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The other day, a friend asserted that all of the volunteer management tools out there seem to be geared towards either helping individuals in large cities find volunteer opportunities or are set up for large organizations with time and resources to manage their projects.
But what about the suburban PTO mom who coordinates several volunteer programs a year, or the three person nonprofit that can't afford the dollars or time it takes to set up some of these management services?
I don't know how exactly how valid her points were, since they were based on anecdotal observations, but as luck would have it, I was introduced to Karen Bantuveris, Founder and CEO of VolunteerSpot, the same week I had this discussion. And, she has the simple and straightforward solution that any individual, group, or nonprofit can use for managing their volunteer projects.
I asked Karen a few questions to better understand VolunteerSpot, and here's what I learned:
Sokunthea: Can you briefly tell us about VolunteerSpot?
Karen: Glad to. VolunteerSpot makes volunteering easy! We help volunteer leaders, committee chairs and teachers by simplifying the time-consuming task of scheduling, signing up and reminding volunteers. Since we make it so easy to sign up to volunteer, schools and nonprofits report more people are showing up to help - up to 20% more!
What’s most exciting is that our simple time-saving tool is making a powerful difference - teachers are inviting more parents into the classroom as helpers and local volunteer-led groups are able to expand their services. One example is Open Books Chicago, an innovative literacy social venture serving kids from low-income families. By improving how they coordinate volunteers (using VolunteerSpot), they have been able to expand from one to three programs.
Sokunthea: How did you get started, and who uses VolunteerSpot?
Karen: VolunteerSpot was born out of my personal frustration watching good people wanting to volunteer at my daughter’s school and for local Austin nonprofits supporting Hurricane Katrina evacuees, but opting out because small communication hassles got in the way. It was often the same story - reply-all-email overload, showing up and not being needed, or wanting to volunteer and not getting a call back.
At schools, parents are called on to bridge critical funding gaps - helping in the classroom, supervising in the cafeteria and library, and supporting fundraisers like carnivals and concessions stands. VolunteerSpot gives parents and teachers a simple way to coordinate help that’s familiar to them, similar to launching an online party invitation. Because we’re so easy to use, and anyone can launch a sign up calendar, VolunteerSpot quickly spreads mom-to-mom, teacher-to-teacher, group-to-group from school, to Scouts, to soccer, etc.
It turns out the same moms who are volunteering at school are also very active in their workplace volunteer programs, in community nonprofits and faith-based service activities. In a little over a year, VolunteerSpot has powered all kinds of service: after-school mentoring programs, building projects, church-run soup kitchens, literacy programs, art festivals, public radio pledge drives, animal rescue teams, immunization clinics, and more. It has been such a rewarding year; we just reached a quarter-million volunteers served!
Sokunthea: What makes VolunteerSpot different from all of the volunteer management platforms out there?
Karen: VolunteerSpot’s ‘special sauce’ is that ANYONE can launch a volunteer schedule and invite others to sign up to help – in a handful of minutes. Other volunteer management platforms require board approval, budget meetings and training to get started. They’re absolutely the right tool for many professional volunteer managers in large organizations. However, 80% of nonprofits have just two paid staff members and a tremendous amount of volunteering happens more informally with committee chairs, corporate volunteer captains, and neighbors who don’t have access to formal volunteer management software. Instead, they are left to Excel spreadsheets, email and frustrating online groups to coordinate volunteers. We don’t think it’s right that people who raise their hands as a volunteer leader get saddled with cumbersome administrative to do their jobs.
Our basic service is free and gives leaders everything they need to schedule, sign up and remind volunteers of their commitments. We’ve added additional tools for nonprofits and groups in our new premium service including volunteer hours tracking and multiple registration fields - so if you’re organizing a large charity race, for example, you can capture volunteer t-shirt size and the group a volunteer is affiliated with.
Sokunthea: What tips or advice do you have for volunteer leaders?
- Make it easy for volunteers to help you, and let them!
- Post clear instructions on your website for how folks can get involved and a link to sign up to volunteer (if practical).
- Remember the ‘little things,’ details like where to park, what to wear and bring, and who will greet them when they arrive.
- If volunteers reach your voicemail, let them know on your message when to expect a call back and where else they can find commonly requested information, such as a website.
- Reach out on multiple channels where your volunteers are listening. Share information via email, Facebook, Twitter, phone calls, etc.
- Invite volunteers to share their stories and experiences through photo sharing websites, Facebook groups and other social media. Make it easy for volunteers to invite their friends to help, too.
- Ask volunteers what special skills they may bring to the table that your group could benefit from – you may find your volunteers are also artists, web developers or have accounting or marketing expertise and are willing to share.
- Of course, use VolunteerSpot =).