Volunteer Management Software
Small Business BuyerView | 2015

Every year, Software Advice speaks with hundreds of professionals from small nonprofits (organizations with annual operating budgets of $1 million or less) looking for the right volunteer management software. This provides us with valuable insight on what challenges these buyers face and what functionality they look for when evaluating new technology.

This report highlights our findings from a recent analysis of interactions with prospective buyers. It can help guide the decisions of other buyers evaluating volunteer management software.

Key Findings

  1. Sixty-three percent of buyers currently use general-purpose software, such as Microsoft Excel and Outlook, to coordinate volunteers.
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  3. Twenty-five percent want the adoption of new volunteer management software to result in more accurate volunteer records.
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  5. Nineteen percent want to consolidate data from multiple sources into a single system, thereby reducing double-entry and human error.
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  7. The vast majority—93 percent—say the most important functionality lets staff track volunteer activities and the number of hours worked.
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  9. One-third of buyers request mass texting and emailing functionality for communicating opportunities and shift reminders to volunteers.

Introduction

As the nonprofit sector evolves, managers are under pressure from funders and constituents to run organizations that are more businesslike than ever before. One sign of this sea change is in the area of performance measurement. Outcomes (e.g., the percent reduction in recidivism or the number of people who successfully complete a program) are replacing financial ratios, such as overhead, as the preferred metrics for assessing a nonprofit’s overall effectiveness.

To measure outcomes and deliver on weightier funder expectations requires data—and as the amount of data a nonprofit needs in order to demonstrate impact increases, so does the need for a system to keep it organized.

A volunteer management application can simplify coordination and serve as a central database for volunteer performance data—making this software a valuable component of any impact measurement plan. In small nonprofits, however, efforts to implement such systems are often hindered by tight budgets or a lack of skilled workers.

Tobi Johnson, principal for nonprofit consulting firm Tobi Johnson & Associates, agrees.

“[Data] is proliferating … and [in a nonprofit,] can provide evidence and support needed to improve programs. But it is hard to do [since many nonprofits] have no systems, no money, no personnel and no [business] connections to make data work for them,” she says in the VolunteerMatch “Nonprofit Insights” webinar.

With these considerations in mind, we set out to understand the motivations and goals of buyers searching for a new volunteer management system.

Less Than 10 Percent Use Volunteer Management Software to Manage Data

Despite the benefits this software can bring, only 7 percent of buyers in our sample currently use a bona fide volunteer management system. The majority—63 percent—manage volunteer data and coordination with general-purpose software (e.g., Microsoft Excel or Outlook). Another 26 percent use commercial software that is not classified as a volunteer management system, such as an event registration, email marketing or donor management application.

Prospective Buyers’ Current Methods

Prospective Buyers’ Current Methods

Undoubtedly, technology has changed the way nonprofit managers engage volunteers, removing the inherent constraints of landline phone calls, in-person check-ins and snail-mail newsletters. With volunteer management software and other technology, managers can communicate with volunteers en masse, and can coordinate and retrieve data remotely.

Since only 7 percent of prospective buyers currently use volunteer software, many small nonprofits are clearly underutilizing available resources. Indeed, nonprofits that rely solely on spreadsheets and manual methods to track information miss out on the benefits of greater efficiency, streamlined processes and time-savings.

Marc A. Pitman, founder of FundraisingCoach.com and executive director of The Nonprofit Academy—organizations that provide fundraising training—says software is essential for managing relationships and can improve volunteer retention.

However, Pitman relies on donor management—rather than volunteer management—software to track volunteer records. With fewer than five people in his organization, he says, he hasn’t found the need to switch. Still, Pitman notes that there are scenarios in which a nonprofit of any size should implement a volunteer management system.

“If [the nonprofit’s] donor management software doesn’t allow scheduling; if the employee scheduling software doesn’t allow for scheduling unpaid ‘employees;’ if it wants to track skills and talents to match volunteers to opportunities; or if it has a well-structured volunteer group and email is no longer effective for communication—those are good reasons to use volunteer management tools,” he says.

Data Accuracy, Consolidation Are Top Reasons for Seeking Software

Many nonprofits use ad hoc systems to manage volunteers. Because of this, a common complaint is that a labyrinth of spreadsheets in multiple locations causes data to “fall through the cracks.” Therefore, it is not surprising that buyers’ top motivations for purchasing new software are to improve the accuracy of data (25 percent) and to consolidate systems (19 percent).

Top Reasons for Evaluating New Software

Top Reasons for Evaluating New Software

A nonprofit's desire for clean volunteer data, organized within a single system, often coincides with a rise in complaints from volunteers. One prospective buyer, for example, says their nonprofit’s response times to volunteer requests are so slow that volunteers are upset about it.

Another buyer says staff spends “more time managing data than getting work done,” which led a volunteer to quit as a result.

The pursuit of greater efficiency is also spurred by constituents’ calls for greater accountability: Donors want assurance that their contributions are used responsibly, volunteers want to be certain work they perform makes a difference and grantors want proof their dollars are spent as expected.

For example, one prospective buyer says her nonprofit is required to include volunteer information in reports to the national organization, and is seeking a system to ensure the accuracy of volunteer records.

Furthermore, in Software Advice’s 2014 report on volunteer impact, we found that 55 percent of nonprofit professionals proactively use volunteer data to measure outcomes. And a combined 77 percent say volunteer data is “very” or “somewhat useful” for showing how activities positively impact mission progress.

Other reasons buyers give for purchasing software include a need for more functionality (17 percent), to accommodate the organization’s growth (14 percent) and to replace an existing system that is difficult to use (10 percent). Less common reasons include a lack of vendor support (7 percent), to obtain easier access for staff (7 percent) and that their current system is too expensive (7 percent).

93 Percent Say Tracking Volunteer Hours Is Most Important Functionality

The vast majority of buyers (93 percent) say hour and activity tracking is a “must-have.” This type of functionality lets staff, or volunteers themselves, enter times worked and tasks performed. Since this type of tracking is a core function of volunteer management applications, most systems will come with it.

Top-Requested Functionality

Top-Requested Functionality

Hour and activity tracking functionality expedites data entry and records maintenance for volunteer information, which can impart significant legal benefits. Pamela Davis, president and CEO of Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group, is quoted in a post by industry publication Blue Avocado describing how one nonprofit’s volunteer activity-logging protected it when a guest at a special event slipped on a piece of cheese.

“The nonprofit had a safety policy that required volunteers to scan for such dangers, [and to] record arrival and departure times and the times they did safety reviews. From this, it was easy to show that the nonprofit was not liable for failing to maintain a safe environment,” Davis explains.

Allegations of volunteer misconduct can deal a severe financial blow to small nonprofits. In such cases, a formal volunteer system is a safeguard that is well worth the expense.

Many buyers also want applications that support mass texting and emailing (33 percent), volunteer self-service portals (9 percent) and automatic shift reminders (7 percent). These types of communication functionalities vary greatly from product to product, and are useful when deciding which products are the best fit.

For example, it makes sense for nonprofits with many different types of volunteer roles to fill to provide a self-service portal where individuals can view available positions and shifts and sign up to volunteer. Not all volunteer management systems include this option, so managers may want to cross products that don’t offer portals off their lists.

How effectively a nonprofit communicates information to volunteers can also directly impact their overall experience, as evidenced in a recent Software Advice case study. Jo Thomas, event and outreach director for the Bay Area chapter of nonprofit Girls on the Run, says that before adopting volunteer scheduling software, manually coordinating 800 volunteers and tracking the 30,000 hours they contributed was a labor-intensive task. Furthermore, race-day check-ins were chaotic, which dampened what should have been an exciting experience for volunteers.

Now that Girls on the Run has implemented self-service volunteer scheduling and check-in, volunteers can schedule themselves and sign up for times and for jobs that most interest them. And because the software sent volunteers automatic reminders, no-shows were reduced and fewer jobs went unfulfilled.

Beyond hour and activity tracking and communications capabilities, buyers are also looking for products that integrate with other software (23 percent)—usually, event management applications, such as EventBrite. Buyers also seek solutions that include custom reporting functionality (15 percent) to filter data by volunteer type, interest and geography.

Conclusions

Volunteer management software can ease data collection to prove impact to funders and constituents. What’s more, it plays an integral role in satisfying a nonprofit’s legal responsibilities, and helps improve the experience for volunteers and the staff members who manage them.

Functionality prospective buyers are searching for in volunteer management software satisfies common concerns, including:

  • Hour and activity tracking for accountability;
  • Mass texting and emailing for effective communications; and,
  • Scheduling tools to simplify volunteer coordination.

These improvements are favorable for all nonprofits. However, they are especially helpful for small ones—such as those in our sample—in which it’s more difficult for resources and budgets to absorb mistakes.

Methodology

Methodology
Our advisors regularly speak with buyers who contact Software Advice seeking new volunteer management software. To create this report, we randomly selected 261 of our advisors’ phone interactions with small-business buyers (from organizations with annual revenues of $1 million or less) from the U.S. during 2014 to analyze. The data presented was collected from those interactions for business purposes rather than for market research.

These findings exclusively represent those buyers who contacted Software Advice for guidance on software selection, and may not be indicative of the market as a whole. Expert commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.

These findings exclusively represent those buyers who contacted Software Advice for guidance on software selection, and may not be indicative of the market as a whole. Expert commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.


Janna Finch

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