February 1, 2010
Keeping Volunteer Information Up-to-Date
Keeping track of volunteer information is a challenge. At minimum, an organization has to keep track of volunteers' up-to-date email address and phone number. Organizations also need volunteers to report what they are doing as volunteers and how many hours they are contributing -- each day, each week or each month. Having this information for volunteers is vital to the sustainability of volunteer involvement.
Organizations struggle with keeping very basic contact information about their volunteers up-to-date because email addresses and phone numbers change so frequently (my mother has had the same phone number for the last 40 years, while mine has changed probably a dozen times in the last 25 years), and volunteers often forget to notify organizations they are helping about such changes. But in addition, organizations need volunteers to report in about their activities, for internal program reports, budgeting, program proposals and donor reports.
The easiest way to keep volunteer information up-to-date is to
Your goal is to get the information you need with minimal effort on your part (you being the person who tracks or works with volunteers).
- make volunteers responsible for their own information,
- create frequent opportunities for volunteers to view and update their information themselves during their regular interactions with the organization, and
- develop consequences for not keeping information up-to-date.
Whatever requirements you choose, tell new volunteers about these requirements during their first volunteer orientation, and make sure they understand why you have these requirements. Volunteers won't see these requirements as heavy-handed if they understand from the beginning why having their contact information up-to-date is so important to the organization (for instance, do they realize that having the volunteer coordinator tracking down volunteers with incorrect contact info takes away from that person being able to work with and support other volunteers, or being able to mobilize volunteers quickly for a critical situation?).
The key to getting accurate information about what volunteers are doing is to focus on keeping their contact information up-to-date; that allows you to easily contact volunteers regarding their work. Some suggestions on how to keep volunteers' contact information up-to-date, as well as how to track other information (number of hours contributed, accomplishments, challenges, etc.):
One of the reasons I love YahooGroups, in addition to it being free and so feature-rich, is that, when I use it to create a group for volunteers I'm working with, I require the volunteers to keep their information up-to-date themselves. If someone writes me and says, "I've changed my email; here's the new address" I can write them back and say, "Please update your subscription information on the YahooGroup; here's how..." Eventually, volunteers learn that they are in control of their own information, and don't have to wait for me to update their email address. In addition, I can see whose email addresses are not working (click on "members", then "bouncing"), and target those volunteers at our next onsite meeting, or with a phone call.
- Require volunteers to sign in onto a paper sheet or via a computer every time they come onsite for an activity or a meeting. If your resources allow, create a screen on a computer at the check-in point that shows each volunteer his or her contact information at the time of sign in and asks the volunteer to make sure his or her data is up-to-date. If several volunteers arrive at once, you need to make sure sign in goes as quickly as possible; volunteers don't want to stand in a long, slow-moving line just to sign in.
- An alternative to this previous step: if your time and resources allow, at that same time when a volunteer arrives for a major meeting, give each volunteer a print out of his or her contact info, and ask the volunteer to look over the information, update or confirm any information on the paper, sign it and turn the paper back in. Make sure no volunteer leaves without turning their paper back in.
- Require volunteers to review their most basic contact info (email and phone number) and confirm it is up-to-date every time they sign in to a private area on your web site, or create a system so that volunteers are prompted to do this twice a year when they sign in; they cannot proceed to the next screen until they confirm the info. You can also create a system so that volunteers can't proceed within a private online area without being prompted to update their information about the number of hours they have contributed in a month.
- Require volunteers to sign in at least twice a year to a private online database to confirm their contact info, hours contributed to date, etc., and create a computer program that will let you know who hasn't signed in to confirm or update their info. Volunteers who don't sign in do not receive new assignments or updates, or are blocked from your online group for your volunteers until they update or confirm their info.
- Thank volunteers via your online discussion group, print materials and meetings for keeping their information up-to-date, remind others to do so, and review the consequences of their not doing so for the organization, your clients, the volunteers themselves, etc.
- Recognize volunteers who have contributed a certain number of hours or done something worth the notice of all other volunteers. This often reminds other volunteers to ensure their information regarding their service is up-to-date.
- When you get an email returned as undeliverable, call or text the volunteer to let him or her know the email address doesn't work. This could be a task done by another volunteer regularly once or twice a month.
I strongly discourage you from trying to input all updates about volunteers yourself, if at all possible. If you are in charge of changing contact information for volunteers (rather than the volunteers themselves, via an input screen on a computer), make sure you change data within 48 hours after receiving the updated information.
Return to my volunteer-related resources index
- Basic Customer Database Principles
What information should you track about donors, volunteers, clients, community members, potential audiences, etc? Who should be in charge of the database? What about security members? Should you delete people off of your database? This is basic information about database management for mission-based organizations, presented in as non-technical terms as possible.
- Customer Database Regular Maintenance
A database is only as valuable as the quality of information in it. How do you maintain that quality?
- Listing of Volunteer Management Software
In addition to listing every software package I know about, it also offers criteria to help organizations choose volunteer management software.
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