Volunteer Management: A Free Taster

Tools of the Trade

Volunteer management is often on my mind right now, and I find that it’s a component of the festival mix that’s not too difficult to get right. Fortunately, there are plenty of enthusiastic people out there who are happy to trade a bit of their time and skills for the satisfaction to create a memorable collective experience. That leaves us with three problems: recruiting, scheduling and communicating.

I’m preparing a presentation on ‘Recruitment, Recognition and Retention‘ with my colleague Saskia for a Volunteer Managers meeting at the Art Gallery of Ontario in April, so I’ll come back to this in a later post .

As for scheduling, the tricky part is not to figure out when volunteers are needed for which tasks, but rather to display them in a manageable way. If you have multiple sites, simultaneous activities, one-off necessities such as an airport run, it can quickly get messy to try to visualise them all at a glance. And without a dynamic system, it’s easy to forget to fill in a shift or to miss out on some volunteers when notifying them of changes. A spreadsheet and emails can go quite a long way, but they’ll cost a lot of time and frustration.

Enter technology, and even better, a totally free software. I’ve used a platform called VolunteerSpot for two different events now, Jane’s Walk and Toronto Design Offsite Festival, and even though it’s nothing like ‘proper’ volunteer management software such as Volunteer Squared, which I blogged about previously, or Volgistics, it’s a million light-years from the awkwardness of a painfully manual system.

A few features that will seem unbelievably sophisticated to anyone who’s never used such a software (i.e. me about a year ago):

    • You can create a custom link that take volunteers straight to your sign-up form.
    • Volunteers register online, with all the details that you want to collect, and they sign up themselves for shifts.
    • You can leave shifts open, with no sign-up limit, or lock them once they’ve reached desired capacity.
    • You can see at a glance any vacant spot.
    • You get a notification when volunteers cancel their shift.
    • Volunteers receive an automated email reminder before their shift.

It’s geared towards small nonprofit and volunteer-led organisations, so it’s suitable for a festival with fairly simple needs, maybe up to 60 volunteers.  Beyond that, it might be worth moving on to a more robust platform that gives you more options and support. After all, Volgistics costs as little as $380 per year for 200 active volunteer records, but that could be $380 that you need to buy volunteer T-shirts.

VolunteerSpot has 5 sample sign-ups to demonstrate its multiple uses and a few video tours. I should also mention that it has a premium version, but if you can afford to pay, then other softwares offer a smoother interface and more features.

A collection of old clocks

So many softwares

Tools of the Trade

I’m using a new (to me) volunteer management software right now, called Volunteer Squared. Rather confusingly, it is sometimes called Volunteer Impact on the back-end, and to volunteers it’s known as myVolunteerPage.com. Multiple names aside, it’s a rather intuitive system, with all the functions you’d expect – filters, direct emails, reports… – and a few that are sorely lacking (I searched high and low for a way to insert a logo into outgoing emails, to create a signature matching my usual one – unfortunately in vain).

I’m currently working for Luminato as Volunteer Coordinator, and the volume and complexity of the volunteer program calls for a robust dedicated contact management system.

Because I’m prone to bouts of extensive comparative research, I started looking up other large events and organisations to check which system they use, going as far as signing up for a few of them. So far, I’m staggered by the number of different volunteer management platforms out there. Volunteer Squared, Volgistics, Volunteer Hub, Go2Give… there’s also VolunteerMatters, which I  reviewed a little while ago on another blog…  and finally, the feature-light but free Volunteer Spot, also reviewed, and recommended to get a taste of how volunteer management can be assisted by technology.

There are even more options listed on Jayne Cravens’ Coyote Communications website, in a handy comparative table that she updates regularly. Choosing the right software is rather complicated but absolutely crucial, because chances are that once you’ve configured the system, set up your templates, created your registration form… you won’t want to do it again anytime soon.

Which is why I’m happy to stick with the software I’ve inherited in my new role – especially 3 months before the festival. However, if I had to choose one amongst all of the above to start from scratch, I would have a hard time. Given that there might be a few staff members in charge of coordinating volunteers versus several hundreds volunteers using the system, my first criteria would probably be a nice, simple interface that works just the same on all devices and platforms. So I’ll carry on signing up for testing purposes, and chances are that I’ll get tempted to get involved with a few local organisations… because, rather fittingly, I love volunteering for festivals!