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Keys to a Good Electronic Volunteer Application Form

Keys to a Good Electronic Volunteer Application Form

The translation of a paper application process to an online/automated approach provides an excellent opportunity for improvement. Sometimes, seeing your “old” application “on-screen” feels shocking. It may reveal just how onerous the previous process actually was. Conversely, it illuminates the aspects of the application process that have been indispensable and helpful. In short, the conversion from a manual, human-driven process to self-managed and more automated process is a rewarding challenge. Once you get through it, you should always feel confident that you have taken a big leap forward.

1. Eliminate “Nice to Know” Questions
Eliminate any questions from your application form that are not absolutely necessary -or- very helpful. Asking lots and lots of questions just for the sake of “It would be nice to know” can and will drive volunteers away during the registration process. It places a burden on the volunteer and creates a barrier to engagement.

    • Absolutely Necessary – You cannot safely or effectively place a volunteer without knowing this information. Examples might include their name, email address, telephones, address, date of birth, emergency contacts, and health restrictions.

    • Very Helpful – This is data that assures your volunteer’s experience is as good as possible AND helps you to better understand the types of work in which your volunteer may be interested. Examples include skills, interests, schedule preferences, and T-shirt size. A great litmus test for whether or not a question is “very helpful” versus “good to know” is how you have used this data in the past. For example, if you had been collecting this information in the past, did you actually use that data in any meaningful way?

2. Eliminate Open-Ended Questions
Your application form should have as few “write-in” fields as possible. If your application process requires the volunteer to write out a narrative, carefully consider whether or not this is an absolute must – especially if you are working with any volunteer born after 1980. And it doesn’t mean you have to eliminate the questions entirely (although please do so if it’s not absolutely necessary or very helpful). Instead, provide the volunteer with options from which they may choose. For example, rather than include a text box for “Please describe your skills”, instead provide a list of skills that are important to your volunteer organization and have the volunteer choose one or more from the predefined list. You can always include an “other” option if you missed anything.

3. Only Reveal Questions When Relevant
A good online registration form can hide fields until they should be revealed based on how the applicant responds to certain trigger questions or when related to certain types of volunteer work.

4. Don’t Put Too Much or Too Little on A Page 
Sometimes people can feel overwhelmed with an application form just by the way it looks. Too many questions on a single screen will turn people away, especially if those questions look like they may be time intensive to answer (see open-ended questions above). This process is more art than science. You are trying to find balance between not having too many “steps” or pages but also to not have too many questions on any one page. Additionally, you must also consider what else we may be asking the volunteer to complete beyond the “application form”. For example, background check forms, online training, reference checks, document uploads, signing agreements, etc. As a general rule, it’s best to keep any application to 5 steps/pages or less and no more than 20 questions in any given page/step. The fewer the steps, the better. The fewer the questions/prompts within a page/step, the better.

4 Steps to Volunteer Vetting/Onboarding

4 Steps to Volunteer Vetting/Onboarding

We recognize the tremendous value that volunteers bring to our organizations. They can contribute in many capacities including working events, fundraising, advocacy, program and service delivery, and board leadership. With each type of volunteering, comes the necessary process of properly vetting and onboarding our volunteers. We must make sure they are the right people for the job and have the right skills and training to be effective and safe.

Establishing good policy is critical to the success of any workforce. However, good policy is nothing without proper implementation, enforcement and auditing.  

One of the tenets to an extraordinary volunteer experience is eliminating barriers to engagement – getting volunteers to work as quickly as possible so they can make an impact. However, we also want to make sure volunteers have been properly vetted and trained. Lower barriers but improve quality and safety. Are those concepts diametrically opposed? They don’t have to be – especially when you leverage good systems. So how do we do that? We have broken this down into four simple steps essentially.

1. Identify Volunteer Profiles

Most volunteer organizations have different types of volunteer opportunities that work with different populations and require different responsibilities, skills, and varying degrees of autonomy. A volunteer policy profile groups various volunteer jobs that have similar application, onboarding and policy requirements.

2. Define Credentials

We define a credential as any element a volunteer must submit or earn in order to be eligible to volunteer for their assigned role. These often include:

    • Application Form
    • Waivers or Agreements
    • Background Checks
    • Certifications
    • Interviews
    • Training

3. Assemble Your Team

Doing a great job at volunteerism does not need to be a singular effort. The best of the best have many people at different levels supporting the value volunteers bring to our organization. With that in mind, the key to an excellent team is defining clear roles and responsibilities. If you are a smaller volunteer organization, you may have a small team or even a team of one. In that case, you can consider each role as a different hat you must wear to bring your best. Roles to consider for vetting/onboarding include:

    • Project organizer (manage day-to-day tasks related to recruiting, scheduling, coordinating, communicating, and thanking volunteers)
    • Credential Administrator (review and approve the credentials required to volunteer for specific jobs)
    • Policy Advisor (defining, auditing and updating application and onboarding policy)

4. Assign the Tasks

Team members involved in the application, onboarding and policy compliance for your volunteer workforce have tasks they must perform based on their role. Each role has a mix of proactive and reactive tasks. Proactive tasks are typically performed in anticipation of some event and require planning and foresight by the team member. Reactive tasks are those activities where we have been prompted to do something. In an ideal world we would like to have systems that automate most tasks, prompt our team members when there is something to which they must react, and make it easy to respond in quick order.

The Recipe for an Extraordinary Volunteer Program

The Recipe for an Extraordinary Volunteer Program

Most nonprofits engage volunteers according to a process that was developed in the 40’s and 50’s. This old way of approaching volunteer programs frustrates today’s volunteer force. That’s why we’ve created a powerful new approach to find, keep, and grow volunteers so nonprofits can save time and accomplish more without increasing their team’s workload.

This isn’t a recipe we invented – we just are the first people to have both the technology and services to deliver it with precision.

1. Promote Volunteerism

Whether your volunteer is 19 or 79, volunteers are mobile, they’re on social media, they act digitally, they share, and they like to interact where their friends and family are.  This is why we must leverage technology to promote online, via social networks, and direct to our volunteers’ phones.

We publish a mobile-friendly catalog of volunteer opportunities from your website and drive traffic to our tools through targeted email invitations, social media integration, and web searches. We also publish project-specific landing pages to advertise volunteer opportunities via volunteer recruitment sites like VolunteerMatch and All for Good.

2. Eliminate Barriers to Engagement

Once we’ve generated interest, we must not squander that opportunity by asking a volunteer to call or email for further information.  They won’t do it.  We also can’t ask them to fill out paper, download a PDF, wait days or weeks for vetting, or visit four different websites to complete the requirements necessary to make an impact.

Once a volunteer is interested, we get them to work quickly by having them complete all the application requirements in advance in Volunteer Portal, which can include forms, waivers, background checks, certifications, and training. Plus, our Volunteer Kiosk makes same-day signing simple for certain volunteer jobs.

3. Empower the People

Today’s volunteer expects to have transparency and control over their experience.  They want to self-identify the best job for them.  They want to meet the requirements to volunteer from the palm of their hand.

We empower volunteers to self-apply, set their own schedules, run reports, check-in/out of assignments, and provide feedback, all from the palm of their hand. We even deploy automated reminders for application requirements and assignments, so the volunteer has the control they want while simultaneously freeing up your staff from the tedious work.

4. Show Gratitude

Every aspect of the volunteer experience communicates how much you value the gift of a person’s time.  How easy did you make it to sign-up?  Was the volunteer matched well with their volunteer job?  Did they have the proper training/preparation?  Were they able to make an impact?  Were they asked for their feedback on their experience?  How were they greeted by your organization?  Were they thanked by your staff?  Were they recognized by your organization?

Your new centralized Volunteer Portal will honor your volunteers’ time by creating a standard of efficiency so the volunteer isn’t  bumping into obstacles and instead invests their time making a difference.

The Volunteer Portal automatically tracks your volunteer’s activities, including projects, assignments, attendance, and the total hours they have contributed. This makes it easy to run accurate reports on activities and milestones that are being hit. Our platform allows for automated and tailored thank you emails to be sent as volunteers complete various assignments. You can even configure the service to send out a personalized, ‘handwritten’ note or gift upon registration or completion of volunteer activities.

5. Get Feedback

In order to continuously grow, we need feedback on what is going well (so we can do more of that) and where we can make improvements.  What better source of feedback is there on your volunteer programs than from your volunteers themselves?

Your Volunteer Portal prompts your volunteers to respond to a quick 3-question poll, which includes a rating and written comments on their experience. This provides invaluable insight that is easy to give (by the volunteer) and directly tied to the project and job they performed.  We have found this to be a powerful tool to help identify areas of success and opportunities for growth.

6. Measure Impact

Many nonprofits struggle with getting the reports they want.  VolunteerMatters allows you to quickly report on all volunteer activities and information in a snap. All reports are designed to be Excel friendly so that it’s easy to get data out of the system. We also offer opportunities to use our APIs and Zapier webhooks to integrate our systems with 3rd party systems.

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