Tracking Volunteer Data

Volunteer-based organizations have to keep track of a lot of data—for example, contact info, schedules, time sheets and job sites—and the right software can help, freeing time for managing volunteers.

For most organizations it will make sense to track volunteer information in the same system as other constituents—especially donors. Often, volunteers are especially good prospects for donations, as someone involved in one way with your organization is more likely to get involved in other ways, as well. It’s useful to have all your constituents in one place in order to see the full scope of their involvement with your organization, to avoid having to sync contact information between multiple systems, and to avoid having to figure out which system to look in when someone calls with a question.
And many organizations may find that their existing donor or constituent management system is flexible enough to provide the basic functionality they need to track volunteers. If you just need to track the basics—contact information, skills and availability—and need to be able to find volunteers appropriate for a particular job, it’s almost certainly a better idea to consolidate your volunteer information and your donor information in one system. Even organizations with more advanced volunteer requirements may find that the system they’re already using—or a new one that better meets all constituent needs—may have an add-on module that supports fairly sophisticated volunteer tracking at less cost than a standalone system. 
However, those with larger volunteer components may find standalone systems —like Samaritan, Volgistics, or Volunteer Reporter— useful. If you’re trying to schedule several hundred volunteers or more, the more sophisticated standalone tools may save you substantial time in trying to match volunteers to jobs. This is especially true if you’re trying to match people in different geographic areas—few of the consolidated tools provide functionality to, for instance, help you automatically schedule volunteers for an opportunity near their home. If you have a full-time volunteer manager (or several), a robust volunteer management program could make their list considerably easier.
There’s also a large range of online functionality. If you want not only to recruit volunteers online, but also to allow them to sign up online for particular volunteer opportunities or slots, you’ll likely need to turn to a more advanced standalone system or do some custom programming on a consolidated one.
In truth, there’s a surprising similarity in the available features between standalone and consolidated systems. More and more donor and constituent management vendors are developing functionality or add-ons to manage volunteers. 
As with most software decisions, start by looking at the software you already have. Does your existing system provide enough support for volunteer information? Could you buy an additional module to add this functionality? If you’re happy with the way you’re handling other constituents, but can’t get the efficiency you need in tracking volunteers in the same system, then it’s time to start considering standalone solutions. 
For more information, download Idealware’s new A Consumers Guide to Volunteer Management Systems (free with registration)