Keeping Volunteer Information Up-to-Date
Keeping track of information about volunteers is a challenge. At minimum,
an organization has to keep track of currently-engaged volunteers'
up-to-date email address and phone number. Organizations also need
volunteers to report what they are doing as volunteers, what they are
accomplishing, and how many hours they are contributing -- each day, each
week or each month. Organizations also want to keep information up-to-date
about volunteers that are not currently engaged, that are taking a break
from volunteering but could be interested in coming back at some point.
Having this up-to-date information about volunteers is vital to the
sustainability of volunteer involvement; without this information, it's
impossible to show, beyond anecdotes, the value
of volunteers. It also makes retaining volunteers and recruiting them
for new assignments very difficult, if not impossible.
Organizations struggle with keeping very basic contact information about
their volunteers up-to-date because email addresses and phone numbers
change so frequently (my mother has had the same phone number for the last
45 years, while mine has changed probably a dozen times in the last 25
years), and volunteers often forget to notify organizations they are
helping about such changes.
In addition, organizations need volunteers to report in about their
activities, for internal program reports, budgeting, program proposals and
donor reports - and organizations all lack the resources for one person to
sit at a computer and type in this information for all volunteers.
The easiest way to keep volunteer information up-to-date is to:
Organizations: your goal is to get all of
the information you need about volunteers, regularly, with minimal effort
on your part.
- make volunteers responsible for their own information - and make that
responsibility clear to them,
- create frequent opportunities for volunteers to view and update their
information themselves during their regular interactions with the
- develop consequences for not keeping information up-to-date,
and rewards for doing so.
Tell new volunteers about their requirements for keeping their
information up-to-date during their first volunteer orientation,
frequently remind volunteers of these requirements (reminders at least a
few times a year), and make sure they understand why you have these
requirements. Volunteers won't see these requirements as heavy-handed if
they understand from the beginning why having their contact information
up-to-date is so important to the organization (for instance, do they
realize that having the volunteer coordinator tracking down volunteers
with incorrect contact info takes away from that person being able to work
with and support other volunteers, or being able to mobilize volunteers
quickly for a critical situation? do they realize that without this
information, the organization may not see the value of volunteers and
eliminate support for such in an effort to save money?). If you establish
from day one that keeping their information up-to-date is part of their
commitment as volunteers, you will find that volunteers will make this
duty a priority.
Some suggestions on how to keep volunteers' contact information
up-to-date, as well as how to track other information (number of hours
contributed, accomplishments, challenges, etc.):
One of the reasons I love creating an
online discussion group for volunteers is that, when I use it to
create a group for volunteers I'm working with, I require the volunteers to
keep their information up-to-date themselves. If someone writes me and says,
"I've changed my email; here's the new address" I can write them back and
say, "Please update your subscription information on our online group;
here's how..." Eventually, volunteers learn that they are in control of
their own information, and don't have to wait for me to update their email
address. In addition, I can see whose email addresses are not working and
target those volunteers at our next onsite meeting, or with a phone call.
- Require volunteers to sign in onto a paper sheet or via a computer every
time they come onsite for an activity or a meeting. EVERY TIME. If your
resources allow, create a screen on a computer at the check-in point
that shows each volunteer his or her contact information at the time of
sign in and asks the volunteer to make sure his or her data is
up-to-date. If several volunteers arrive at once, you need to make sure
sign in goes as quickly as possible; volunteers don't want to stand in a
long, slow-moving line just to sign in. If you don't have time to then
sit at a computer later and update this information, recruit a volunteer
to do it (and ask them, later, to write a blog about their experience,
their impressions, etc. - this both highlights that person's work and
emphasizes the importance of keeping information up-to-date to your
- An alternative to this previous step: if your time and resources
allow, at that same time when a volunteer arrives for a major meeting,
give each volunteer a print out of his or her contact info, and ask the
volunteer to look over the information, update or confirm any
information on the paper, sign it and turn the paper back in. Make sure
no volunteer leaves without turning their paper back in.
- Require volunteers to review their most basic contact info (email and
phone number) and confirm it is up-to-date every time they sign
in to a private area on your web site, or create a system so that
volunteers are prompted to do this twice a year when they sign in to
such a system; they cannot proceed to the next screen until they confirm
the info. You can also create a system so that volunteers cannot proceed
within a private online area without being prompted to update their
information about the number of hours they have contributed in a month.
- Require volunteers to sign in at least twice a year to a private
online database to confirm their contact info, hours contributed to
date, etc., and create a computer program that will let you know who
hasn't signed in to confirm or update their info. Volunteers who don't
sign in do not receive new assignments or updates, or are blocked from
your online group for your volunteers until they update or confirm their
- Thank volunteers via your online discussion group, print materials
and meetings for keeping their information up-to-date, remind others to
do so, and review the consequences of their not doing so for the
organization, your clients, the volunteers themselves, etc.
- Recognize volunteers who have contributed a certain number of hours
or done something worth the notice of all other volunteers. This often
reminds other volunteers to ensure their information regarding their
service is up-to-date.
- When you get an email returned as undeliverable, call or text the
volunteer to let him or her know the email address doesn't work. This
could be a task done by another volunteer regularly once or twice a
- If your organization is super savvy and everyone has the latest and
greatest smart phone - and even better, the same ones - there is
probably an app that you could use that would automatically sign
volunteers in and out at an onsite activity or event, allowing you to
know who was there and for how long. However, remember that even if all
your volunteers are super tech-savvy, many WON'T have this function on
their smart phones, and you will need an offline way for them to sign in
and out. Also, people are much less likely to fill out an online form
before they leave a site - paper is still powerful!
I strongly discourage you from trying to input all updates about
volunteers yourself, if at all possible. If you are in charge of changing
contact information for volunteers (rather than the volunteers themselves,
via an input screen on a computer), make sure you change data within 48
hours after receiving the updated information.
Return to my volunteer-related resources index
- Basic Customer Database Principles
What information should you track about donors, volunteers, clients,
community members, potential audiences, etc? Who should be in charge of
the database? What about security members? Should you delete people off
of your database? This is basic information about database management
for mission-based organizations, presented in as non-technical terms as
- Customer Database Regular Maintenance
A database is only as valuable as the quality of information in it. How
do you maintain that quality?
- Listing of Volunteer Management
In addition to listing every software package I know about, it also
offers criteria to help organizations choose volunteer management
Disclaimer: No guarantee of
accuracy or suitability is made by the poster/distributor. This material
is provided as is, with no expressed or implied warranty.
Permission is granted to copy, present and/or distribute a limited
amount of material from my web site (up to five pages) without
charge if the information is kept intact and without alteration,
and is credited to:
Otherwise, please contact
me for permission to reprint,
present or distribute these materials (for instance, in a
class or book or online event for which you intend to charge).
The art work and material on
this site was created and is copyrighted 1996-2014
by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved
(unless noted otherwise, or its a logo from a company that is not