For many non-profits, data crunching is everything. From tracking donations and expenditures, the success or failure of fund-raising events, staff protocols and effectiveness, lists of donors large and small and so much more, the organization that shirks information management does so at their own peril.
Case in point: one area of data management where many non-profits fall woefully short is in the organization of volunteer assets. Indeed, according to Janna Finch of Software Advice, an online review company for volunteer management software, some 63 percent of small non-profits—those with annual operating budgets of one million dollars or less—rely on the more common software platforms such as Microsoft and Outlook to coordinate their volunteers, and also often use multiple program sources to do so. And yet a huge majority—93 percent—report that “the most important functionality lets staff track volunteer activities and the number of hours worked.” So the question is this: why aren’t more non-profits investing in specific software that gives the best and most accurate accounting of volunteer records?
According to Finch, measuring impact is a crucial component of any non-profit’s business plan, and a dedicated volunteer management application can “simplify coordination and serve as a central database for volunteer performance data.” However, Finch also found that “efforts to implement such systems are often hindered by tight budgets or a lack of skilled workers.” Indeed, only seven percent of small non-profits use dedicated volunteer management software to coordinate data (nine percent use no software at all) resulting in a disturbing statistic: some 62 percent of said non-profits lose volunteers due to poor data keeping.
It would appear, according to Finch’s research, that one major problem small non-profits encounter as they evolve is staying on top of burgeoning volunteer bases: from contact information to schedules, too often disorganization ensues when multiple spreadsheets and email applications are not merged into one easily accessible data set. Hence volunteer statistics are lost, as are volunteers, the lifeblood of many NPOs.
What sorts of problems does poor volunteer management cause? Consider a prospective volunteer who contacted an NPO to give of their time and didn’t receive a timely—or even any—response. Or a volunteer who reported that they spent more time coordinating a labyrinth of data than actually getting any quality, cause-related work completed. Such situations breed dissatisfaction, and sadly volunteers are more likely to give of their efforts elsewhere.
Of course, volunteer tracking programs can do far more than record telephone numbers and donated time: they can also keep track of alleged instances of volunteer misconduct; chart success rates for solicited monies; provide easy, comprehensive communications; and, perhaps most importantly for understaffed NPOS, allow said volunteers to independently schedule their time so staff knows exactly how much aid and assistance they can expect at any given point, a particularly useful component when an organization hosts many public outreach events.
All told, Finch’s conclusions make a solid case for the importance of utilizing a dedicated volunteer management software program, showing that it’s a vital component in the success for any organization seeking verifiable growth in the constantly evolving non-profit sector. “These improvements [in data management] are favorable for all non-profits,” Finch writes. “However, they are especially helpful for small ones … in which it’s more difficult for resources and budgets to absorb mistakes.”
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