4 things to consider before buying a volunteer management system

Digital Transformation, News, Nonprofit, Procurement, Public Sector

Written by Katie Taaffe

Getting started with a digital transformation of any kind is so much more than simply selecting and implementing a new piece of software. As well as overcoming a number of potential barriers to getting your project started, further challenges around attitudes to adoption, changes to process and organisation-wide culture can play a significant role in its success.  

So, what should you consider when choosing your volunteer management software? We’ve worked alongside some of the UK’s largest charities and seen first-hand how our customers have successfully adopted Assemble to improve and refine the volunteer journey end-to-end. Along the way, we’ve had access to some incredibly talented digital champions, who have taught us a thing or two about what it takes to get to the start line.  

1. Find your leader  

Selecting a supplier or partner for your volunteer management software requires an enormous amount of consideration and buy-in across the board. Regardless of how glaringly obvious it might be that you are ready to update your digital toolkit, kicking off a project that requires change can be full of barriers and dead ends, so begin by identifying or appointing a digital lead.   

Depending on the size of your organisation, the digital lead is normally the person responsible for the volunteer management software, CRM, accounting or HR software and should have a broad understanding of the organisation from an operational and strategical standpoint. 

According to Catalyst, ‘The typical digital lead is much more likely to be an expert in their particular charity who has fallen into digital work. Often, expertise in how the charity itself works is a key requirement when it comes to getting anything done.  

A lot of people in the position seem to be good at getting projects moving, and good at building connections across their organisation. It seems to require a curiosity about how things work, and a willingness to experiment and try new things, as well as persistence and an ability to work across a multitude of tasks.’   

Statistically speaking, the chances of success are much greater with a digital-savvy leader in place. The digital lead should also be a real “do-er” – committed to navigating tricky terrain to see the project through. It is almost impossible to satisfy every person and every need, so they will stay focused on the main objectives. They will make themselves heard to the right people and take ownership from start to finish, ensuring the outcome meets the requirements as best it can. 

If you have not got the time or resources internally, then engaging with a management consultancy that has the right experience and expertise to plan, deliver and implement your project could be worth considering. Whilst a contractor may be a cost you had not accounted for, they can bring many benefits: impartiality, market research, project management skills and most importantly will not be distracted or diverted in meeting the goal.  

2. Audit, define and consider   

This phase is all about discovery and building your case. It sounds obvious but adopting new software without proper research and qualification can be extremely costly and disruptive. Take time to analyse the needs of your organisation with the intention to drive positive, meaningful, and measurable change.   

Getting to grips with how your organisation works in its entirety today is the first step in finding solutions to the digital challenges you face and how this might improve in the future. Begin with an audit and discover exactly what software applications are currently being used to manage your volunteers and data. Get under the skin of the process behind each major element of the volunteer journey.  

For organisations that have not yet consolidated their digital needs, it is common to find different teams inventing their own solutions to simplify their requirements. Whilst this may work on a local basis, wider collaboration and data gathering can be hugely hindered. Working across different software products can also raise questions about their suitability. For example, can you guarantee that it provides the level of security expected to store your data or are there multiple teams paying subscriptions to various apps across the organisation? 

Next, really understand what you need from volunteer management software and what it is there to serve. Are you looking for a GDPR compliant data storage solution? A more cohesive and comprehensive volunteer journey? Better engagement and collaboration between volunteering teams?  Possibly all of the above, so have some clear objectives and stick firmly to them. This not only holds the digital lead to account, but gives other stakeholders clarity, so everyone remains on the same page. 

Define, discuss and compile your list of requirements together with the problems you are trying to solve. You may want to consult with other senior leaders and consider how changing the current systems will impact users, for example, staff, volunteers, or other external contributors. You may even consider looking ahead at this point…what does the future volunteer look like for your organisation? After all, these are the people you will eventually want to attract.  

REQUIREMENTS CHECKLIST

  • How can this volunteer management software simplify or improve current process?  
  • What features do we need from the volunteer management software?  
  • How will this improve communications within volunteer teams?  
  • Will this save us time or reduce administration for volunteer managers?  
  • Will this improve how we store, manage and search our volunteer data?  
  • Is there a user-friendly mobile app for the volunteer management system?  
  • What is the user experience like? Will my volunteers be able to use it easily? 
  • How much training is required for my volunteers and managers?  
  • What support and resources are available for admins and users?  
  • Is this software complimentary to our brand?  
  • Does the supplier have the appropriate Information Security Certifications?  
  • What are the upfront and annual subscription costs?  
  • Do we have the right resources in place for a rollout to our volunteers?  
  • Can we integrate with existing systems? Do we need to?  
  • Can we provide our users and volunteers with the right support?  
  • Are we being compliant, fair and equal?  
  • Are we ready to embrace a cultural change? 

To assist with a list of possible features you may want to include in your search for a volunteer management software, request our full features checklist.

It is worth remembering that no one system will work for every user and every instance, unless you design, develop and maintain a bespoke system. Alongside the significant costs and long lead-time to get something like this off the ground, other considerations for this option should include ongoing development, maintenance, security, and technical support. It takes years of considerable experience in SaaS technology, as well as ongoing investment, market research, development, testing and UI/UX knowledge to maintain a successful Software as a Service Solution, so be prepared with a solid team and deep pockets if you do decide to develop in house.  

3. Gain budget approval

Gathering accurate annual, one-off or associated costs for your new volunteer management software is essential, along with a proposal to demonstrate and measure value. The level of investment required for volunteer management softwares can fluctuate, with prices upwards from zero. Generally, the investment you make will reflect at least some of the following variables:  

  • Depth and breadth of features and functionality  
  • Number of users, volunteers and volunteer managers  
  • User experience for both organisation and volunteers  
  • Security and compliance to keep your data safe  
  • Integrations with existing applications  
  • Technical support and user resources 
  • Opportunities for teams to collaborate 
  • Ability to scale with growth
  • Supporting mobile app
  • Customer success and best practice guidance, training and support 

A great place to start is to look at how the chosen software has been used before. How has it demonstrated impact and ROI within similar organisations using volunteers? Some of our Assemble customer stories have examples of this.

Supporting new or existing strategies that align with your organisation’s goals could increase the likelihood of your business case being approved. Working towards a wider organisation objective may also result in better traction, more impact and greater overall success as everyone pulls in the same direction. 

4. Reach out

Undoubtedly, every organisation will have its own challenges, but if an organisation working with volunteers has implemented a volunteer management software successfully, there stands a good chance you’ve once shared pain points too. Don’t forget to reach out to your peers or support groups for help, advice and success stories.  

Leverage the software sales team to your advantage; share your needs, wants, challenges and concerns. Use them as a resource to build your case and gather information on the key features and functionality and discuss how others have had success. Finally, request a full demonstration of the software and discover the benefits along the way.  

If you want to get a head start on your research, take a product tour, request a demo or look at Assemble’s customer stories, you can read a little more about how we’ve helped other charities such as Barnardo’sRSPCA and Save the Children UK on our website.