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How to build a tech-enabled volunteer strategy

Jun 10, 2020

For many grant-funded organizations, the thought of beefing up their volunteer force is scary. Sure, you could do more with less … but there’s risk involved and big commitments too.

What if technology could balance the risk-reward scale? Would it be worthwhile?

It is and the organizations that pursue a thoughtful, tech-enabled volunteer management strategy will find the exercise more than worth the effort.

A volunteer management strategy is an effective way to support and scale your organization without relying on funding and overburdening your staff. with the proper processes and technology, you can streamline the recruit and management of volunteers while providing them a positive, rewarding experience. If you have a strong volunteer workforce, you don’t have to scale back your goals or your client experience when funding changes. Instead, you can scale up your volunteers.

Start here to develop your strategy:

Find your roadblocks

Take a fresh look at the organization – its structure and processes – to learn what’s holding you back. During the discovery phase, drill down into the nitty gritty of how you operate and deliver services to determine which activities are draining your staff’s time, morale or effort.

  • Could you amplify your overall impact by deploying more folks to support your cause on the front line?
  • Could prep work and other logistical tasking be better managed across an employee and volunteer workforce?
  • If resources were unlimited, how would you expand or complement your services?

Try to ignore “the way it’s always been" to uncover ways volunteers and technology could ease the burden on staff, engage more constituents, or improve the client experience overall.

Take a roll call

Find out how many volunteers you currently have and the type of work they’re doing.

This is where technology enters the picture, making volunteer management easier and more effective. Right now, each department may be managing a separate volunteer roster or have a different process for communicating needs and tracking opportunities. Centralize your current volunteer roster into a single constituent relationship management (CRM) database that’s accessible to all of your program managers or volunteer coordinators.

You need to understand the support you have in order to fill the gaps, and the information needs to be actionable – not lost on a clipboard or on someone’s desktop.

Create a digital volunteer lifecycle

Once you understand what your current volunteer workforce looks like – and where you need to be in terms of people or hours – then you can build a tech-enabled volunteer lifecycle. Technology can be leveraged across the entire volunteer experience to expedite the benefits to your organization and to build a community of passionate supporters.

For example:

  • Recruitment: Use all of the media available to you – videos, photos and websites – to make a compelling case for volunteering. Use technology to tell your story and demonstrate your impact in the community and, just as importantly, for volunteers.
  • Application and intake: Your goal is to move people through the onboarding process as expeditiously as possible, before they lose interest or get picked up by another worthy organization. Digital checklists or “progress bars” can help ensure required information is complete and provide an automatic “gap analysis” of what’s missing and where people get hung up. With a single CRM database for volunteers, candidates can enter their information one time and be considered for a range of opportunities. They can also opt-in or out of communications (or select other preferences), so they get the level of engagement they desire.
  • Volunteer matching: During intake, capture the skills, interests, certifications and availability of volunteers. This will make it easier for you to segment and target candidates for opportunities – and easier for staff to engage with them on a personal level. Based on what you know about volunteers, you can connect them to meaningful work – and faster than if you had to sift through pages of forms.
  • Communication: Part of making a volunteer experience successful is managing expectations. Volunteers need to know exactly what to expect, sometimes down to very fine details like the typical temperature of a building. Technology can make it easier to share this information and for volunteers to consume, acknowledge and accept it. You can also use automation tools to consistently ask volunteers for feedback or to rate their experience (or to just say thank you).
  • Engagement: Create engagement between volunteers and the organization, even if there’s a lull in activities or a gap between application and activation. Keep volunteers informed about organizational goings-on, including social events, using your CRM, email tools and social media groups. Through voluntarism, you have the ability to connect like-minded individuals and create powerful connections. The most impactful volunteers are passionate about the work and cherish their relationships with fellow volunteers and leaders.
  • Reporting and compliance: Streamline tracking overall, like in-kind hour requirements. You can keep track of training requirements, certification deadlines and lapsed volunteers. With a centralized tracking portal, everyone can see where they stand, even if service hours were performed in a different program area.
  • Learning and continuous improvement: How many volunteers return? Which opportunities go unfilled? Are volunteers with availability being underutilized? How many volunteers are also donors? When information is centralized and accessible, you can learn from it and improve.
  • Self-sufficiency: Ease the burden for staff when volunteers can see and sign up for shifts without intervention. Some tools automatically notify volunteers about opportunities that match their interests, and some even allow volunteers to check in and out of shifts electronically, automatically keeping a tally of service hours. Then, volunteers can see their cumulative impact at any point in time (maybe even earning “badges” or digital trophies along the way). They can update contact information, interests and availability, and manage their own volunteer journey – without any burden on your staff.

Set a target

So, what’s your pie-in-the-sky goal? If resources were unlimited, how many people would you serve? How would service delivery look different? 

Start thinking about it as a target, rather than a dream. With a hyper-engaged volunteer workforce, you can get closer to your “stretch goals” without overextending your staff or budget. Imagine what your organization would look like if it could double or even triple its impact.

 

Learn more about how to integrate technology throughout the volunteer management lifecycle at our National Training Conference. We’ll discuss specific tools and tactics to engage your volunteer base and to streamline administration and reporting tasks. Learn more or register today.

Author(s)

Andrew J. Potasek
Senior Manager
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Chris Bryant
Manager
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