October 18, 2013

Keeping Volunteer Information Up-to-Date

Keeping track of information about volunteers is a challenge. At minimum, an organization has to keep track of currently-engaged volunteers' up-to-date email address and phone number. Organizations also need volunteers to report what they are doing as volunteers, what they are accomplishing, and how many hours they are contributing -- each day, each week or each month. Organizations also want to keep information up-to-date about volunteers that are not currently engaged, that are taking a break from volunteering but could be interested in coming back at some point. Having this up-to-date information about volunteers is vital to the sustainability of volunteer involvement; without this information, it's impossible to show, beyond anecdotes, the value of volunteers. It also makes retaining volunteers and recruiting them for new assignments very difficult, if not impossible.

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 45 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.

In addition, organizations need volunteers to report in about their activities, for internal program reports, budgeting, program proposals and donor reports - and organizations all lack the resources for one person to sit at a computer and type in this information for all volunteers.

The easiest way to keep volunteer information up-to-date is to:

Organizations: your goal is to get all of the information you need about volunteers, regularly, with minimal effort on your part.

Tell new volunteers about their requirements for keeping their information up-to-date during their first volunteer orientation, frequently remind volunteers of these requirements (reminders at least a few times a year), 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? do they realize that without this information, the organization may not see the value of volunteers and eliminate support for such in an effort to save money?). If you establish from day one that keeping their information up-to-date is part of their commitment as volunteers, you will find that volunteers will make this duty a priority.

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 creating an online discussion group for volunteers 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 our online group; 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 and target those volunteers at our next onsite meeting, or with a phone call.

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.

Also see:

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