Volunteer Support Q&A

What are the most effective methods for tracking volunteer hours, training participation, etc.?

Many programs choose to ask volunteers to self-report this information. Volunteers may fill out a timesheet once a month, or weekly, that includes the number of hours and any training that they’ve completed. Some programs have done this using paper. Another option is if you can create a google form, or a form on your website. At the literacy council, we use this form for tracking volunteer hours at our main office. Whatever way you choose to do it, the key is making sure volunteers are aware of the importance of tracking their time, why it matters, and that they understand how to do it. I’ve found that sometimes volunteers need reminding about this.

Also, there’s an online system called Volgistics that’s popular among volunteer coordinators. There’s a fee for using it, but would be worth the investment if your organization can cover it. There’s also a free trial so you can try it out and see if it’s helpful for you. I haven’t used it, but have heard good things. With our adult literacy volunteers at the literacy council, we’ve been using a system called Salesforce.

What are the best practices for tracking/measuring literacy gains via volunteers?

Again, there doesn’t seem to be one single best way to do this, so you may find it useful to experiment with different ways. Making the reporting process as easy as possible for the volunteers is important. Some programs have created a written log (usually in a 3 ring binder) where volunteers make notes about the progress and challenges of the students they work with. Other programs have online forms that volunteers fill out after a tutoring session.

Asking volunteers to evaluate student progress according to a commonly used rating scale can be helpful. It allows comparison to be done between volunteers/students and over time. An important part of using a rating scale is that volunteers use it in an agreed upon way. For example, if you  have a scale from 1 – 5, you may need to clearly define what skills or abilities should get a 5 or a 4 or a 3, etc. What one person thinks is a 5 might be different from the next.

How do you kindly dismiss/reject a volunteer?

I don’t know of an easy way to do this – it never feels good to turn away a volunteer. But if it’s clear that a volunteer isn’t a good fit for the volunteer position or for the mission of the organization, it’s best to nip it in the bud. Here are a few ideas for ways to say no to a volunteer. Also, here’s an article on the unpleasant topic of firing a volunteer that includes some useful tips and ideas, along with more resources. Generally, I don’t use the word “fired,” and instead use language such as “letting someone go” or “ending the volunteer relationship.”

If you have received an application, but the volunteer has not yet begun, send a message clearly stating, “you have not been accepted.”  This can be done in writing or over the phone. Wording such as “we do not have an appropriate match for you” could also be used. The following is an example of a message that I’ve used:

Thank you for your recent application to become a volunteer. While we greatly appreciate your motivation and the time you spent during our application process, we [cannot accept your application to become a volunteer/intern OR we do not have an appropriate position for you] at this time…

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