How to Schedule Volunteers Effectively

Because volunteers play such a critical role in helping nonprofit organizations succeed, it is vital that volunteer managers are able to streamline the volunteer scheduling process.

Without a strong scheduling process in place, it will be hard for nonprofits to ensure that every event they hold has the volunteers needed to run smoothly and that volunteers know where they need to be and when they need to be there.

However, creating an efficient process to schedule volunteers is often easier said than done as many volunteer coordinators know.

There was a time when nonprofit organizations could just pencil in volunteers to cover shifts at different events and scheduling was orchestrated through a top down approach in which the scheduling system is owned by a one or a couple key decision makers whose role is solely devoted to managing and amending schedules as needed (though this requires a lot of time, focus, and efficiency). Relying on a single or a couple folks can be risky in the long term given the nonprofit turnover and the reasonable limitations of human resources; it can be hard to scale a volunteer program because a person can only manage so many events and volunteers.

Volunteer schedules are not as simple as finding people with the availability to serve during a certain time period. Volunteer managers have to match volunteers with opportunities that align with their strengths, make sure each volunteer knows when to report for and leave their shift, and put systems in place to help notify volunteers of any last minute changes.

Also, volunteer schedules for any given event are typically not one-and-done. When a volunteer drops out of an event, volunteer managers have to find ways to fill empty slots and find the coverage they need.

While keeping track of all of the details and moving pieces of volunteer scheduling can be hectic for volunteer managers, it doesn’t have to be.

With the right tools and resources, volunteer coordinators can schedule volunteers efficiently and effectively, leading to greater volunteer retention and more successful events. If you are wondering how you can improve your volunteer scheduling, here are some best practices to keep in mind:

Notice scheduling challenges

Before you can streamline your volunteer scheduling process, you need to be aware of the areas that have room for improvement within your existing process.

This section of the article will highlight some challenges you may be facing and the steps in your process that could be made more efficient and effective.

Some of the most common scheduling challenges nonprofits face include communication issues, complicated sign-up procedures, and difficulties maximizing volunteers’ strengths and productivity.

Consider your current system and ask yourself the following:

  • How long does it take for volunteers to sign up for shifts?
  • Are volunteers able to sign up for opportunities well suited to their strengths?
  • Do volunteers know when, where, and how to check in and out for their assigned shifts?
  • How do volunteers receive information about last-minute changes or event updates?
  • How long does it take to find a replacement if a volunteer cancels before their assigned shift?
  • Do volunteers know where to view their shifts?
  • Are volunteers able to trade shifts if needed?
  • Are volunteers still able to sign up for events and manage their shifts even if the volunteer coordinator is out?

Your answers to these questions will help you pinpoint some areas you may need to adjust moving forward.

Use volunteer scheduling tools

Many of the challenges that nonprofits face with volunteer scheduling can be mitigated with the right volunteer scheduling software.

In the past, many nonprofit organizations relied on a volunteer coordinator to create a cohesive schedule for volunteers after receiving their availability.

While this approach might work well for nonprofit organizations that have full time volunteer managers solely dedicated to scheduling, it leaves gaps that make it difficult to maintain an efficient and effective schedule.

This system is problematic because it puts too much weight on one individual coordinator. One mistake or a last minute emergency absence can be enough to turn an event or program into a disaster. This system also lacks efficiency because the coordinator will have to spend countless hours trying to find the volunteers to fill empty roles while also managing abrupt changes and making sure volunteers are matched to appropriate volunteer opportunities.

Furthermore, this system is not scalable. A volunteer coordinator might have no trouble scheduling five or ten volunteers, but scheduling 50 or 500 or 1,000 volunteers is far too much for any one person to handle.

While this old system for volunteer scheduling may have been okay when there were no better options available, now we have the technology available to step up volunteer scheduling and bring volunteer management programs into the 21st century.

Volunteer management software takes the responsibility off of the volunteer coordinator’s shoulders and streamlines the volunteer scheduling process.

The right software will allow volunteers to self-schedule, eliminating the headache of filling empty slots and finding opportunities and roles that are of interest to each volunteer. Volunteers can simply view upcoming events and opportunities and sign up for the ones that they find interesting.

Volunteer management software also improves communication

If you need to send a message to your volunteers alerting them of an upcoming event, sharing updates about their shift, or reminding them to track their volunteer hours, you can send push notifications, emails, and other messages at a moment’s notice.

With user-friendly volunteer management software, you can also improve volunteer retention.

Nothing is more frustrating for volunteers than having to click through several pages on a website in an attempt to find out how to sign up for a shift. User-friendly software will help volunteers sign up to volunteer with ease, increasing the likelihood they will volunteer with your organization again.

While these tools will still require a volunteer coordinator to input information and list the organization’s needs for an event, they give these volunteer program managers the opportunity to shift their focus away from scheduling so they can prioritize more important tasks for their nonprofit.

Finding the best volunteer scheduling software

There are dozens of different volunteer scheduling software solutions available for nonprofits.

If you are not sure which software solution will work best for your organization, check out our article on the 3 must have features in a volunteer management software. We recommend looking for a solution that offers most of the following features:

  • User-friendly interface
  • Client support
  • Instant volunteer feedback
  • Automatic volunteer hour tracking
  • Volunteer event promotional tools
  • Automatic shift reminders and notifications
  • Push notifications for communicating with volunteers
  • Volunteer check-in system

Improve your volunteer onboarding process

You can remove a lot of hassle from your volunteer scheduling process by strengthening your volunteer onboarding process.

By collecting critical information from your volunteers upfront, making sure that all volunteers complete and submit necessary paperwork, and providing clear instructions on how to use the volunteer scheduling software, you can make the volunteer scheduling process a breeze.

Use your volunteer management software to create volunteer profiles so that you have all of the information you need from your volunteers before they sign up for a shift. This way, when you are ready to schedule volunteers, you don’t have to chase them down for emergency medical information, background checks, or waiver forms.

During the onboarding process, provide training or tutorials for how to sign up for shifts and how to receive messages about shift changes so that your volunteers can sign up to volunteer on their own. Stepping up your onboarding process can make a huge difference when it comes to volunteer scheduling.

Written by Civic Champs Team and Darcy Neureiter on Civic Champs

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