Better Data, Better Volunteering

One of the biggest challenges facing volunteer organizations is the ability to effectively manage multiple events across a plethora of programs.

Organizations that specialize in hubbing a multitude of volunteer opportunities serving many populations across diverse audiences face an uphill battle when it comes to recruitment. How do you effectively categorize opportunities for search and display on your website? How do you track signup and attendance across different volunteering modes? How can you get the most out of your email marketing system to maximize volunteer signups and attendance rates?

Effectively managing a multitude of volunteer opportunities can be accomplished following these guiding stars.

1. Clearly define your strategic goals.

Thinking backwards from solution to problem is a tried and true technique for problem solving and is highly applicable in designing the right volunteer management system. As an organization, it’s important to tie your vision for growth and success to what you want to achieve in your volunteering structure. Here are a couple of exercises to help think critically about what you may need:

  • List out the reports you will want to run from your volunteering system, and why you want these reports. Rank these items as most to least important.
  • Identify website and/or mobile functionality as it pertains to: volunteer event display, signup process, and user login abilities. Classify functionality in terms of ‘must have’, ‘nice to have’, and ‘wish list.’
  • Create a list of the various ways you’d like to utilize email or text marketing for both potential/new volunteers, existing signups, and previous participants.

2. Don’t overlook the data model.

It all starts with how your organization is architecting the data structure for tracking volunteer programs, its related opportunities and events, along with the volunteer signups and attendance. An effective data model is complex enough to provide the kind of nuance needed for reporting, marketing, and website display (think: more tables, less columns). It is also simple enough that it can be scaled and adjusted as an organization grows and changes. This is a delicate balance, one that requires forethought and a road map for organizational goals and success (see #1), along with best practices in data architecture.

3. Maximize data integration between CRM, CMS, and EMS.

The key to marrying a highly effective website or mobile user experience with robust reporting and advanced email marketing capabilities is ensuring the data design is fully integrated across all platforms. It’s not enough for your CRM to be a dumping ground for signups and some makeshift proxy of the more complex volunteer opportunity and event relationships that reside within the user’s sign up process. One way to accomplish this is to utilize a CMS design that relies on data from a CRM to populate volunteering program information, and writing signup details directly to the CRM as the database of record, bypassing the need for a separate user and volunteering database within the CMS. In this example, the CRM serves as the system of record for the reading and writing of all data. Accomplishing integration at this level maximizes data collection and cleanliness, unlocking greater potential in insight gathering and marketing.

4. Utilize data design and integration for intelligent email marketing

Similar to #3, data integration between a CRM and EMS allows your organization to use its data intelligently when emailing volunteers for a wide range of uses. Effective integration allows you to use your EMS for the following: volunteering reminders, matching upcoming volunteer events with volunteer interests (or other intake information), matching upcoming volunteer events based on volunteering history, and post-volunteering exit surveys. Better yet, all of this functionality can (and should) be automated with the proper data architecture and integration design.

5. Apps are great, until they aren’t.

There are good volunteer management apps out there. Many of them are great for the right situation. But too often volunteer management apps are geared to simplicity in order to fit as many heads as possible. Use what you’ve learned from the exercises in #1 to think critically about what you will and won’t be able to do with an ‘out of the box’ volunteering app. It’s also important to keep in mind that volunteer management apps typically offer limitations in web to CRM integration (if they offer any at all).

6. Better data means better decisions, better marketing, and a bigger difference in the causes you and your volunteers serve.

Ultimately, you want people to volunteer and improve the lives of the communities you are serving. The best way to maximize your impact is to ensure you’re collecting and using your data. Robust data integration built in harmony with a comprehensive and intelligent data architecture gives you the tools to drive increased signups, higher attendance rates, and the ability to make informed decisions on the direction of your programs.