported health.  Thinking beyond the free pizza to engage volunteers of all ages is a great step for your organization and for your community.

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