For Catholic Schools – A Paper / Excel-based Volunteer process costs $8,000+ a year

For Catholic schools, it’s easy to view a paper-and-spreadsheet volunteer process as free, as in there is no cost to the school. With information gathered from dozens of interviews with school principals, office staff and school volunteer coordinators, we’ve found that there is, in fact a cost to ‘free’…

The volunteer process would typically look like this:

  • The school posts volunteer opportunities on its website, which is usually done by an IT person. This person maintains the volunteer database and provides regular reporting of hours to volunteer administrators. This person is actually cost no. 1.
  • The school office staff would review the volunteer hours data provided by the IT person and maintain information on an Excel document, highly tedious, laborious work. Cost no. 2.
  • Parents self-monitor and submit their own hours. By parents’ own admission, this is a huge hassle and, thus, is not done accurately. This creates a gray area, leading to a missed $ opportunity for the school. This is not a cost per se, but the missed $ opportunity should, in fact, be a bigger concern.

Cost of the IT Person to support the volunteer process
A reasonable cost for an average IT person is $60 per hour. A typical elementary school uses the IT person for 2 hours/month (x 10 months) to support the volunteer process (doing the work noted above). With these numbers, the cost of an IT person to support the school’s volunteer process is approx. $1,200 per year.

Cost of School Office Staffer
The office staffer receives hours data from the IT person and normally tracks parents and their volunteer hours, usually on Excel. A reasonable cost of an office staffer is $18/hour. From our conversations with schools, the average office staffer spends a minimum of 5 hours/month to track parents’ hours, so 5 hours x 10 months = 50 hours/year. At a rate of $18 x 50 hours, the internal cost of tracking parent volunteer hours is approx. $900 per year.

Missed $ Opportunity for the School
A paper/Excel-based volunteer process requires parents to manually record and submit their hours. Based on volunteer sign ups at functions and events, schools estimate about 25% of parents over-report hours, by about 5 hours. This is mostly due to the hassle factor and not any purposeful intent to get away from doing more volunteering. However, as noted earlier, schools have no structure in place to match submitted hours to actual volunteer tasks. Trying to have an office staffer to reconcile parents’ hours to actual tasks would take a huge amount of time, which explains why schools don’t do it. The end-result is that schools aren’t able to charge back for the incomplete hours and miss collecting on the volunteer monies.

Typical elementary school (K-Gr.7):    240 students
25% of parents not meeting hours:      60 parents
Average # hours missed by parents:    5 hours
Average $ value of volunteer hour:      $20

Using the above figures, a typical elementary school misses collecting approximately $6,000 per year on volunteer monies (60 parents x 5 hours x $20). For a large high school, this figure can come close to $20,000 per year. Those are significant $s that the school is missing out on.

The Annual Cost of the ‘Free’ Paper and Excel volunteer process…

Cost of IT staff to maintain volunteer info on website:                          $1,200
Internal Cost of school office staff to track hours:                                   $900
Missed $s for the school due to under estimation of missed hours:    $6,000

                                                Total costs and un-collected $s:                $8,100

There are numerous alternatives to a paper/Excel volunteer process, ranging from free or low-cost online sign up forms to comprehensive volunteer management solutions that include things such donor management and contact management. Of course, OnVolunteers is one of these alternatives, and falls somewhere in between the two noted alternatives (i.e. starts at $29/month).

So, if you have a paper-Excel volunteer process, we suggest you go through a similar exercise as above and see how much it’s costing you, we think you’ll find ‘free’ isn’t so.

Happy volunteering!


Best Practices Series: Task Descriptions – Critical to recruiting people, but also recruiting the right people.

Do you have task descriptions for your volunteers?
The best way to inform potential volunteers of what you’d like them to do, any qualifications they may need, how many hours you want them to work, etc. is a job or task description.

A clear task description is vital. It informs potential volunteers of the purpose of their task and how it will help your group achieve its goals. Think about what motivates parents to get involved and about what tasks need doing in your group. Combine these needs as you create new tasks. If you have clear task descriptions, it will be easier to recruit parents.

Task and Benefits Definition
When hiring paid staff, a business typically has a job description that outlines the tasks and responsibilities, the required skills and knowledge, the hours of work, and the available wages and benefits. This job description tells people who might apply what they will be expected to do.

In the case of trying to find volunteers, it’s highly beneficial to create a task definition in the same way as you create a job description for when hiring paid staff. If you want to effectively recruit parents with the right skills and motivations to help with your work, it’s critical that you first clearly define what you want them to do.

Before you sit down to define a task, you want to ensure that the work you will be asking a volunteer to do is work that will help fulfill your group’s goals. In other words, don’t just come up with tasks for volunteers that only loosely relate to your group’s purpose. Many volunteers get  involved because they really believe in the work that their group of choice is doing. So you want to make sure they will be able to see how their particular task is contributing to the overall goals of the group.

To ensure volunteer efforts are helping you achieve your goals effectively, your group should go through a task definition process.

Task definition involves sorting all of the work your group does – or should be doing – into key areas of work and then into tasks related to each key area. These tasks can then be grouped into individual task assignments.

The task assignments you come up with should always be aimed at helping your group achieve its goals. However, task definition should also consider volunteer needs. Volunteers have different motivations for taking on tasks in a group. It is important that your tasks provide the type of rewards that will meet volunteer interests and needs. Otherwise you will have a hard time finding and keeping parent volunteers.

More importantly, the task description should include the benefits the volunteers will get in exchange for their work. Obviously they are not going to get a wage or health plan benefits. So what are they getting in exchange for their contribution?

The benefits section should address what motivates volunteers to get involved. You might note that the task will provide a chance to meet or help new people, or even feel good about contributing to an important cause or helping people in need.

Developing a template for your volunteer task descriptions so that all position descriptions will cover the same information and so you can re-use them. Once you have written up a few volunteer task assignments, consider keeping them in a central location. That way, when new volunteers sign up, they can quickly view this resource to see what volunteer opportunities your group has available.

Having very task descriptions and benefits will go a long way to not only recruiting parents to help, but also assures you get the right parents for the right tasks. So, for the next event or activity that you need to recruit volunteers for, consider setting aside a bit of time to define the tasks and benefits for the parents. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy volunteering!

Best Practices Series: Acknowledging and Thanking More of the 80%

We’d like to start 2015 off with a School Volunteer Management Best Practices series. This first post is about one of the keys to achieving and maintaining a high level of volunteerism…

We enter 2015 with just under half the school year having passed. Soon, the onslaught of school activities and events again begins, requiring dozens and dozens of parent volunteers. For most volunteer coordinators, maintaining a high level of volunteerism is a huge, ongoing problem. One of the key ways to reducing the impact of this problem is acknowledging volunteers. That’s no secret. But we’d like offer a different take on how to do this.

After each school activity or event that’s had help from parents volunteers, send a handful, say a dozen, of acknowledgement/thank you emails to those whom you do not often see or meet volunteering.

Here’s why…

There is almost always a small group of selfless parents who contribute huge amounts of time volunteering. This group typically makes up about 20% of the parent base, and it is these folks who are most often acknowledged by coordinators. And deservedly so. Thinking that continually acknowledging these folks will lead them to volunteer more is unreasonable. With the amount of time this group already volunteers, along with their family obligations (and who knows whatever else life throws at them), they’re really maxed out. They can’t give any more time even if they wanted to. If increasing or maintaining volunteerism at your school is the goal, then it makes sense to work on motivating the other 80% of the parent base. Now we’re not advising that you stop acknowledging those 20%-over-achievers, just start, however slowly, acknowledging the 80%. We’re not talking about sending those, general, batch ‘Thank you to everyone’ emails; those do very little to helping with future activities and events. We’re talking about personal emails.

We’ve spoken to hundreds of school volunteers, most of them in that 80% group. One of the things we’ve learned is that fewer than 10% of these folks have ever received a personal acknowledgement/thank you email or note from volunteer coordinators. Related, people in this 80% group, similar to those in the 20% group, cited acknowledgement as one of their biggest motivators when it comes to volunteering. Think about that for a moment. We strongly believe that even one personal acknowledgement email to folks in that 80%  group will add a significant boost to a school’s volunteerism. We suggest first starting with just one activity or event; send just a dozen short acknowledgement emails among the 80% group. Then do it again with the next activity or event. If you continue with this, we figure by the end of the school year, you will likely have sent at least one personal email to every parent in the school. And that will go a long way to significantly increasing volunteerism at your school.

So, after your next activity or event, consider sending a dozen emails to folks among your 80% group.

Happy volunteering!

By the way – if you didn’t already know, with OnVolunteers’ hours tracking and automated notification system, you can ensure every parent receives acknowledgement and thank you emails – either after each completed volunteer task or after each time a parent has achieved various volunteer hour levels, which you of course set. Contact us if you’d like to learn more about this.