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Recordkeeping and Reporting

If it's important enough to do, it should be important enough to record and report. Resources on how to keep track of what's meaningful to understand volunteer contributions, including use of computer software designed for this purpose.

The Correlation between Time Donors and Money Donors, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2010
End-of-Year Reports Can Illuminate Volunteer Achievements, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2012
Everydayhero Launches in the United States, Pioneering the Next Generation of Online Giving, Marketwire Blog, 2014

About Everydayhero, an online giving service from Blackbaud that lets people track their philanthropic activities.

Marketing Savvy - Our Field's Blind Spot, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2003
The Treasurer's Report, John Paul Dalsimer, pp. 29-31, Energize, Inc, 2003
Volunteer Impact Report Industry View 2014, Software Advice and VolunteerMatch, 2014

Study of how organizations measure volunteer impact.

What Leaders of Volunteers Can DO to Gain Executive Attention, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2011
When Is a Volunteer a Volunteer?, Barry VanderKelen, 2008
When the Ax Falls: Budget Cutting and Volunteers, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2009
By the Charity Finance Directors Group in the UK, with an Appendix on "The Development of Recommendations on Valuing Volunteers" , pp. 68
By the Institute for Volunteering Research UK , 2008, pp. 16
Coyote Communications Listing of Volunteer Management Software

Jayne Cravens, expert on virtual volunteering, has compiled (and keeps updated) an advertising-free list of all available volunteer program management software she can identify.

GiveGab

A "social network for volunteers" that "helps volunteers find volunteer opportunities they’re passionate about in their local community and beyond, log volunteer hours, communicate with friends and create a volunteer resume. Volunteer managers at nonprofits, schools, alumni associations and  businesses can use GiveGab to create and manage events, promote their programs, recruit volunteers, track volunteer hours and report on all the good they’re doing in their communities."  Offer many free resources as well as paid services.

SignUpGenius

Free online volunteer scheduling service with a lot of useful options, especially template sign-up sheets and reminders to volunteers via e-mail and text. There are also fee-based premium levels for very large organizations. 

Templates - from Volunteer Scotland

Volunteer Scotland is developing and posting a variety of templates for volunteer resources managers to use as a starting point for creating their own forms. New templates continue to be added, but here's a sample of the contents: volunteer agreement template; diversity monitoring form template; volunteer exit questionnaire template; volunteer policy template.

Top Volunteer Management Software Products

Capterra has collected a long list of software, some of which are for volunteer management tracking, others for things like scheduling volunteers, and still others mainly for financial donor management. A good starting point to compare products.

True Impact Blog

Focused on metrics, ROI, and other ways to measure the impact of volunteering and service.

VolunteerHub Blog

Volunteer management software vendor, VolunteerHub, posts tips and advice along with notices about its new offerings, aiming to be a “hub” for volunteer management discussion.

VolunteerLocal

Online service to organize, manage, schedule and communicate with volunteers. The free version is especially good for scheduling volunteer shifts at events. The paid versions offer advanced features. Sponsor the vonteer matching site Happy Volunteering.

The YourVolunteers Blog

The blog of the YourVolunteers online volunteer management service provides original content related to volunteering and volunteer management.

Print and e-Books in Our Store

Book cover

Dozens of forms to assess volunteer involvement in your organization including forms for agency readiness for volunteers, volunteer feedback, assessing organizational climate, and personal satisfaction in your job. 

Proof Positive

The basics of a volunteer recordkeeping system: the why and how of application forms, volunteer data files, assignment records, time and activity reports, proving impact.

Book cover

A how-to guide to fulfilling the role of board treasurer, written in simple, clear language for the non-accountant.

Law Enforcement Settings

At the Family Court
Submitted by Susan J. Ellis, Energize, Inc.

At the Family Court, we quickly learned how hard it is to obtain written monthly reports from male volunteers working one-to-one with boys on probation. Our situation was compounded by the fact that we were recruiting many men who, by design, were in trades that required skills other than writing. They simply were not used to recording their activities. We also discovered that some volunteers were hesitant to "report" on their youngster, feeling that this violated the relationship they were trying to build. We respected these facts, but still needed to monitor what was going on. Also, probation officers and judges wanted to include the progress of the probationers assigned to our program in their planning and counseling.

What to do? Our solution ended up being successful. We recruited volunteers who did not want to be matched, or were not appropriate for a match (especially women), and made them a sort of "case manager." Each of these administrative volunteers was assigned a case load of 10 to 20 matches and telephoned the volunteers monthly. They also telephoned the youth. I can't remember what title we assigned to this position, but it was something like "Team Reporter." The matched volunteers were given a report form on which to record the dates and hours they met with their boy, and any notes they wanted to make. We even included a column for the youth to complete, too, so that they could fill in the form together as a sort of diary of their relationship. All volunteers were given the choice of mailing in the report or working with a Team Reporter. Because they were expecting the Team Reporter's telephone call, the field volunteer was prepared with a response.

The Reporter recorded all responses on forms that then became the official report. These calls had some added benefits, too. The personal touch of the phone call provided greater connection with the volunteer working off-site, and in conversation potential problems surfaced more readily than they would have on paper. The Reporter was able to alert the program coordinator when a volunteer or a probationer needed her attention. Every month, the program coordinator selected ten or so matches to call herself, just to keep in the loop. We found, by the way, that this was a perfect assignment for students considering either social work or criminal justice counseling careers.

Bootleg Volunteers
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

Are you counting all the volunteer support your organization receives? Are you sure? In the course of a year, it is common for agencies to benefit from what might be called "bootleg" (hidden) volunteers who come to the agency in a roundabout way, bypassing the procedures of the volunteer resources office. For example:

  • Graduate students doing professional internships, if university faculty independently contact the relevant department heads directly. Those managers see supporting "interns" as a professional obligation and may resist treating them as "volunteers."
  • The individual members of groups who help the organization seasonally, such as at holiday events or for garden clean-ups. The group's service is treated as a special visit and the individual members are often not differentiated from the collective action.
  • Clergy who visit under various types of chaplaincy programs, even if they, in turn, recruit others from their congregation to provide additional personal services. This is most often viewed as service to the client, rather than as service to the organization.
  • Children of staff and board members who may be brought to the agency by their parents to "help out" after school or during long school holidays (usually doing whatever menial jobs mom or dad can find). Even more frequent is bringing along one's family members (of any age) to help at a special event.
  • Advisers or consultants with special expertise who donate their professional services, generally directly to the board of directors or to the executive staff (and therefore never seen by the volunteer office).

It doesn't really matter if these time donors think of themselves as "volunteers," nor is it necessary to use that word to describe them. But here is what they have in common-with each other and with the more traditional concept of a volunteer. They:

  • Receive no financial remuneration from the agency for their services
  • Come to the facility for short periods of time on diverse schedules
  • Generally have no real understanding of how your organization functions prior to coming in to help
  • Need basic instructions about your facility to do their assignments properly

If none of this impresses you, consider this: They have the same risk potential as anyone else and, should anything happen to them or because of them during their time on site with you, your organization is liable.

Missed Opportunities

If the volunteer resources office is not tracking these time donors, who does keep track of them? Does anyone? Without a process for integrating such service providers into the organization, you don't screen them, have a record of their service, report their contributions, or even thank them properly. They miss out on support and appreciation, while the agency doesn't get all the benefits of such important community involvement.

Everyone who spends time, even briefly, in your organization becomes a potential ambassador for you. So it makes sense to pay attention to how all members of the community are treated when they are on site. This is a chance to orient and educate ever-widening spheres of influence, as different people come and go.

Here's a final thought about all those relatives of staff and volunteers who are dragged into helping at a special event. Slap a button on them that says "official volunteer," record their names, and give them some choice as to what they'd like to do (rather than being a go-fer for their relative). Afterwards, say thank you to them. You might end up recruiting some genuinely willing new volunteers!

Extra Effort Log
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

Many of you are gearing up for the schedule of volunteer recognition events that run around the world from April through June. Here's an idea to add to the mix.

We tend to recognize volunteers for their "regular" work -- whatever major assignment they have taken on. But throughout the year many individuals help with a wide variety of special projects or quick response needs. These can be anything, though common ones are:

  • Decorating or otherwise setting up for a holiday, birthday, or other festivity
  • Giving a tour or sharing experiences with a visitor of importance
  • Pitching in when the office had to be moved for painting or when the snow turned the parking lot into Siberia
  • Substituting on short notice for the volunteer who went into labor two weeks early
  • Revising the instruction checklist for the one-day volunteering event
  • Participating in planning meetings to develop the new recruitment campaign

Do these sound familiar? I'll bet they do. These -- and many more activities -- happen all the time, and we tend to take them for granted. We may indeed say thank you at the time (at least, we should!), but they rarely get remembered or recorded.

Try keeping an "Extra Effort Log" and keep track of such special assistance all year long. Record what the paid staff and even your executives do, too. Then, when it comes time for annual recognition, you'll have lots more to say than the usual. Some ideas:

  • As you call individuals up for their certificates, mention something "forgotten" or unknown by most about the extra effort that volunteer (or staffer) did in the last 12 months.
  • Put an extra line onto the certificate or in a note, mentioning the special activity.
  • Create an "extra effort" display and post a montage of all the things volunteers did above-and-beyond their ordinary duties. If you took photographs, use those, or make a slide show.
  • Report on paper and/or orally about all of this. People may be aware of the work volunteers accomplish regularly, but often it's the extras that really illuminate how the organization depends on this corps of workers.

Besides, this is the fun stuff and everyone will enjoy hearing about it!

Finding "Bootleg" Volunteers
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

Are you keeping track of all the volunteer support your organization receives? Are you sure? In the course of a year, it is common for agencies to benefit from the donated services of a wide range of people who arrive in a roundabout way, bypassing the procedures of the volunteer services office and never being designated as "volunteers." I call these "bootleg" volunteers (as in secret, under the radar). There are many examples, including:

  • Graduate students doing professional, but unpaid, internships. Often the contact is made by university faculty directly to the relevant department head (social work, nursing, etc.) who responds as a professional obligation or courtesy.
  • Community groups visiting once a year to do Christmas caroling, plant flowers, or run a holiday party. Here the contact may come through the therapeutic activity office.
  • Clergy in chaplaincy programs. Their visits frequently go beyond an occasional friendly chat; the clergyperson may, in turn, recruit others from a congregation to provide additional personal services. This is often treated solely as service to the client, rather than as service to the organization.
  • Children of staff and board members. It is not uncommon for an agency to become surrogate child care, particularly for teenagers. "Helping out" after school or during long school holidays usually means coming in to the office with mom or dad and doing a variety of odd, generally menial, jobs. Even more frequent is bringing along one's family members (of any age) to help at a special event.
  • Pro bono advisors or consultants with special expertise who donate their professional services, generally directly to top executives or the board of directors.

It doesn't really matter if these service providers think of themselves as "volunteers," nor is it necessary to use that word to describe them. But here is what they all have in common. They:

  • Receive no financial remuneration from your organization (even if they are paid by their own employers, they are not reflected on your payroll).
  • Come to the facility for short periods of time on diverse schedules.
  • Generally have no real understanding of how your organization functions prior to coming in to help.
  • Need basic instructions to do their assignments properly (even the expert consultant needs to learn how to use your phone system or database).
  • Require someone on staff to work with them effectively.
  • Have the same risk potential as anyone else and, should anything happen to them or because of them during their time on site with you, your organization is liable.
  • Deserve formal (and informal) thanks.

Who keeps track of them? Does anyone? Are these people invisible except for the hours they spend on site? Without a process for integrating such service providers into the organization, you don't screen them, have a record of their service, report their contributions, or even thank them properly. They miss out on support and appreciation, while the organization doesn't get any benefit out of such important community involvement.

So go out and find those overlooked volunteers!

And here's a final tip about all those relatives of staff and volunteers who are dragged into helping at a special event. Slap a button on them that says "official volunteer," get their names, and give them some choice as to what they'd like to do (rather than being a go-fer for their relative). Afterwards, say "thank you" to them. You might end up recruiting some genuinely willing volunteers!

Forms That Work
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

Computers and mobile electronic devices have vastly simplified the collection and reporting of data in many ways, but human beings remain the source of the data and must input it properly. That means a vital element of data collection is the humble form - the questions asked and fields provided, whether on paper or electronically, to assure that the right information is reported.

As a general rule, it is a challenge to get volunteers to report on what they do, so we need to be sure that our forms are helpful to the process, not obstacles to muddle through. It's common for forms to proliferate over time, individually, until we drown ourselves in paperwork (whether actually on paper or on screens) that does not even produce the information we need.

Start by gathering all the forms currently in use and assess each one against the following criteria. Invite a few volunteers to help with this, since they are the daily users of the forms.

  1. Why do we need this form?
  2. Does this form do what we need it to do?
  3. How often is this form used?
  4. Who completes this form? Do they know how?
  5. Why did we select this format? Is it time to collect the information some other way or add an alternative option for those volunteers who prefer a choice between paper and online?
  6. What happens to the completed form? Where and how do we store this information?
  7. How often do we need to refer to the data?
  8. Who else needs access to this information? How often?
  9. How well does this form mesh with the rest of our recordkeeping system?
  10. Is there any information we receive through this form that duplicates what we ask on another form?

Many of you are using volunteer tracking software that provides you with form templates. Do not simply use what a programmer created! Explore which fields you can add, delete, or modify and never collect what you do not intend to use. Volunteers will be most willing to complete forms that make sense to them and which they can see as contributing to a useful report on volunteer activity.

If you are collecting data online, make sure you do not ask volunteers to repeat basic information that is already in the database about them. Only ask them to update anything that has changed (ideally the screen will show them what is already on file to confirm).

Whenever feasible, add a field for "other" or "comment" to each form so that volunteers are encouraged to tell you things that do not neatly fit into the standard reporting fields. But then be sure to flag, read, and respond whenever such extra information is provided.

A well-designed form can save time for the user while providing important data. Review your forms at least annually and put the date of the review at the bottom of each to ensure everyone is completing the most recent revision.

Volunteers below the Radar
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

Are you keeping track of all the volunteer support your organization receives? Are you sure? In the course of a year, it is common for agencies to benefit from the donated services of a wide range of people, yet only those formally designated as "volunteers" are reflected in the reports of the volunteer program. Who doesn't get counted? People who come to the agency in a roundabout way, bypassing the procedures of the volunteer services office - flying in "under the radar," so to speak. Examples include:

  • Graduate students doing professional internships. Often the contact is made by the university program directly to the relevant department head (social work, nursing, etc.). Because these students are just about fully trained and are called "interns," welcoming them is seen as a professional obligation or courtesy by the staff, to whom it may seem insulting or irrelevant to treat them as "volunteers."
  • Groups who help the organization collectively, perhaps for one visit a year such as caroling, garden clean-up, or running a holiday party. Here the contact may come through an activity or therapy office, or even directly through administration.
  • Clergy who visit under various types of chaplaincy programs. These visits frequently go beyond an occasional friendly chat. They may be regularly scheduled and the clergyperson may, in turn, recruit others from a congregation to provide additional personal services. This is most often viewed as service to the client, rather than as service to the organization.
  • Children of staff and board members. It is not uncommon for an agency to become surrogate child care, particularly for teenagers. "Helping out" after school or during long school holidays usually means coming to the office with mom or dad and doing a variety of odd, generally menial, jobs. Even more frequent is bringing along one's family members (of any age) to help at a special event.
  • Advisors or consultants with special expertise who donate their professional services, generally directly to the board of directors or to the executive staff.

It doesn't really matter if these service providers think of themselves as "volunteers," nor is it necessary to use that word to describe them. But here is what they have in common with each other and with the more traditional concept of a volunteer. They:

  • Receive no financial remuneration from the agency for their services (even if they are paid by their own employers, they are not reflected on your payroll).
  • Come to the facility for short periods of time on a diverse schedule.
  • Generally have no real understanding of how your organization functions prior to coming in to help.
  • Need basic instructions to do their assignments properly (even the consultant needs to learn how to use your phone system or database).

Does anyone keep track of these time donors from an organization-wide perspective or are they largely invisible? Without a process for integrating such service providers into the volunteer corps, you won't screen them, have a record of their service, report their contribution, or even thank them properly. They will also miss out on support and appreciation, as well as invitations to contribute in additional ways.

Most organizations want to demonstrate that intangible called "community support." If you continually under-report the actual contributed services you receive by ignoring volunteers normally below the radar, you aren't providing a true picture of how many citizens prove through their actions that they care about your work.

One final note about all those relatives of staff and volunteers who are dragged into helping at a special event. Slap a button on them that says "official volunteer," get their names, and give them some choice as to what they'd like to do (rather than being a "go-fer" for their relative). Afterwards, say thank you to them. You might end up recruiting some genuinely willing volunteers!