This article is sponsored by Breathe. Breathe provides cloud-based HR software for businesses and charities with up to 250 employees.
[UPDATE] In case you missed it, last month’s Volunteer’s Week saw a huge amount of buzz across social media and online around encouraging and celebrating the contribution of volunteers. Charity Digital trustee Zoe Amar spoke to volunteer training consultant Laura Hamilton who shared her top tips on getting volunteers involved in digital projects. Charities shared on the NCVO’s Twitter chat.
The NCVO also shared some advice on how to effectively publicise get your volunteer opportunity online. And the Centre for Ageing Better released a report into how to make sure digital volunteering efforts are age-inclusive and ensure older people are able to make a difference.
The challenges of volunteer management in a non-profit organisation might seem a world away from those of managing paid employees. However, a 2013 study by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) found that emotional factors were by the far the strongest motivator of staff, who said that better treatment from their employer, more praise and a greater sense of being valued - rather than any monetary gain - would make the biggest difference to them. Whether they’re paid or not, people are likely to do a good job when they feel they’re making an impact, and that they’re included and valued. Luckily there are now lots of ways that digital automation can help organise communication between charities and their volunteer force.
Managing your staff and volunteers in a digital system can create a sense of community, improve transparency and communication and help you plan the people aspect of your organisation more efficiently, leaving you to focus on your cause. Here are some of the top volunteer management challenges and how digital can help:
Charities need to know that they have the right volunteers during events or times of seasonal demand, which can be tricky with a volunteer force that is constantly changing. One way to handle this is through scheduling software that can help them keep track of how many volunteers they have at different times, matching them to the right task appropriate to their skills and interests. Talent management software isn’t just for paid workers - volunteer recruitment can also be more efficiently handled through a centralised applicant tracking system that keeps all of a charity’s volunteer applications in place.
Once your charity has found the volunteers it needs, how do you keep them coming back consistently and doing great work? The key is to keep active two-way communication with them from the start, so that they feel they have a personal relationship with your organisation and are supported in their role. A digital onboarding process gives volunteers access to all the resources and training materials that they need to get started, as well as making sure you take time to get to know them as individuals and keep a profile of their essential information. Having it all in one system can make you look organised and give them confidence in your charity. Collaboration platforms can allow you to easily give volunteers access to all the documentation they need and let them give feedback and suggestions in return, while also helping them feel a part of your mission by keeping them abreast of the latest organisational news.
Just like with paid staff, keeping track of data on volunteers’ activities and projects, who has trained on what, and what tasks they have completed can help you spot any issues early and keep them engaged. It may be less obligatory and performance-based than with paid employees, but it still helps to keep some level of information that will help you better plan your volunteer’s time and know if you’re getting the most out of them. If your volunteer force are dropping out sooner than expected or not completing certain tasks, it’s best to get a grasp on why. A system can also help you schedule regular check-ins with your volunteers, so you ensure you’re hearing their voices and concerns first-hand.
Making the effort to thank and appreciate volunteers is one of the most important things a charity can do to keep them interested, retain them over time and get the most value from them, as well as creating advocates who will get the good word out to other volunteers and supporters about their positive experience. After all, they are paid only in the personal sense of satisfaction they gain for their time and service. Digital systems can give charities new ways of showing their personal appreciation by rewarding volunteers based on hours logged and tasks completed. Charities can let volunteers see their training progress and achievements, and send communications with customisable messages of thanks, or even reward them through a points system so they know they’re really making an impact.