When it comes to Volunteer Management Software, it’s absolutely normal to have questions. Software is a fantastic way to keep you, your nonprofit, and your volunteers organized. But transitioning to a new software system that better serves your organization’s needs can take time. You might be wondering how to best transition your staff and volunteers from the old platform to a new software. We’ve got the seven steps you need to take.
Why Volunteer Management Software?
As a nonprofit, you probably accumulate lots of data throughout the year ― logged volunteer hours, recurring shifts, contact information, specialized skills, and a multitude of other information about your volunteers. Most volunteer-based organizations are then faced with the time-consuming task of tracking and reporting on all of this data.
Some nonprofits track all of this information in a series of Excel spreadsheets, while others use Google Calendar, or paper sign-in sheets. This decentralized web of paperwork leads many nonprofits to invest in volunteer management software. Midsize and large nonprofits in particular may find relief in automating some of their tracking and reporting obligations.
When Your Software Purchase Doesn’t Go as Planned
Perhaps you’re realizing the limitations of your current volunteer management tool. Maybe it’s not as user-friendly as you thought. Or maybe you’re simply outgrowing that pay-per-user system you purchased a few years ago. Whatever the reason, switching systems doesn’t have to be painful.
Take a deep breath. The hardest part is accepting that your current “solution” isn’t working. With that done, you now face the logistical aspects of making the switch. To help you plan your next moves, we’ve compiled this guide of best practices that is based on years of transitioning new customers from prior solutions to Get Connected Volunteer Management Software.
The 7 Steps to Take when Switching Your Volunteer Management Software
Step 1: Decide on a New Volunteer Management System
Volunteer Management Software comes in many flavors—some excel at volunteer relationship-building and engagement, some focus on scheduling, while other software is all about tracking volunteer hours. Get Connected, for example, offers all of the above while focusing on building better volunteer engagement and strengthening volunteer relationships within your community.
It’s important to know the benefits of the system you’re considering. A clear vision of your organization’s needs and goals will help steer your decision towards the best volunteer management software for your program. If you’re thinking of switching and need to do some research, we recommend using Capterra as it provides a comprehensive list of options with user reviews, all in one place. To demystify the process, we’ve also compiled a list of the top 25 volunteer management platforms for nonprofits.
Step 2: Archive Everything
While you still have access to your old system, get a good snapshot of your current data. When moving to a new system, you’ll likely lose access to your old one. Make sure to archive everything (such as volunteer contact information) and get a complete export of all of your data. It’s possible that you’ll be able to import a portion of that information into your new system.
Step 3: Decide What’s Important
Your next step is to decide what to import into your new system. So think about which data are important, and which are dispensable. According to Dave Breske, Galaxy’s Data Specialist, “the most common cause for a difficult software transition is when a client has a lot of data, but they haven’t thought about what’s important to them. Often they’ll just ask us to ‘put it all in any way you can.’ That can easily lead to problems down the road with their database. But if you know, for instance, that your users’ past volunteer hours are very important, then we can mold the import to protect the integrity of that data.”
If your data is already in a format that you can reference if needed (like an Excel sheet, or an archive from your old system), then we generally recommend that you don’t bring old data into your new system. Rather, import your users, volunteer opportunities, and agencies/community partners.
Think about which, if any, partner agencies you work with. Which volunteer opportunities will still be current once the import is complete? Who has volunteered in the past year or two? Avoid importing inactive agencies, old opportunities, or volunteers who haven’t been active in years; this will help remove some of the complexity of the import process.
Step 4: Format Your Data
You should format your data in a way that is compatible with your new system. Be aware that one system is likely to store information differently from another. For example, your old software might store both a home and mobile phone number, while your new system might only have the option to store one. Don’t be afraid to sand down your data a bit to fit into the new system.
Step 5: Import Your Data
The next step is straightforward—it’s time to import your data into your new volunteer management software! Some companies have a data specialist who can do the import for you, and others will use a self-service import tool.
Step 6: Train Your Staff
If your new software provider offers training, take advantage of it! Then teach the necessary people how to use your new site. Proper training will minimize user error and will ultimately save you time and resources.
Step 7: Launch to the Public!
Keep in mind that launching a new volunteer platform is a chance to build excitement and get a fresh start with your volunteers—particularly if they were frustrated with the old system. If this is your first time using an online VMS, especially if you’re moving from a paper sign-in or computer spreadsheet, this is a great time to re-engage your volunteers.
Before you share your site with the public, you’ll want to be sure it features multiple volunteer opportunities. You don’t want to send out the link to your new platform only to have volunteers click it and find nothing there. They won’t have an incentive to return.
Data Specialist’s Top Tips: Make a Smooth Transition to Your New Volunteer Management Software
Early on, when decisions for importing data are being made, make sure the right people are in the room. The individuals on your staff who will be managing your site should definitely be in on the conversation. It’s also helpful to have a technical person present if you’ll be exporting data from your old system or preparing data for import.
- Gather stakeholders when making data decisions
- Do a data audit
- Gather the data you need to transfer ahead of time
- Work responsively with your data specialist
- Give yourself plenty of time for a data transition (pro tip: this could be 1-2 weeks)
There is no reason to struggle with a Volunteer Management System that isn’t working for you or your organization. By following the best practices outlined here, your transition to a new system will be streamlined and painless.