Seven Tips to Help You Find that Perfect VMS 😍

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.

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Exploring Your Toolkit: Little Known Features in VolunteerLocal

We all know the saying, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!” Luckily, VolunteerLocal equips volunteer coordinators with a whole toolkit to manage, schedule, and communicate with volunteers. Today, we’re showing some love to a small batch of often-overlooked features with big impacts.

Search Tool

Where to find it: Volunteers > Search

This one is fairly well known. However, did you know that you can search for volunteers not only by their name and email address, but also by keyword? As long as the information exists in their volunteer profile, you can zero-in on it using the Search tool. 

Scheduled Messages

Where to find it: Volunteers > Communication

Write up your email (or text message), then click “schedule for later” to send the email at a date and time that you indicate. For example, let’s consider reminder emails. Before, you’d need to create a reminder for yourself, just to remind your volunteers of an upcoming shift! Ironic, huh? 

With our “schedule for later” option in the Communication tools (email and SMS), you can schedule all of your reminder emails in one sitting. 

Hidden Fields

Where to find it: Events > Your Events > Volunteer Information

The volunteer information page allows you to create a custom registration form. Collect any information you need from your volunteers upon sign up — their name, phone number, emergency contact, and just about anything else you can think of!

However, you can also create “hidden” fields in this volunteer information form. These fields cannot be seen by the volunteer — only you and other admin users on your account! For example, you might want to take notes on a volunteer as you discover their skills and interests. Or perhaps you want to mark whether they’ve been approved for certain volunteer positions. All of these fields can be created as a private, hidden field.

Volunteer Profile Options

Where to find it: Account > Settings

Make your volunteers’ profile feel like home! Customize the header content of every volunteers’ profile, complete with a warm thank-you, further instructions, or more information about your organization.

Cancelled Volunteer Reports

Where to find it: Home > Dashboard > Customize Your Dashboard

When this feature is enabled, you’ll be able to review a report of all volunteers who cancelled their signups, along with the event/job/shift they cancelled, and the timestamp of the cancellation. This way, you can consult these records anytime you need to track a volunteer’s cancellation history. 

If you’d like to learn more about any specific tools and features in VolunteerLocal, send us an email (! We’ll show you exactly how to make magic happen with that tool in your tool kit. 

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Activate Volunteers Outside Your Event

As event organizers, producers, directors, etc., it is your job to observe and plan for all stages from beginning to middle and end. As you establish your checkpoints leading up to the event itself, it is crucial that you put this on your list: activate volunteers outside your event.

The urge and the philosophy behind this is one of thermodynamics: energy in equals energy out. This has to do with conservation. Simply put, the higher the note you start off with, the more you will be able to sustain that energy among your volunteers and create a positive, thriving environment. 

(Not to mention there is much to be done leading up to an event whether it is coordinating the volunteers themselves, stuffing packets, running errands, phone drives, or other logistical conundrums.)

Arrange for volunteer gatherings to help accomplish these tasks and more. Something like stuffing packets is ideal because it is the kind of work made light by many hands, and has an easy rhythm that allows for volunteers to talk, get to know each other, and even forge friendships. The mission will bring your volunteers in, but feelings of “togetherness” will keep them coming back.

Get them excited before the day of the event or a short time leading up to it with some kind of orientation, training or pep rally. Plan team-building exercises. This is a great way to build community while also ascertaining how certain people interact with each other. Who are the leaders in the group? The doers, the organizers, the observers? Work your magic to ensure that each volunteer is in the best position catered to their unique skills and interests. They will repay this effort ten-fold – when vision, values and strengths are aligned, purpose thrives.

A pre-celebration party or gathering is an incredibly festive way to begin any trial. Go as big or as small as your budget allows, but if someone threw you a party just for being there, wouldn’t you return next year, too?

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