Episode #046: Save Time with Better Volunteer Management Systems

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson. And if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause, membership, or movement, I made this podcast just for you.   

Well, hello there. Welcome to the Volunteer Nation. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and today I want to talk about how to save time with better volunteer management systems.  

Now, who could not resist learning ways to save time? I mean, I don’t know about you, but I feel overwhelmed on a regular basis and I’ve been working really diligently with my habits, but also with the structures that I have created and created in concert with my team members. 

And so we have really begun to see a difference in the way we’re approaching work. And in a way that makes us have space for a little joy, have space for a little bit of relaxation, have space to actually enjoy what we do and just wiggle room.  

And so today I want to talk about those volunteer management systems and what you can do to set up space for things you can delegate, right? Things that you can have other people do so you’re not stuck doing it.  

So before we get started though, I want to also mention for those of you who haven’t heard yet, we have a VolunteerPro Month of Love where we’re sharing free nonprofit tools, downloads and templates, and we’ll be highlighting eight quick-win tools over four weeks. 

So if you are a subscriber to our newsletter, you’ll be seeing these mentioned in the newsletter, so open it up and then you can go over and grab these freebies. If you haven’t, jump on our website and subscribe to our newsletter or go to volpro.net/free-nonprofit-tools. That’s volpro.net/free-nonprofit-tools and get in on the action.  

We want to shower you with love because we appreciate you so much and we’ve got some really interesting freebies. I’ll just give you a couple of sneak peeks. There’s one that’s called The Quick Guide to Amazingly Simple Volunteer Impact and ROI where we actually teach you how to calculate ROI. 

We’ve got a Deceptively Simple 2-Page Plan for Volunteer Managers. We’ve got our partner, the Nonprofit Leadership Lab has a Build the Board of your Dreams webinar that we’ll be sharing and much, much more. So check it out again.  

Go to volpro.net/free-nonprofit-tools. All right, so let’s get on to today’s episode where we’re going to talk about volunteer management systems. And I gotta tell you, you may not know this about me, but I am a huge soccer fan.  

I have played soccer since I was maybe 11, 12 years old. I played in college and I have been a fan ever since. I think I stopped playing soccer, I officially retired in my mid-fifties. I kid you not, at that point I was wearing two ankle braces, two knee braces.  

And at that point I thought, you know what, it’s time to throw in the towel. So regardless to say I am a huge soccer fan and I am now a huge fan of the Premier League, so I watch Premier League football live from the UK every weekend, and it’s how I relax and unwind on the weekends. 

And I will say relax in quotes, because sometimes you’ll hear me yelling at the TV set, and it’s because I get frustrated with my team. Now my team is Chelsea. That’s the team that I’m a fan of. My husband’s team is Tottenham and once in a while you’ll hear him yell at the screen, too.  

But lately what I’ve been watching is my team, Chelsea, has been losing opportunities to score when they are relatively close to the goal. If you’re not a soccer fan, I’m going to explain this in very basic terms.  

So what they do, what the challenge for the team is that when the players are getting close enough to the goal, where it’s the time to take a shot, they’ll take what we call in soccer, one or two more touches. 

And you know, a touch is a dribble. So it’s, you’re touching the ball, you’re pushing it a little bit further on down the field. Or backwards. Or sideways, but you’re touching it and the ball more than once, and it’s taking more time.  

And the more touches you have on the ball, the faster the defending team will close you down and stop your shot. And so you will often hear yelling at the screen when Chelsea’s playing: one touch, two touch, one touch, two touch.  

Because if they were more confident, they would probably take a shot from a pass from another player with only one touch or take it one touch. Uh, so it would go right to their foot and right into the goal. 

Or they would trap the ball with one touch and then take a shot. That’s a two-touch shot. Here’s the deal, and you’re wondering what does Chelsea, what does the Premier League have to do with volunteer engagement?  

Well, I’ll tell you, I believe that having better management systems allows our volunteers to take those one-touch and two-touch shots and to take them with accuracy. 

When our volunteers aren’t really confident and they don’t have a system that they’re playing and they don’t have the support of the organization and a very clear set of steps that they’re guided in making, they will hesitate and they’ll take 2, 3, 4, 5 steps and by then they’ve lost an opportunity, or the work that needs to get done is done in a less efficient manner. 

So I’d like to figure out a way for we as a sector to be able to set up systems so that our volunteers can confidently take one and two-touch shots. That they don’t have to hesitate, and that they’re getting more shots on goal and they’re scoring.  

So when we think about, I want to talk about a couple of different ways to do that. So, I have talked in the past, in episode 23, I talk about Secrets to Managing Time and Energy. In that episode, I talk more about personal productivity.  

Today I want to talk about team productivity. It’s a little bit different than some of the personal productivity tips I was talking about. You know, we might start with, well, maybe we need to get better at how do we communicate the tasks that we hand off to volunteers?  

And that’s not the only thing you can do, but let’s start there anyway. Because that’s often where we are and it’s the first place we stop when we are empowering volunteers to take steps on our behalf. So no matter what level of task you’re thinking about delegating, you want to empower your team with a solid delegation process. 

And this should be documented in your volunteer management systems. So I’m going to go through that. This is a seven step process that can help you delegate more effectively.  

And again, this should be documented. You create the process that works best for you, but it should be documented and followed consistently across the board, whether it’s a volunteer leader who’s delegating to another volunteer or an employee who’s delegating to a volunteer. 

So the first step is to prepare. So you want to choose the appropriate person or team to take on that task, determine your expected results, decide on that volunteer’s level of authority.  

For example, do they need to report back to you at each step or can they report back to you at the end? Anticipate any problem areas that you can help people predict and address early on. 

Then you assign the task, what will be the tasks, deliverables, at the end of the day, what does success look like? Are there deadlines? What are the expectations for communication and updates? What frequency and content will you need?  

And will you want it in person via email or hosted to cloud-based system? Whatever it is, whatever the specifics and logistics of that task are. You want to think about those when you’re assigning.  

Once you assign the task, you then want to confirm understanding, because often we will rattle off something we want somebody to do, and we’ll assume we’ll ask, is everything okay? Do you understand that? 

And of course, if you ask a yes or no question, then you’re going to get yes, because no one wants to say they don’t understand. So you might want to ask something like, so what are steps or how would you explain this to another volunteer? Or what tools and resources do you think you might need to be successful? 

What are possible sticking points along the way. So you want to have a dialogue with the person you’re delegating to. The fourth step is to get commitment. So this, at this point, you’re reaffirming the volunteer’s level of autonomy.  

So at what point do they need to check back with you? And you want to ask for a verbal affirmation that they accept and agree. Now this could be as simple as a yes or no. So are we ready to move forward? Are you ready to move forward? Does the deadline work for you, et cetera.  

And you know, we have to be flexible with volunteers. We cannot always expect things on our schedule, especially if they’re working for us part-time. Be willing at your commitment stage to be able to negotiate a deadline that works best for both of you. 

And then step five is coaching to avoid delegating back. You know, if you’ve ever delegated something and at some point, mysteriously, you end up doing the work yourself, then you’ve been delegated back to.  

And that’s not the way we want to run our delegation. Partly because when people are not successful with what you’ve delegated, they will start to question their capacity or their skills or their ability to get anything else done.  

And then they become the two-touch, the three-touch, the four-touch. The defense shuts them down and they’re never able to get a shot off quickly and they’re not able to score, to use that soccer metaphor one more time.  

So we want to make sure if a volunteer hits roadblocks, we want to offer confirming and corrective feedback. So we do want to catch people doing things, I like to say approximately right.  

So catch volunteers doing things approximately right, so you can give them positive feedback. But also when people need help, you don’t want to take the task back. What you want to do is refer them to resources that can help.  

So might be something online, it might be a fellow team member who might be able to give them advice, et cetera. So coach to avoid delegating back, we absolutely do not want our volunteers delegating things back to us.  

It’s not good for them and it’s not good for us. Step six of the delegation process is to require accountability. So do set dates for status checks and develop a contingency plan if things go awry, at least in your own mind. 

So if this doesn’t get done by this date, what’s my next step? So you do want to ask the volunteer to complete something and give them specific instructions on what you want and by when.  

And again, negotiation is key here. We are working with volunteers and we want to collaborate with them. We don’t want to, we are not here to do top-down management.  

That doesn’t really work in the volunteer world. So we really want to be partners in this. And then seven, acknowledge learning and celebrate success. So reflect on the results with the volunteer.  

Publicly acknowledge their success if they are comfortable having it publicly acknowledged, acknowledge, and privately praise their personal growth. So we do want to celebrate and have some point where we’re giving people kudos for the work they’ve done.  

Sometimes it may have not been done perfectly, but if we can give people positive reinforcement, they will continue to try and sometimes it’s all about effort because achievement comes after effort. It comes later. 

So that’s a little bit about how to delegate, but that’s not where we should end when we think about creating volunteer management systems that work. It’s can’t be just about individual or team delegation.  

We really want to talk about how we can create actual systems in place. But before we go to break, I do want to mention that I do have an article on effective delegation.  

If you want to learn more about it. It’s called Effective Delegation: Are You Delegating or Dumping? And I will post that in the show note so you can check that article out if you want to build up your skills around delegation and become more comfortable with it.  

That’s a great place to start. All right, well let’s take a quick break from my discussion on creating volunteer management systems. We talked about delegation, we talked about why it’s helpful to have volunteer management systems.  

After the break, I’m going to talk about how to set up these systems and what and what kinds of systems to create. So don’t go anywhere.  

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VolunteerPro Premium Membership helps you build or renovate an effective what’s-working-now volunteer program with less stress and more joy, so that you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward. 

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Okay, we’re back with our discussion about how to build out volunteer management systems and in the second half of this episode, I want to get down and dirty. 

I want to really talk about how to do this well. You know, it’s only partly when we talk about volunteer management systems, it’s only partly about. But it’s more about creating volunteer management systems for every repeatable task your volunteers might take on, and even some your volunteers haven’t yet taken on. 

But if you had a system in place, you would feel more comfortable letting that task go. So I’ve been reading this book, Free time: Lose the busy work, Love Your Business by Jenny Blake.  

It’s fantastic, and I will link to it in the show notes. She talks about business stress being a systems problem and her question to, in her case, her audience is mostly entrepreneurs, but I think the question is a good one, and especially for leaders of volunteers. 

So how can we earn twice as much in half the time with ease and joy while serving the highest good? That’s her question to entrepreneurs. I would pose it slightly differently to leaders of volunteers and nonprofits. How can we engage twice as many volunteers in half the time with ease and joy while serving the highest good. 

What about that? So systems, a systems approach is a way to do this. You want to create repeatable, documented, and well-designed volunteer management systems that can save you time.  

There’s a lot of reasons why you want to do this. One is they take you out of the center of the equation, you know, in order to scale your work. And that means moving beyond you and not necessarily hiring more people.  

You can’t continue to be the lynch pin for everything. For volunteer managers who are the lynchpin for everything, their organization’s volunteer program will never scale past where they’re at now. They will become stuck.  

So there is a point where you need to let go. When you create repeatable, documented systems, you can save time by not reinventing the wheel with tools and templates that will accompany your volunteer management systems.  

So when we talk about volunteer management systems, I’m talking about standard operating procedures and processes that are consistent. That everyone uses. These can also offer clear instructions on what success looks like, so no one needs to guess.  

Everybody feels comfortable. Volunteers can take that confident one-touch or two touch shot because they know the system and they have it documented, right? Volunteers will also be more apt to do the critical thinking first before approaching you with questions. 

You know, when you do that delegation, if there is a system accompanying that delegation, then the volunteer knows where they can go to refer if they have questions.  

It’s a way when you have systems in place, it’s a way to get new volunteers and employees who work with volunteers up to speed much more quickly. Because again, they have a reference they can go to.  

You can train people on these volunteer management systems once, record that training if you do it online and then post it where you post your system. So create an online cloud-based filing system where you post the standard operating procedure or the volunteer management system or protocol. 

Post it in a folder and then include any templates as well as a video. And pretty soon you have a really great reference library where you can send people. You will have, if you have systems that people are trained on and are, are applying consistently, you’ll have better quality and accuracy with volunteer management systems, especially if you include checklists with them. 

So quality assurance checklists. When this task is done, it should look like this. Helps people realize if they’ve missed anything. And there are some things in our business where there are so many moving parts that we just simply cannot do it without a checklist, even though we’ve done things over and over again. 

So they’re really helpful, even for experienced volunteers. These systems are also easier to track when you have a system in place. It’s easier to track and diagnose trouble areas so you can fix them because they are written in a step-by-step way.  

And in a minute I’ll explain what goes into one of these systems or each of these systems. Finally, when you have volunteer management systems in place that everyone is following, it removes a ton of detail that you think you need to track in your brain.  

It reduces your overwhelm because everything is safely stored online, so you don’t have to remember, okay, did I tell this person to do X, Y, Z? Or I need to remember myself to do X, Y, Z?  

There’s simply too much information, and so for knowledge sharing, it’s just helpful to have an online repository of this knowledge so that no matter who is on your team, who’s coming, who’s going, that there is a set standard for everybody to follow.  

And then it’s easy to follow. It’s easy to find, and everyone is applying it equally. So, let me give you an example. You’re probably wondering, you know, what, what does she mean by these volunteer management systems or these standard operating procedures?  

And you’re probably thinking when you think of SOPs for volunteer engagement. Well, this is how we place volunteers. This is how we recruit volunteers, et cetera. But I’m talking about some of the more repeatable tasks that you can delegate to volunteers and volunteer teams. 

For example, you could set up a separate email inbox to support your volunteers, your active volunteers. So you could call it volunteer support at whatever your nonprofits name is, dot org, right? 

And you can create a list of guided support emails, and so when any, for the most commonly posed questions from volunteers, and you can build a team of volunteer support specialists who monitor that inbox and they can respond to these.  

You could also create guided responses for new volunteer recruitment inquiries, so that could be volunteer@xyznonprofit.org. Right? So that’s a separate email inbox for new people, potential volunteers, and you could have a volunteer welcome team staffing that inbox as well.  

So all of a sudden it is taking you out of having to manage multiple emails and help you focus on the management emails that you need to. You can create a volunteer management system around creating and sending your volunteer newsletter. 

You could create a system around setting up the room for your next volunteer orientation. That’s a great one for a checklist to accompany stocking and setting up an info table for an outreach event.  

So maybe there’s a checklist of the materials, the marketing materials you need to keep, what documentation you’re looking for, what reporting, et cetera. How to set up and moderate an online volunteer info session.  

So let’s say you’re doing webinars on a regular basis. Why not engage volunteers to help you moderate those? How about populating a volunteer key performance indicator dashboard?  

So maybe your monthly metrics could be tracked and populated into a dashboard by a volunteer or team of volunteers, and if you had a system or a standard operating procedure around that, you could delegate it fairly easily and people could go back and understand when they refer to it, when they had questions, and of course, your brand and editorial style guide. 

Now, most organizations have an editorial and brand style guide that in some ways is a volunteer management system because it’s communicating to any volunteers who are involved in marketing recruitment outreach that they know what are the standards.  

Now, it goes without saying that you need to train people on these, but if you have the systems written step by step, it makes it very easy for volunteers to follow and understand what they need to do, and again, gives them a reference resource. 

So how do you create these volunteer management systems or standard operating procedures? What do you include? How do you create them? Well, it’s actually not very hard.  

My team has been doing this for my business over the past year. We’ve been developing our SOPs, so it’s important to get your team involved because there are volunteers and coworkers who may know some of these processes better than you do, and so you really do want to make this a team sport to get people started.  

Create a standard operating procedure or volunteer management system design template that everyone uses to build out the individual or to draft your management system or SOPs. and that design template can be very, very, very simple. 

So the name of the SOP, the time required to complete it, that’s always good to include because if people realize if they’re taking much longer than it take, then it should take to get the task done, then they may realize, wow, okay, there’s something I’m not doing right here. Where do I need help? 

Why the SOP or volunteer management system is important. So that’s just a couple of sentences. Why is it important that this is done correctly? What impact does it have on other people?  

And then steps in the process. So step one, step two, step three, and just very simply detail out the process. If the process becomes overwhelming, then it probably needs to be split into more than one SOP, right? 

Might be in different phases. I like to take screenshots if it’s something that involves any kind of software. I like to take a screenshot. I like to point arrows, create little circles, and I identify where things are and I make it as easy as possible for people to see what I’m seeing when I’m completing that task.  

And then you can set up a folder in the cloud, in your cloud-based software with a clear file naming protocol. So you want to create very specific list of file names and folders.  

And once everyone drafts their files, you can host them in the folders. And as people train and then you can review and approve these or have other folks review and approve. 

Once things are approved, the first time someone trains on this, they can record it and then they can pop that video in that folder. So it’s a really great way to get everything in one place.  

The other thing we did when we created our SOPs, ours were not volunteer management systems. Ours were team or a business management systems. However, the process was the same. 

We created in our project management software. We created a list of SOPs and then we assigned them to people, and then folks checked them off and then posted a link to where the folder was, where you could find the full draft.  

So it’s a great way to keep things tidy while you’re working through your entire volunteer management systems. That’s about all it really takes. Now, it does take time to develop these out, but the time you invest is quickly saved in your ability to not only delegate and hand off major chunks of repeatable tasks, which you should be doing.  

It’s also a way to develop volunteer leaders because you can delegate tasks to teams of volunteers, and it gives you time so that you can spend time working on your volunteer program, not always in your volunteer program.  

So you know when you’re doing backup for volunteers who haven’t shown up for a shift, or you’re putting out fires all the time, you’re really working in your volunteer program and those things are necessary sometimes. 

But there’s also time that you need to continually develop this system of volunteer engagement at your organization. There’s big picture if you’re a leader of volunteers or if you’re an executive and you’re working with a leader of volunteers.  

There are big picture things that need to be considered and continually updated. For example, your volunteer recruitment strategy and so on, other strategy you may have. So you want to work, you want to have time to work on your volunteer program, not just in it.  

And by creating these repeatable volunteer management systems for anything that’s done repeatedly, that would be easy to create a process for. You want to figure out a way to do that and then delegate. And do it and delegate it.  

And that will save you lots of time. Lots of time. But it takes some true, it takes some additional upfront investment of time, but it really pays off in the long run. We’ve seen it on our team.  

I’ve found that we are working less frenetically, that folks are much more clear about their pieces of the puzzle. That we are bringing on new staff this year, and I know it’s going to be much more easy to onboard them because we have things that they can look at and follow, and I’ve just seen the major difference it’s made on our team.  

So I suggest you try it yourself as well, and move beyond simply, you know. Your SOPs around recruitment and recognition and that, but really think about those repeatable things that you do every day that you might be able to hand off to a team of capable volunteers who can hit that goal with one or two shots. 

All right, so thanks for joining me today. Once again, don’t forget our VolunteerPro Month of Love with free nonprofit tools, downloads, and templates. You can go to volpro.net/free-nonprofit-tools.  

If you are a subscriber to our newsletter, just open up that newsletter every week and you will see tools listed and you can take advantage of those and really start supercharging your volunteer strategy for this year. 

So thanks again for joining us on this episode of The Volunteer Nation. I hope it’s given you some fresh ideas and new ways of thinking about how you approach your work.  

If you liked it, would you do me a favor and share this with a friend or colleague who might need a little fresh inspiration around their volunteer engagement and a better approach that gets them traction?  

Also, don’t forget to rate and review, and we will see you next time. Same time, same place on the Volunteer nation.  

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe, rate, and review so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause.  

For more tips and notes from the show, check us out at TobiJohnson.com. We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.