Palliative Care NSW Volunteer Support Services Programme
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Volunteer Data Automation?

Is there a better way to manage palliative care volunteer data?

Many palliative care volunteer managers and coordinators have been working with inadequate data management products. The result can be inadequate records, poor communication and ultimately loss of volunteers and potential volunteers. Over the years, a typical situation for a volunteer manager or coordinator administrating volunteers in palliative care might be having no extra time to research and evaluate or set up any volunteer data management products or volunteer management software. However, today there are some amazing products out there that could hold the key to outstanding efficiency and streamlining of volunteer information and communications.

Faced with the insecurity and awkwardness of coordinating volunteers using an excel spreadsheet or series of spreadsheets, where do we go from here?

The reality is often a huge demand for administration from the moment a prospective volunteer puts their hand up to the moment a volunteer might be up for an award for many years of service. But if time can be assigned to this area of administration, with the right product, a whole new level of productivity may be found.

Some volunteer managers may not see a need for a database of any complexity and that can well be the case for some managing low numbers of volunteers. In other situations, it may be a big inconvenience when something goes wrong. For example, a training is cancelled at the last moment and there is a need to contact the volunteer team urgently; it is discovered that a volunteer’s Working with Children check has run out; a volunteer’s drivers license has expired and the driver is crucial to a client; a prospective candidate has contacted an organisation and has not received a reply in a timely manner. These are just a few examples of what might be addressed by an appropriate automated platform change. With many products, auto reminders can communicate with volunteers to tell them when they have renewals due; prospective candidates can apply to an online application process that places them in the system for tracking from the first contact and mass communication tools offer easier contact with volunteers.

But let’s have a look at the issue of data security; When managing a team on a typical excel spreadsheet or similar, corruption can occur at any minute. Hiding columns sorting and saving can soon lead to a catastrophic loss of data. Closing a spreadsheet without saving or having auto-save switched off can lead to another nasty surprise. Setting up and utilising volunteer management software could be the answer.

Some of the basic tools around improving data management are centered around: opportunity and skills matching, recruitment and promotion, multiple location support, detailed and custom reporting, flexibility between casual and long-term roles, group communications and award recognition management.

Many platforms are now cloud-based. That means the information is placed on the web and can be accessed anywhere and anytime through a PC or an app on a phone or tablet. They offer benefits such as producing bespoke reports, matching volunteer skills to a role and dates available and collating hours through a calendar schedule. They can allow online application forms to deliver candidates directly to a database and auto-send out birthday messages.

Having the information online can make a huge difference to assisting with integration in the areas of, for example, online application forms or a hub volunteer information area and updated news.

The key to data security is confirmation of data entry and confirmation of removal as well as the highest protection possible for any hacking or loss of data. Most of the latest cloud-based data management systems offer very good security, stability and ease of access. They also usually allow the user to exit and download the current data to a local point at any time if choosing to change systems or finish up.

With so many benefits, why is there not a large uptake of online platforms for areas such as palliative care volunteer management? The short answer is that a new data management system requires commitment, planning, training and if necessary, technical support. A manager may find their organisation has regulations that limit placing data on the cloud. It can take a while to research these issues and for the best software, only to find the ongoing costs not practical for a budget. It may also be that an organisation has an IT future strategy that includes incorporating volunteer data into a larger Customer Relationship Management platform.

Data management implementation also needs the conviction of management and a budget. This last issue sounds scary but if the benefits are properly conveyed and understood, the logical way forward may be clear.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at some online offerings of volunteer management platforms:

Many of the platforms in the volunteer management category are focused on fundraising or events management which may not be suitable when managing a volunteer team providing regular support to individuals. They may also be a large system that has enormous potential integration for an organisation. I won’t focus on these as they would more likely be left to an organisation’s individual IT strategy.

To start, a system such as Assemble (goassemble.com) is a new product on the market. The interface looks good and the Hub provides a central space where everyone can find what they need quickly. It allows the upload of documents, images or videos and building a library of resources to share with a team. Pricing is not available unless signing up for a trial and a sample onscreen experience is not available.

Better Impact (betterimpact.com) has a suite of products relating to membership, events etc. The platform seems to offer a great range of training and solutions and support. Its interface looks good and it seems easy to use and intuitive. The downside is that the pricing is hard to grabble with as the options around things such as training and support start to increase the bottom line. Its licensing is a subscription-only so using a standard account is advertised at around $55US ($80AUD) a month. User experience of the product requires an inquiry to sales.

Volunteer Base (volunteerbase.net) looks simple and intuitive but may not offer a lot in the way of training and online documentation. It does not offer award management and reminder functions. It claims to start at $30US ($44 AUD) a month depending on volunteer numbers. The sample program can be pulled up easily.

Volgistics (volgisitics.com) is very helpful in hospital settings and community health settings. It was built for multi-site hospital needs and has been around for about 20 years. I have used Volgistics and can confirm that it has flexibility in reporting and can save time for things such as awards planning. Self -training can take time, but online videos are detailed and well -produced.  Pricing is from around $50 a month for up to 200 volunteers. The sample program is easily pulled up to have a look around.

Deciding to implement a new data platform will also mean an eventual need to prepare a current dataset for transport ie make all the column headings and individual cell information match to the platform destination. Setting aside some time to do this is important or may require an arrangement for someone with the necessary skills. It is crucial to the smooth upload of data and continuing ease of access. Some platforms offer assistance with data preparation.

Setting up an organisation’s management of volunteers to a new platform can seem challenging in the first stages, but the benefits can soon impress and create a level of efficiency and automation in the administration of small or large groups of volunteers that would never be achievable by spreadsheets alone.

Colin Dent

Pic: it.toolbox

 

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