Fast and loose volunteer management
October 3, 2011 12:49 AM   Subscribe

Jumping jesus on a pogo stick, we need a free volunteer management app.

Our son is disabled and we run a rigorous therapy program for him, 8 hrs/day, 7 days/week. We harness volunteers daily to help us with exercises that need two and three adults at a time. A core group of awesome folks have been helping us for the last year, but we need to branch further into our community to recruit new help. It's been an amazing experience and people are coming out of the woodwork to help us. Hurray!

However, the volunteer coordination is getting a bit overwhelming. I carry around an old-style paper calendar and write people's names in slots, but this can't go on. And people sometimes cancel at the last second and we're left scrambling; people forget their shifts and we're left scrambling, we forget to schedule a certain day and we're left scrambling... you get the picture. We need to be able to automatically remind people of their shifts, we need to let people find their own replacements if they can't make it, we need to stop having multiple email chains with each volunteer. I need to streamline this process.

I've done about an hour of research online for volunteer management/scheduling software and apps, and clearly there are plenty out there. I need something that's free, for starters. And I really don't want to sign up for something and then after I've pounded hours into inputing people's information and setting up our framework find out that the 'free' means huge flash spam banner ads, or that the interface is boring as shit and people can't read it, etc.

There are a lot of these applications out there, and I'm just not savvy enough to be able to read between the lines - which one is the one for us? Our schedule is so incredibly packed with stuff surrounding our son's therapies that I really want to just sign up for something that will work and I never have to think too much about again. I don't want to have to abandon an app every six months and start over.

This is what we need:
- Something that shows a schedule in calendar format
- Volunteer spots AND events/important days or periods can also be shown on the calendar so we know why we need volunteers on certain days
- Gaps in the schedule that need to be filled can be clearly seen
- Admin can assign volunteers to their tasks (some friends will never in a zillion years sign up on yet another site where you have to create a profile, some people don't use computers, etc.)
- will send reminder emails without harvesting the volunteers' email addresses for future spamming
- customizeable for times, shifts, and descriptions of volunteering
- profiles for each person (that admin can create, or the volunteer creates) that can demonstrate their availability and notes private to admin (optional-ish)
- 'alternates' list with availability and contact info for volunteers to find their own replacements if they need to cancel a shift
- need to be able to access the calendar, scheduling, etc. and be able to manipulate from iPhone
- the being-free angle is crucial

Please help me. Have you used volunteer management software/apps? Which one should I choose?
posted by Mrs Hilksom to Technology (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think its be tough to find an online app that can do all that for free. Maybe you can make do with a google docs spreadsheet.
posted by askmehow at 8:30 AM on October 3, 2011

This might help...not ready yet though.
posted by 4midori at 10:13 AM on October 3, 2011

When I was managing volunteers at a non-profit, we used a web-based scheduling system called When To Help. It had a lot of functionality that we didn't use so I don't know if it had all the bells and whistles you need but it was great for volunteers to access at home so they could check their own schedules and make changes. They had actual people you could talk to about technical problems, too! It was free.
posted by bijou243 at 10:17 AM on October 3, 2011

Our school uses
posted by hellochula at 10:23 AM on October 3, 2011

I was looking into Lotsa Helping Hands for a volunteer coordination task once. It didn't have the functionality that I needed, but it is pretty much built for the sort of situation you describe, and it might meet your requirements.
posted by tivalasvegas at 12:08 PM on October 3, 2011

Oh, I should mention also that when I called Lotsa Helping Hands, I talked to a real live person who was very helpful in explaining the capabilities of their system.
posted by tivalasvegas at 12:30 PM on October 3, 2011

Looking at this another way - why not get a volunteer to do this for you? No matter what the software, it's still a lot of talking - from your family to volunteers who may not be as plugged-in. If you have a volunteer who is naturally organised, computer-saavy and wants to help but can't come down to your home often, this could be a perfect fit for them to manage with something basic like Google Calendar and Contacts, or a spreadsheet and BatchBooks.

That way, you have one person to call and say "this is what we need this week", and for them to email you a schedule of people organised. You should know how the system works in case that volunteer is away or sick, or have a back-up for them, but it sounds like 2-3 hours a week of phone/email/online scheduling for one person would end up being a big help.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:35 PM on October 4, 2011

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