3 Reasons it's Essential to Track Volunteer Hours for Your Nonprofit
Most nonprofits are well aware of the importance of tracking their donor data. However, it’s just as important to track data on another vital type of supporter: volunteers.
The impact made by your volunteers is essential to the functioning of your organization. These are some of your most passionate followers, actively contributing their own time and energy to forward your cause. In fact, many of your volunteers may also be donors who were encouraged to lend an extra hand after a peer-to-peer fundraising or corporate philanthropy campaign.
Regardless of how they came to become involved in your volunteer program, these dedicated individuals add meaningful value to your organization. Not only do they help to streamline your operations and support your programs, but their help can also be reported to other organizations like grant providers to further strengthen your organization.
By keeping track of their data, specifically logging volunteer hours, your nonprofit can tap into these benefits:
- Tracking volunteer data helps you determine your volunteer program ROI and take action where necessary.
- Tracking empowers your volunteers to demonstrate volunteering accountability.
- Tracking volunteer data can help your organization secure grants.
- Bonus Section: How to Get Started Tracking Volunteer Hours
With these insights and the right volunteer management software, your nonprofit can leverage volunteer data to increase funding opportunities, raise awareness for your organization, and optimize your operations. Ready to get started? Let’s jump right in.
1. Tracking volunteer data helps you determine your volunteer program ROI and take action where necessary.
In the same way that you might think of donor data as a guide for your fundraising strategies, you can think of volunteer data as a roadmap to your entire volunteer program.
According to Galaxy Digital’s definitive volunteer training guide, carefully logging volunteer data can help to establish a budget, plan content, and develop an outline for your program.
After all, data such as volunteer hours is a snapshot of the labor, time, and resources it has taken to accomplish your organizational goals. If tracked carefully, these hours can then be used to make intelligent decisions about how and where you can improve and expand your program.
For example, this data can help you to better train new recruits, allocating the appropriate amount of time to teach them about the role and the hour-by-hour break-out of responsibilities. Volunteer placement can also be improved, using hours to assign volunteers to tasks that they seem to enjoy and spend more time on. And by optimizing the functionality of all sides of your program, volunteer retention will also rise.
To effectively begin improving your program with these data-driven strategies, volunteer program directors should reflect on these questions:
- Based on the average number of hours a volunteer logs every month, what can we do to increase our volunteers’ output?
- In terms of time worked, which volunteers seem most dedicated to my organization, and who might continue to grow in their involvement if given the opportunity?
- How are my volunteers being divided across different areas of the organization, and which departments might need more hours dedicated to achieving their objectives?
Consider the following example. A school outreach program decides to put on a multi-day cookie dough fundraiser to raise money for their sports program. On the first day, two teams of experienced volunteers are sent out to different neighborhoods to sell their products. Though both teams raised a similar amount of funds, one team worked significantly less time.
Luckily, the fundraiser’s organizers were prudent to track their volunteers’ division of hours. So on the fundraiser’s subsequent days and for future fundraisers, they are aware that one neighborhood is far more receptive to their fundraising than the other. Going forward, they should be able to more effectively target their sales efforts and improve their operations.
With the insights provided by a dedicated volunteer time log, your organization can similarly improve the quality of your volunteer program and its return on investment.
2. Tracking empowers your volunteers to demonstrate volunteering accountability.
Imagine this: your organization is hosting an upcoming school fundraiser and getting the word out to the local community has become a critical concern. You leverage the power of your volunteers, sending out your team to hit the streets and hand out brochures, spread the word, and build up grassroots support for your event. Your supporters spend days and dozens of hours campaigning for your cause, ensuring its success.
However, you are startled to find that many of those volunteers left your organization soon after the event. When you investigate the matter, you find that your volunteer logging systems failed to save, store, and verify the many hours logged by your volunteers. Frustrated with your lack of organization, they sought out other opportunities to fulfill their volunteer hours.
While some of your volunteers may simply be working for your organization out of their passion for the cause, many others might be working to fulfill certain credits and outside programs. Invariably, the number of hours that they volunteer with your organization is how these credit systems are measured.
Therefore, one of your organization’s major responsibilities should be implementing a system that reliably logs and verifies these hours. This is critical for your numerous volunteers who could be involved in:
- Scholarships and school clubs. From K-12 to higher education, many school programs offer “service-learning” as a way to gain class credit and even qualify for certain scholarships. It’s also become common for academic clubs and sports programs to ask students to accrue service hours for membership or special rewards.
- Workplace volunteering and corporate philanthropy. Corporate giving or corporate philanthropy are the programs by which corporations support nonprofit organizations. One such program is volunteer grants, which work when an employee is able to volunteer a certain amount of hours with a particular nonprofit, such as $200 of company contributions for every 50 hours worked. However, the only way that nonprofits can only take advantage of these grants is if these hours are able to be officially reported.
- Community service hours and court mandates. For minor crimes, many members of your community may be asked to complete a fixed set of volunteer hours. These mandates tend to run a bit longer than typical school or workplace volunteer programs, and giving your community members a place to reliably work off their infractions and build healthy relationships could lead to long-lasting support.
Many of your volunteers will often need to show that their reported volunteer hours are legitimate. By ensuring that volunteers are able to demonstrate accountability and prove their work for your organization, you greatly increase your chances of retaining your current volunteers. You can even raise your acquisition rates by promoting your program to volunteers with similar credit requirements and program commitments.
3. Tracking volunteer data can help your organization secure grants.
Aside from improving your internal operations and optimizing the volunteer experience, recording volunteer data can also directly benefit your nonprofit in the form of grants.
By providing the right volunteer data, your nonprofit could reap the rewards of the following major grant types:
- Government grants. The federal, state, and local governments alike allocate funds every year to be disseminated to nonprofit organizations that meet their grant program requirements. While these standards may vary, nonprofits must often be able to report their number of volunteers, the monetary value of their volunteers, and volunteer hours. This information is used to prove the health, legitimacy, and growth potential of your organization, all of which is necessary to qualify for this grant type.
- Foundation grants. Foundation grants are distributed by nonprofit-facing private foundations or trusts to 501(c)(3) organizations. There are many types of grants provided by foundations, but the type which will most often require volunteer data tracking are operating fund grants. These funds are determined by and support the continued operational health of a nonprofit, though the criteria for this program varies by source.
- Corporate grants. If you’ve ever heard of Google Grants, then your organization may already know that major corporations have broken into the nonprofit sector with their own charitable grants. These grants are often heavily centered on volunteer involvement, with some grant companies using them as the key metric of hour-for-dollar donations. These metrics fall under the umbrella of corporate philanthropy, and they are one of the simplest grant types to obtain with mindful volunteer hour tracking.
- Federated grants. These grants are more often than not hosted by local businesses, small corporations, and individuals through shared federated funds. The application process for these programs tends to be minimal, but volunteer data might be chosen as a metric to gauge your organization’s benefit to the community.
No matter where you look, nearly every grant program has at least one common thread in their qualification process: candidates must be able to prove the impact of their program. While some programs may program efficiency, funds raised, or other data points, volunteer data and volunteer hours continue to be one of the most common and critical metrics by which your organization’s impact could be judged.
4. Bonus Section: How to Get Started Tracking Volunteer Hours
If your organization is ready to begin tracking, storing, and leveraging your volunteer hours, there are several essentials you must keep in mind when developing your logging system.
Here are a few tracking system best practices to abide by when developing your own volunteer log:
- Program parameters. Determine the goals of your volunteer program based on its number of locations, duration, and mode of operation. For example, is your program spread across several volunteer centers that run on a nine-to-five schedule? Or does your program consist of various single-day events and projects? What services do you provide, and how do you measure the completion of your goals? All of these questions are essential to a successful volunteer logging system for your specific program.
- Shift sign-in and sign-out. If you run your program from a specific building or volunteer center, you should likely use a “shift” system. Set up a digital kiosk, log, or clocking system at the front desk, with volunteers able to sign in and out when they arrive on-site with just a few simple clicks. Volunteers should know in advance how many hours you’d like them or they are able to participate, allowing your program managers to log their hours for them if this information is somehow missed.
- Event check-in and check-out. For your events and activities, we would recommend either a digital kiosk or mobile check-in system. For this second strategy, you could print out a QR code at your volunteer sign-in table that participants can scan and follow to complete the process on their own devices. Volunteers should be informed of the location of these check-in hubs in advance, allowing for a quick and easy logging process.
- Follow-up communications. After your event, project, or shift day is complete, you may want to follow up with volunteers with brief reminders to log their hours if they have yet to do so. Be sure to collect their contact information in the volunteer registration process, allowing you to contact them with these updates and other important messages.
- Manual vs digital solutions. Manual logs, such as spreadsheets and paper print-outs, are extremely easy to set-up, require few resources, and don't need to be connected to any power source. The downside of this method is that it can become highly disorganized, tedious, time-consuming, and even inaccurate. There is a wide margin for human error. On the other hand, while digital solutions require a bit more planning and investment, they lead to far more reliable results, quicker and more accurate logging, automatic organization, and a far wider range of storage for your data.
If you’d like even more information on how to manage your volunteer program and the different solutions available to you, Galaxy Digital’s list of top 25+ volunteer management software may be able to provide a starting point.
One of the key components of a nonprofit’s mission is to reach out into its community to build up support for the cause. No matter what that goal or mission may be, your local community will always be your best resource to build support and passion for your cause.
With a robust volunteer program, it is well within your power to build up that local support. With these data-driven strategies, you will be able to launch and manage a powerful volunteer program that serves the community, secures grants, and well exceeds its return on investment.