In this resource, our expert Stephen Dobson from the University of Leeds, explores the digital tools which may be helpful in the volunteer management process.
Volunteers are of immense importance to the heritage sector. A 2020 study carried out by the Heritage Volunteering Group found that 45% of heritage organisations relied on volunteers for their operations. However, despite their reliance on this volunteer workforce, only 8% of the organisations surveyed felt very well equipped to develop new models of volunteering.
New methods of audience engagement and an increased use of technology can unlock many new ways of working for an organisation. It does, however, also mean that you will need to develop new ways of leveraging and developing the skills of volunteers.
Volunteer management can be seen as typically covering four key areas, these are recruitment, screening, training and scheduling.
It is important to make sure that the roles and responsibilities are clearly defined when recruiting for volunteers. Consider whether you are able to offer both general and specialised roles in order to attract as wider pool of applicants as possible. Offering flexibility and the potential to engage with tasks and training online can help increase the level of interest in volunteering for some people. The chance to upskill in the use of digital communications (email or virtual meeting software such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom) may be a valuable opportunity for skills development for the volunteers.
Social media is a valuable recruitment tool to support your organisation’s website information. Facebook and Twitter can significantly amplify your organisation’s reach and attract a younger volunteer base. Try to ensure that your communications focus on what they might get out of volunteering for you, rather than why you need them to volunteer.
It is essential to keep good documentary records of the screening and on-boarding process. Maintaining digital records in a secure space, accessible to all those with volunteer management responsibility, will help keep track of the various stages which may need to be completed prior to volunteers undertaking their role.
A spreadsheet or simple database can help record whether references have been received, DBS checks made (if necessary), as well as any training completed. It is also advisable to develop a ‘Volunteer Agreement’ document in order to provide written understanding of the relationship between the volunteer and the organisation. Recommended content for the agreement is offered by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), and you may wish to acknowledge that they have received or signed this prior to commencing duties.
In addition to any face-to-face training plans, it is valuable to also offer online training either live through video conferencing tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams or as a pre-recording. Microsoft Teams and Zoom offer the ability to record both the camera view as well as any presentation material. However, Microsoft Stream (which is part of the Office 365 suite of tools) is more tailored to screen recording and includes simple editing and trimming functions. This may be of value in creating lasting training assets which can be accessed whenever needed.
If you are dealing with a relatively large number of volunteers, creating and managing schedules through rotas and timesheets can quickly become a headache. There are several resources designed to support this aspect of volunteer management. Scheduling software typically enables you to set out tasks and calendars, manage requests for time off or shift swaps and design rotas to ensure volunteers are effectively employed.
3. Next steps
There are a wealth of digital management suites available which you can use to help you manage your volunteers. Here are some ideas to help you get started with identifying the tools that will work best for your organisation.
1. What already works?
A good first step is to review what digital tools you might already be using to communicate and manage your staff. Take some time to reflect on what is working well and can be adapted for use with volunteers, and what functionality might be missing.
2. Address the gaps
Now that you have identified the management areas where new digital tools will be most useful to you, you can begin to explore the software options available to you. Take your time, read reviews, and if possible download free trials and experiment with the various options. Keep your volunteers in mind as you review these tools to ensure that they are the most appropriate for your organisation.
3. Seek feedback
Once you’ve made a choice of software, run a pilot with your volunteers and seek feedback from them. Regularly review and reflect on your approach and the tools you are using to ensure that both you and your volunteers are working effectively together.
Please attribute as: "Managing volunteers with digital tools (2022) by Dr Stephen Dobson supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0