Why not just use an online signup sheet?

Online signup sheets are really useful. There are numerous popular online signup sheet options available, so why shouldn’t your school just one of those for your volunteer program, instead of OnVolunteers?  What’s the difference?

Online signup sheet software allows you to invite people to easily sign up for things such as potlucks, neighborhood and school events, even big non-profit fundraisers. The idea is that you create an account and then create a signup ‘sheet’, a webpage. You then invite people, sending them invitations by entering their email addresses directly from within the tool itself. Your invitees receive an email with the invitation to go to the signup webpage, eezy peezy as they say. If you have an event in which you need to do that, then online signup sheets should definitely be on your list of tools to try.

 

Different

OnVolunteers is very different from online signup sheets in that OnVolunteers is a volunteer ‘management system’, providing an extensive array of online tools, far greater than mere signups, that serve the unique, extensive volunteer program needs of Charter, Independent and Catholic schools.

 

Far more than online signups

Charter, Independent and Catholic schools have extensive volunteer programs, using volunteering as a primary way to build school community and to help with the many tasks and jobs at the school. To drive and maintain a high level of parent participation in the school community, these schools ask, if not require families to contribute a specific # of volunteer or service hours per year. Schools also associate a $ value to every volunteer hour, typically $10 to $30 for 1 volunteer hour. As an example, let’s say a school requires 40 hours, and each hour is worth $20. So the total value of the 40 hours for the year will be $800. So schools not only need to automate and track parent volunteer signups and hours, but also need to track the $ value of those volunteer hours. In addition, during the year, schools need to let families know how many hours they still have outstanding and the value of those volunteers, in case parents want to “pay out” the remaining hours. With online signup sheets, you’ll need to manually track the $ values of volunteer hours (again on Excel) as well as send email to individual families regarding the status of their hours. OnVolunteers, on the other hand, fully automates this tracking and process – the school office team and parent volunteer leaders do not have to do anything.

As part of a school’s tracking of annual volunteer hours requirement and associated $ values, the school needs to verify whether parents completed their volunteering contribution. Parent volunteer coordinators need to track which families and parents completed their volunteer jobs and which ones did not. Doing this manually on Microsoft Excel, which is what happens if you use online signup sheets, becomes highly time-consuming and almost always leads to ongoing confusion and chaos. OnVolunteers provides flexible tools to verify whether parents have completed their volunteer jobs. Schools can choose to have their volunteer coordinators verify parents’ volunteering or can use the fully automated verification process. And since all of the verification of volunteer jobs is within OnVolunteers, the recording of parent volunteer hours is fully automated and can easily be reported on. The manual, time-consuming Excel-based tracking that comes with using online signup sheets is completed eliminated!

 

Communication

With any school event requiring parent volunteers, an inherent part of organizing the event is communication.

OnVolunteers provides an internal messaging system, the same as Facebook, that allows the school office team and parent volunteer coordinators to communicate with parent volunteers. Conversely, parents can also communicate back to the school and volunteer coordinators. With online signup sheets, you’re left to use email, which results in countless endless email strings, where communication happens in silos. On the flip side, with OnVolunteers’ centralized messaging system, the school and volunteer leaders can optimize their communication to and from parents.

 

Layers of Security, for the Kids

Online signup sheets are almost always available to anyone with an Internet connection. That means school events and details, including parents’ names, are available for anyone to see. For example, information about your Walkathon, its route, all the volunteer jobs, the parents signed up to help, are available to anyone on the Internet. The same thing for things like school picnics and outings, all your information is available on the online signup sheet for anyone to see.

Online signup sheets also allow any parent to sign up for volunteer jobs involving unsupervised work with children. Most if not all school districts have very strict requirements for parents who do un-supervised work with children – that is, parents must undergo some sort of criminal background and record check. There is simply no way to control this with online signup sheets.

In both cases above, online signup sheets simply do not provide any security to protect kids.

OnVolunteers is unique. School office staff, parent volunteer leaders and families alike all have their own individual encrypted password-protected website. All volunteer information is protected, only your school community sees your volunteer program information. In addition, OnVolunteers is the only volunteer management system available that provides systematic tracking of parents who have undergone criminal records checks. So only parents who have undergone these checks are able to view and signup for un-supervised volunteer work with kids.

 

Comprehensive Volunteer Management system

Whilst online signup sheets are useful tools, they do only what the name implies, signups. These tools are great if that’s all you need. However, if your Charter, Independent and Catholic school has an extensive volunteer program, OnVolunteers provides a comprehensive volunteer management system made specifically to serve your unique needs.

Happy Volunteering!

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Why Email hurts your volunteer program, how you can change it.

So here you are, faced with 4-5 school events and activities needing parent volunteers, and your email notices asking for help are getting poor responses. One of the biggest reasons for this is the method volunteer administrators and coordinators use to ask for help… yes, email. More accurately, email itself is not what’s hurting volunteer programs. It’s how people use email.

Need help. Send email.  This is the de facto method of operation for the vast majority of volunteer administrators or coordinators. But because schools almost always have a constant need of volunteers, this is also one of the reasons why email hurts a volunteer program. A typical elementary school will have between 40-50 events and activities needing parent volunteers a year, with everything from school lunch helpers, drivers, tutors, helpers with school maintenance, office helpers, and of course helpers for fundraisers, parents receive dozens and dozens of emails asking for help. It basically becomes what we all hate – email SPAM.

We need help for < enter event name here>, please help!  This is usually followed by a description of the event and who to contact. Most often, little else is provided. This is another contributing factor why email becomes less effective in volunteer recruitment. One of the biggest motivators for volunteers is having an idea of the result – the impact – their work will have on the event or activity they are contributing their time to.

We need volunteers, please email < enter coordinator name here> to help – Email Tag  You ask for help, which results in multiple emails back and forth with the parents. That’s not only a hassle for parents but it also takes their time, which is something most if not all parents have in short supply.

There you have it. Three of the biggest reasons why email hurts your volunteer program. So, how do you change it?

1. Plan Your Email Communications

Work with your event and activity coordinators and define when they need to start their requests for help. Then, create a regular set schedule for when to send out email communications calling for help. Depending on how many events and activities you have, this set schedule can be weekly, on the same day. If you have fewer events and activities, you may want to make it, say, the 1st and 3rd Monday (or whatever sequence/day you prefer) of every month. The goal is to eliminate the constant, random barrage of email SPAM and, instead, create a regular expectation among parents of your volunteer-related emails.

2. Highlight The Benefits of Parents’ Contribution

In your email, include a brief note about the benefits the parents’ time contribution will bring to the event or activity. Ideally, personalize it by including names of the students or group who will directly benefit from the parents’ volunteer work. Creating an emotional connection between the parents’ work and the beneficiaries is what provokes action among many parents.

3. Use Online Tools To Recruit – Make It Easy.

Lastly, online tools create a fast and easy, hassle-free way for parents to register to help. Whether it’s a simple online sign up web form for a one-off event, or a comprehensive system  like OnVolunteers to automate and centralize your entire volunteer program, having an online tool will reduce the # of emails you send out as parents have a place they can always go to volunteer jobs and tasks.

Email, used in the right ways, can be a powerful tool to increase your school’s volunteerism. Whether you start with one or all of the above suggestions, the important thing to remember is just by starting you will have started to make email work for you.

Happy Volunteering!

The OnVolunteers Team

Systematic Tracking of Parent Volunteers, Criminal Background Checks

OnVolunteers is extremely proud to have developed and released a feature that allows schools to better protect children against those who would do them harm.

The Summer Release of OnVolunteers’ Premium Edition introduced the new  ‘Requirements’ functionality. This capability provides school administrators and volunteer coordinators a systematic way to track parents who have undergone criminal background checks and ensure that only these parents are allowed to register for volunteer tasks that involve children.

As part of the Requirements feature in OnVolunteers, school administrators and volunteer coordinators can create a ‘Requirement’, such as that of a criminal background check. Administrators and coordinators, after receiving the necessary  background check documentation from parents, then assign the requirement to the parents’ user profile in their respective accounts, including the dates for when the criminal background check is valid. When volunteer tasks involving children become available, these tasks are made available to parents – shown only within their unique, password-protected accounts – whose criminal background checks are currently valid. Those volunteer tasks are hidden from any parent who hasn’t completed a criminal background check.

The Requirements feature – with its capability to systematically track parents with associated criminal background check information – is unique to OnVolunteers Software. No online sign up form service or volunteer management software provides any form of this type of tracking capability.

If you’d like to learn more about the Requirements feature and the OnVolunteers Premium Edition, please submit an inquiry within our website.

Happy Volunteering!

The OnVolunteers Team

Stage 3 of No-nonsense Guide to planning your event or activity

Build out your plan.
In Step 2 we focused on defining the main areas of your event or activity, you’re off to a roaring start because defining the main areas is really your foundation of your event or activity. Next, you can begin to build out your plan, outlining all the key or important details, from the number of parent volunteers you’ll need to when things need to be completed by. This post will help you build out your plan to ensure your event or activity goes smoothly and successfully.

 
Focus Areas

  • Define your main subject areas.
  • Build out the volunteer task list.
  • Define a detailed timeline containing the volunteer task list, i.e. define when volunteer tasks needs to be done.
  • Create the Supplies list.

Tools

  • Volunteer task spreadsheet.
  • Event/Activity Planning Timeline.
  • Supply spreadsheet.

Building the Volunteer Tasks list
The foundation of your plan is all the volunteer tasks that need to be done to ensure your event/activity is a success. A good way to start is to think of what you want to accomplish. This will allow you to identify what tasks are needed. Start with a spreadsheet, either Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets work fine.
On the farthest left hand column, enter the essential components that you identified in the Stage 2; create a row at the top for your header title. Call this column the ‘Subject Area’. The next column to the right, you can enter the volunteer tasks you think are needed for each of the components; call this your ‘Volunteer Task’ column.

 
In the next column to the right of the volunteer task, enter the # of volunteers you need for each task. If this is your first time to manage your even/activity, it may be difficult for you to determine how many people you’ll need. Here are a few considerations:

  • How long will the task take? either in terms of pure hours or in duration. Generally, the more hours needed, the more people you need.
  • People’s skills – do any of the volunteer tasks require any special skills?
  • Physical abilities needed for tasks – define if any of the tasks involve any heavy lifting.

At your early planning stage, it’s better to overcompensate for how many people you’ll need. If you think 4 volunteers is the right number, right down 5. It’s always better to have an extra person or two than to be short a person or two. Invariably, volunteer no-shows are part of any event or activity. People always have the best intentions, unfortunately however, when it comes down to showing up, there are always circumstances that people are not able to follow through. Having contingencies in place will go a long way to ensuring you’ll achieve success for your event/activity.
Next, it’s best to prioritize the tasks under each respective area, doing so will give you an idea of how and when you should begin recruiting your volunteers.

Timeline
Across the top of your spreadsheet, going horizontally to the the right, you can now create your timeline. Depending on your event/activity, you can either break things down into week or month  time durations, with each column representing either one week or month. For each task, enter the date of the actual task, or the ‘Complete by’ date. You’ll need to consider those ‘dependent tasks’, tasks that are dependent on the completion of other tasks. Once you have done this for all your tasks, there’s one more thing you need before you can call it your ‘master plan’ – your Supplies spreadsheet.

What you need – Supplies
Ok, you’ve defined all the ‘To Do’ tasks, fantastic. The next thing is to define what you need to pull off your event/activity, your supplies, or the ‘To Bring’ tasks.
A good way to manage your supplies is to replicate your ‘To Do’ spreadsheet. Simply copy your To Do spreadsheet and paste into a new sheet; call this your ‘To Bring’ sheet.
In your To Bring sheet, edit the ‘Volunteer task’ column to ‘Supplies’. Under each Subject area, begin entering any supplies you need for each subject area.
Once you’ve completed your Supplies sheet, you now have your Master plan, or at least the first version of your plan. Now, you’re ready to work on recruiting the people you need… and that’s Stage 4!  Stay tuned.

Happy Volunteering!

Stage 2 of No-nonsense Guide to planning your event or activity

Stage 2 – Define the Scope of Your School Event or Activity

Ok, in your efforts to engage school staff and parent association stakeholders you’ve been able to define their views and priorities. In Stage 2, you can begin defining the extent of your school event or activity needing volunteers.

First, start with the same event or activity that was held last year. Find as much information about last year’s event/activity as you can. You may want to speak with the person who managed last year’s event/activity. Here are a list of questions you may want to ask:

  • What were the pieces or components of what they did?
  • Did the person have a documented plan? If yes, can you have it? Having that plan will provide you with an instant foundation to define what you will do for your event or activity.
  • What were the main components of the event/activity.
  • Was a communication plan for the event/activity one of the components? If no, then you’ll need to add that to your own plan.
  • What were the main areas/needs for volunteer?
  • Did any of the volunteer tasks need any special skills?

After learning about last year’s event/activity, you can begin defining the scope of your plan, think about what you think are the essential components; learn from what was done last year, add anything you think they missed, and eliminate what you think you can do without.

Here are some starting points as essential components:

  • Food, if applicable. How much will you based on estimated attendance levels? Again, last year’s event/activity will help here.
  • Location, again, if applicable. Related to location might be something like parking for the attendees of your event/activity.
  • People/parent volunteers
  • Communication/promotion 
  • Permissions (particularly if your event/activity requires transporting people/children from one place to another).
  • Licenses – for things like the selling of food or if you are holding a Bingo event or a raffle to raise money.
  • Money administration if you’re holding a large fundraiser.
  • Security – particularly if your event/activity is big enough to have a Money administration team.
  • Budget – what initial funds will you need for any purchase of things like supplies, etc.

After you’ve defined the essential areas, start to break them down into small parts, then create a list using Microsoft Excel. For example:

Communication

  • Get a webpage on the school website, or use an online tool to centralize communication, volunteer recruiting and coordinating people.
  • Communication plan – what information will you need to start sending out? For example, to recruit volunteers, what does your timeline look like? e.g. how far in advance of your event/activity date will you need to start sending things out?
  • People – what skills will you need to help you with communication?

As you break down the Communication component, do the same with all the other components. Put everything into the Excel spreadsheet. You’ll quickly realize you now have the beginnings of your Master plan.

One important consideration – before you start on Stage 3, it’s a good idea to discuss your Master plan with your school staff and parent association stakeholders, get their feedback to make sure you are aligned with the priorities.

In our next post, Stage 3 – Outline Key Needs of Your Event or Activity…

Happy Volunteering!

No-nonsense Guide to planning your event or school activity.

The upcoming series of blog posts will provide a comprehensive guide to help school volunteer leaders learn how to build and execute highly organized school events and activities that provide significant impact.

We’ve organized the blog posts into “actionable” stages, containing information that you will be able to use immediately in your school volunteer program. The goal of the upcoming blog posts is to provide a framework for you to be able to use with every school event and activity in which you need volunteers.

We’ve organized the upcoming blog posts into 8 stages:

Stage 1 – Focus On Your School Community

Stage 2 – Define the Scope of Your School Event or Activity

Stage 3 – Outline Key Needs of Your Event or Activity

Stage 4 – Map Out Your Event or Activity

Stage 5 – Recruiting Your People, Securing Resources

Stage 6 – Finalize Your Plan

Stage 7 – Executing Your Plan

Stage 8 – Close Out Your Plan

The first stage focuses on working with your school staff and parent association to define their specific needs for the event or activity you are working on. The second stage will be on defining the key pieces of your event or activity. The third stage is on identifying the key needs to make your event or activity a success. The fourth stage is about building out a plan. The fifth stage is on securing the people and resources you need. The sixth stage is focused on getting your plan ready. The seventh stage is about making it all happen and staying on top of things. The last stage is about wrapping things up. So, let’s get started with Stage 1…

—————-
Stage 1 – Focus On Your School Community

Depending on whether your event or activity is school-wide or perhaps involves only a segment of the school, one of, if not the most important thing to do is to engage the leaders of the intended group. If your event or activity is school-wide, then you should consider engaging the Principal or Parent Association president or vice presidents. Find out what they perceive as as the key needs and goals. If your event or activity involves a small segment of the school, perhaps a class or grade, then perhaps engage the teachers.

By engaging the key stakeholders early, you will help build awareness for your event or activity and help to make sure you get the buy-in and support of your efforts.

There are a number of ways to gather the views of stakeholders, it’s best to select a method that’s based on whether your event or activity is school-wide or for a small segment of the school. For the latter, you may want to consider something that’s not going to take a lot of time, for example, pin-pointing who you need to talk to and then having a short 10-minute conversation with them. For a school-wide event or activity, you want to consider a feedback mechanism such as creating a short 5-8-question online survey with a tool like SurveyMonkey. This takes less an hour to put together, it’s a very time-efficient way to gather feedback from a bigger group of people. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What problems have you seen in past events and activities (such as the one you’re leading)?
  • What are the most important needs for the school of this event or activity?
  • What would you view as elements that would make you think the event or activity is a success?
  • What would suggest would be the one thing we change from last year’s event or activity?

After you’ve gathered your initial feedback from stakeholders, gather the group of people that’s going to help you execute your event or activity; share your findings and get consensus on your goals for your event or activity.

After you’ve gathered the feedback from stakeholders and have shared with your team, you’re now ready for the next stage.

Come back in the next few days for Stage 2…

Happy Volunteering!

Mobile App for OnVolunteers? Actually, you don’t need one!

Note: We’re going to use this post to, well, toot our own horn regarding why you/we don’t need a mobile app for OnVolunteers…

Volunteer coordinators as well as parents have offered us, on numerous occasions, the following “hey, your system is awesome, but you should build an app (as in mobile app)”.  Actually, we’ve used cool technology that we feel is actually a better solution than building an app, it’s called Responsive Design. Without getting into geek speak and cause you to stop reading this, we’ll explain Responsive Design in plain language most will understand.

Websites or web-based software using Responsive Design technology basically ‘respond’ to the unique device the person is using to access said website or software. In other words, the interface re-shapes itself based on the device being used, whether smartphone, tablet or lap/desktop computer. If you’re using a smartphone or tablet, a non-responsive or static website/software provides a really poor experience, because you have to constantly zoom in or out, or scroll side to side just to see other parts of the page. You’ve probably accessed websites or used web-based software like this, it’s annoyingly tedious.

So back to why you/we don’t need a mobile app for OnVolunteers… most people seem to think a mobile app is the only technology that works well on a mobile device. Of course, that’s not true. Responsive Design technology provides an equally optimal experience. Many people who visit websites or use web-based software on Responsive Design aren’t even aware of the technology, they just think “hmm, pretty cool…”. And that’s the feeling parents at schools using OnVolunteers get when they use their smartphone or tablet to access the OnVolunteers volunteer portal. And with Responsive Design, users never have to bother with downloading or updating software, as is the case with mobile apps. You simply open your browser, log into your OnVolunteers site, and voilà, a simple, beautiful interface  custom-made for your device! No software download or update needed, ever. Easy peezy.

So, to all OnVolunteers parents and volunteer coordinators, and those considering OnVolunteers, we encourage you to use your smartphones and tablets to access OnVolunteers, a beautiful, simple experience awaits you.

Happy Volunteering!

The OnVolunteers Team