Retaining and engaging volunteers: Four ways HR software will help

The third sector press is awash with stories about how the bigger charities are ramping up their efforts to attract more volunteers. The reason is simple, the rate of volunteering has steadily declined over the past 5 years, but demand for charity services and voluntary activities continues to rise fast.

According to Community Life Survey 2018-19, 36% volunteered at least once in the last 12 months (as opposed to 45% in 2013-14), and 22% volunteered at least once a month (27% in 2013-14).

There are too many charities chasing too few volunteers – and some of those volunteers may be yours.

So, in the face of competition for such a vital resource, what should you be doing to hang on to the volunteers you’ve already recruited and trained?

Motivation matters

According to NCVO’s Time Well Spent Report, which looked into volunteer experience, the key factor influencing motivation is the level of satisfaction they get from their volunteering. This is affected by their sense of:

  • Appreciation: knowing their efforts are valued
  • Inclusion: feeling they are really a part of your organisation
  • Impact: knowing their skills are being used in the best possible way
  • Professionalism: having the support they need to do their work well.

These are not ground-breaking findings, but with limited time and money, it’s not easy for already over-stretched teams to provide the continuous input that’s required to ensure a positive, sustained and motivational volunteer experience.

Which is where technology comes in.

Achieve more with HR technology

A recent Charity Digital survey found that 95% of charities have never used HR software, so are missing out on a powerful, efficiency-driving part of any charity’s tech arsenal.

Today’s HR systems are radically different from HR admin tools of the past.  They are designed with the whole workforce in mind, and not only dramatically reduce HR paperwork but offer new and exciting ways of connecting, engaging and supporting the wider workforce. Significantly, they are also considerably cheaper than in the past, making them affordable to virtually every organisation, whatever their size.

Here are four ways HR software can be used to retain and engage volunteers.

1. Making volunteers feel appreciated

NCVO’s study showed that four in ten volunteers wanted to be recognised for the help they give.

Volunteers give up their personal time to help you achieve your mission, so while a simple thank you may go some way to keeping them engaged, is it enough? Building a sense of genuine appreciation typically requires a two-way conversation: the chance for volunteers to not only hear directly from you how much they matter, but the opportunity for them to share what they’ve achieved and what they’ve learnt – and how that could benefit their work and your organisation going forward.

HR systems like Cezanne HR can be used as a feedback hub that makes it simple to organise and record regular ‘check-ins’ (semi-formal one-to-one meetings) between volunteers and their coordinators. Conversations can be noted down, agreed actions recorded and follow-ups scheduled, so the next check-in doesn’t get missed. And, if a supervisor leaves, it’s easy for the new co-ordinator to pick up the conversation.

2. Including volunteers in your community

How often do you include volunteers in your onboarding programs, provide an opportunity for them to get to know their full-time colleagues (digitally if not face to face) or simply share the latest news? Most organisations that rely on volunteers try hard to ensure they feel part of their wider community, but it’s not easy to find the time to manage everything that’s needed.

HR software can help you by making it simpler to connect everyone online and ensure the right information is sent to the right people at the right time. For example, with Cezanne HR’s onboarding module you can set up personalised ‘welcome’ portals so you can showcase what your organisation stands for, link to useful information and provide ‘pen-portraits’ of the people they’ll be working with. Onboarding also makes it easy to assign tasks to colleagues to make sure, for example, that training has been organised, a buddy organised, and the first check-in scheduled. It’s an easy way to ensure new volunteers feel part of your community from the very start.

3. Knowing where they can make an impact

NCVO’s study found that 16% of volunteers are saying they have skills and experience they would like to use that they are currently not using.

Maintaining a database of volunteer contact information is hard enough when you have to make do with Excel spreadsheets or paper documents, keeping track of changing skillsets and experience is even harder.

With online HR software, it’s easy to provide secure self-service access to volunteers so they can maintain their own information for themselves. You’ll typically still have the option to authorise changes (for example, to bank details, so you don’t send an expense repayment to the wrong account), but none of the overheads that come with manual processes. Allow volunteers to manage their own personal data ticks another box too: the GDPR requirement, to make sure the personal information you hold is up-to-date and accessible.

Obviously, HR system can go much further than this in terms of ensuring precious volunteer time is well spent, for example, by helping with scheduling, publicising up-coming training or new volunteering opportunities, or simply providing links to the organisations’ achievements, further reassuring volunteers that their contribution is creating a positive change.

4. Maintaining professionalism with organised processes

Over 1/3 of the respondents to the NVCO survey agreed that things could be much better organised.

If you are in HR, you’ll know the vital importance of not skipping essential admin activities; but you’ll also recognise just how frustrating it can get if it’s not organised efficiently. If volunteers are asked to provide the same information over and over again, don’t get questions answered quickly, or have to chase up for expense payments, it’s easy for them to become disengaged and disillusioned.

An HR system can help streamline all your processes and save time, so everyone can fully focus on more productive activities. Self-service features that enable volunteers to access important documents like policies or procedures, edit their info or fill out paperwork at any time from any device takes the hassle out of chasing up. Online forms can facilitate the process of submitting expense requests, reporting problems or requesting assistance and automatic reminders and notifications will ensure key activities – like updating mandatory training – aren’t missed. And, with all the data managed in one place, it’s much easier to keep things running smoothly.

So, next time you revisit your strategy to improve volunteer engagement and retention, it’s worth adding HR software into the mix. It could help you lift not just the experience of your volunteers, but your wider workforce too.

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