A large portion of U.S. nonprofit organizations (over 80%, according to a 2004 study) use volunteers in their normal operations. For years, the management of these volunteers was a time-consuming, messy endeavor—a mixture of handwritten notes, crowded Excel spreadsheets, and a stream of missed calls.

Software tools have become the default for work management across most industries, and historically the nonprofit sector has been left behind. Not anymore. Companies interested in helping nonprofits run more efficiently have recognized the onerousness of manual volunteer management, and now offer a variety of digital solutions. Each option offers a unique set of features, with strengths and weaknesses, yet each brands themselves as a “one-stop shop” for volunteer management. When considering different software solutions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and distracted by buzzwords and marketing tactics.  Nonprofit managers deserve to know what features they really need in a software when they are scouring the market and to make their final decision as strong and well-informed as it can be. 

To offer some guidance, we have narrowed down the three most essential features for nonprofit volunteer management software, based on our experiences with over one hundred nonprofits.

  1. Simple Calendar/Event Management

This one is a nonprofit no-brainer. Without volunteer events, there would be no volunteers to manage. Indeed, volunteer events are a cornerstone of nonprofit activity—and a significant point of stress for nonprofit leaders. Your software should ease this stress, not amplify it.

When searching for a management tool, make sure to look out for an intuitive event creation feature. This includes the ability to edit, publish, and share your own events, all the while keeping them in an organized calendar, visible to you and your volunteers. There should also be avenues for volunteers to register themselves for shifts, as well as a simple way for you to view their registrations. If you run a recurring event, you should be given the option to publish it for multiple dates, with easy ways to edit or remove any events as you please.

Event coordination and execution is one of the most stressful jobs, and fulfilling its demands alongside many other administrative tasks makes it that much harder. Keep in mind that an ideal volunteer management software enables you to schedule and organize your events effortlessly, so that they can be created quickly,  amended seamlessly, and executed beautifully.

  1. Streamlined Communication

Volunteer management is all about relationships, and like in any other relationship, clear, effective communication is key.  Studies have even proven the impact of great communication on volunteer retention. You want to be able to let your volunteers know what is going on with your organization—the good, the bad, the planned, and the unplanned. When you put out a new schedule of events, you invite them to sign up. In the event of a last-minute, drastic weather change, you let them know about adjustments to the original event. During the holiday season, you publicize current fundraisers and express gratitude for their support. 

You should not be scouring through various documents or trawling through contact lists to send a simple  message to your volunteers. Your top choice for a volunteer management platform should streamline your volunteer communication. A good platform will serve as an easily searchable database for volunteers’ contact information. A great one will allow you to reach out to your volunteers  directly from the platform, whether that be via email or mobile phone number.

Further, your volunteer management software should make your events’ points of contact clear and accessible for your volunteers. If they need to reach out to ask a question, they should be able to see from their registration who to contact with questions and how. The ideal volunteer management solution recognizes that communication is two-sided.

Strong volunteer relationships make for a strong nonprofit. Ensure that your volunteer management software builds, not neglects, this relationship.

  1. A Mobile-Friendly Component

Our phones have increasingly become hubs for our lives, from our shopping to our eating to our traveling. Indeed, 85% of Americans surveyed in 2021 owned a smartphone, up from just 35% ten years prior, and it does not look like the rate will decrease anytime soon. Mobile apps for life organization across virtually every area have become the norm. Your volunteer management software should be well-adapted to the realities of our technological moment. 

Excellent volunteer management platforms should be mobile-friendly, ideally offering a mobile app. Volunteers should be able to register for events, view their schedules, and record their hours  from their phone. This gives them a sense of autonomy and structure when it comes to their volunteering. It also  gives them the chance to manage their own  contact information and track their hours for personal use. Young adults are often required to track their hours to fulfill school requirements and retiree volunteers can sometimes have former employers match their hours in donations. Make those things easy, to encourage retention efforts. On the nonprofit end, the mobile option for your volunteer management software should give you the opportunity to manage your events on-the-go or off-site, with simple avenues for checking volunteers in and out and sending messages to volunteers. Your volunteering will not always be in one place; why should your tools be? The mobile app (or mobile-friendliness) should increase your flexibility, allowing you to do your job regardless of location.

Today, so much can be done at the touch of our fingertips, and there is no reason volunteer management should be any different. To keep volunteers engaged, informed, and coming back, nonprofits need to keep up with the latest trends, which means their technology needs to, as well. Do not settle for a technology that is stuck in the past. Ensure your volunteer management software has the three key features outlined above, and set your volunteer program up for success. 

Think other features should be on this list? Reach out! We would love to hear your thoughts.