Your volunteers are the driving force behind your mission. Every hour a volunteer contributes to your program brings you closer to your goal. That’s why you need to keep track of their time using a dedicated volunteer hours log.
In this article, we’ll review how to track volunteer hours, the best tools and strategies for logging volunteer time, and provide free volunteer hours logs templates to get you started.
- Volunteer Hours Log: The Basics
- How to Track Volunteer Hours
- More Best Practices for Tracking Volunteer Hours
- Volunteer Hours Log Templates
FREE DOWNLOAD: Capture every volunteer hour with easy-to-use hours log templates
Volunteer Hours Tracking: The Basics
Capturing your volunteer program’s impact is the best way to show your volunteers how much they’ve accomplished. It’s also necessary for winning grants and developing a successful volunteer management strategy. One crucial component of tracking the overall impact of your volunteer program is logging volunteer hours.
What is a Volunteer Hours Log?
A volunteer hours log is a form, spreadsheet, or database used to record attendance and the amount of time each volunteer contributes to your program. Your form for volunteer hours should also include the following essential fields:
- Volunteer name
- Volunteer contact information
- Check-in and check-out time
- Total hours worked
- Volunteer activity and role title
You’ll want to capture this information for each volunteer that walks through your organization’s doors.
Whether you collect the data manually or using a digital tool, hour tracking is crucial for the success of your volunteer program.
Why Do Organizations Track Volunteer Hours?
Your volunteer logs will serve as vital records that demonstrate volunteers’ contributions. But why do volunteer programs need proof of volunteer hours? Here are just a few reasons your organization will benefit from logging volunteer time:
Understand the Value of Volunteers
By tracking volunteer hours, your organization can place a value on the services your volunteers provide (the current national value of the volunteer hour is $29.96!). Recording volunteer hours helps organizations like yours calculate and report on just how important and valuable their services are to your community.
Learn how to calculate the volunteer hours value using the Independent Sector’s methodology.
Some community partners (such as universities, high schools, and businesses) may require their volunteers’ hours to be logged in an official capacity on behalf of the host organization. For example, your corporate partners may need proof of volunteer hours to support their employee volunteer time-off benefit. A volunteer hour log authorized by the organization or supervisor is a standard tool shared between community partnerships like these.
Improve Volunteer Program Return on Investment
Your volunteer program’s return on investment is partly measured by the number of hours your volunteers contribute. When you log volunteer contributions, you can learn your program’s return on investment and therefore take steps to improve it.
Share Program Impact
Your volunteer data becomes a powerful tool to demonstrate your impact when logged consistently and accurately. Show donors, volunteers, stakeholders, and community members that your organization makes a real difference by logging and reporting on your program’s contributions.
Support Decision Making
When you log volunteer data, you learn more about the programs and activities your volunteers love. You can also capture insights on volunteer retention. Support resource allocation and other critical decision-making by understanding volunteer preferences.
Most nonprofits rely on grants and other outside funding, and many foundations require these organizations to track and report on volunteer contributions. By logging volunteer hours, you’re more likely to secure the funding you need to support your program.
As you can see, keeping track of volunteer hours is critical for many reasons. It can help you manage your volunteers and what opportunities they’re participating in and ensure you have a record of your program’s accomplishments.
How to Track Volunteer Hours
Recording volunteer check-in and check-out seem easy enough. However, as your volunteer base grows, logging hours accurately and efficiently can become increasingly challenging and time-consuming. So, most organizations will need a dedicated hour-tracking strategy in place.
Take these steps to help you develop your volunteer time tracking process:
- Set Goals
- Develop a Process for Logging Volunteer Hours
- Choose Your Data Tracking Tools
- Test and Reevaluate
1. Set Goals
What are you hoping to achieve by logging volunteer hours? What volunteer data do your volunteers, organization, board, funders, and stakeholders need to know?
Some volunteers will also need to log hours for their own records, such as for community service requirements, service learning courses, or employee volunteer time off. Therefore, you’ll need a system for recording and verifying individual hours.
There are several ways to organize and log volunteer hours based on your primary goal for tracking volunteer contributions. Use the table below to help inform your volunteer hour log:
|Collect Hours By:||Primary Data Logged||Goal||Type of Organization(s)|
|Program / Cause||Total volunteer hours per program||Understand volunteer hours by program or cause. Make informed decisions about directing resources.||Community-based nonprofits running multiple programs or addressing several causes|
|Volunteer||Volunteer hours per individual volunteer||Celebrate and engage dedicated volunteers. Track individual contributions to a cause. Students may log individual hours for school credit. Employees may log individual hours for their company’s social responsibility initiative.||Service-learning programs, corporate volunteerism programs, any nonprofit|
|Time Period||Total volunteer hours throughout a set time period||Understand organization-wide volunteer impact during a seasonal initiative (i.e., Week of Caring), volunteer hours logged per month, or total annual volunteer hours logged.||Any organization|
Remember, these are just a few ways to track volunteer time. You may choose to add more to your volunteer hour form, depending on the data you and your volunteers need to collect.
2. Develop a Process for Tracking Volunteer Hours
Now, let’s learn how to keep track of volunteer hours.
It’s easiest to record volunteer information like attendance and contact details when you’re already in contact with volunteers or during key “touchpoints.” Therefore, collecting volunteer data, including hours, typically occurs during any or all of the following touchpoints throughout the volunteer journey:
Volunteer Sign-up or Registration
When a volunteer signs up for a shift, they should know the duration (or the number of hours) they’re being asked to participate. This way, volunteer coordinators can use these hours as a reference and then log hours on behalf of the volunteer if necessary.
Registration is also a natural time to collect other volunteer data, like contact details, preferences and availability, demographic information, unique qualifications, and more.
Many organizations will benefit from an automated registration process in which volunteers create online profiles and register themselves.
On-site check-in is a critical time to record attendance and is often where you’ll get the most accurate attendance and hours data.
When volunteers arrive, ensure they know to check in at a designated location (with clear signage).
If volunteers use individual service logs, dedicate a safe location to store the forms on site.
Some organizations will choose to record names and check-in times using paper sign-in sheets. While this method is inexpensive and straightforward, it will require someone to input the data into a spreadsheet or program later.
You can simplify volunteer check-in using a mobile app for easy contact-free hours logging from their mobile devices.
When volunteers finish their shifts, they should be prompted to “check out.” Upon signing out, volunteers should record the total session hours worked. This is a great time to sign the required forms for individuals completing service hours. If volunteers are responsible for logging their own hours, you’ll want to ask them to do so during this time. Make sure to include instructions for doing so, especially if you use a shared spreadsheet or online logging system.
Follow up with your volunteers within a few days of their activity. Remind them to submit their hours if they haven’t done so already. Provide a specific email address and method for submitting volunteer hours if needed.
After volunteers have logged their hours, you’ll need to enter data from the forms into an Excel spreadsheet or database.
We recommend setting aside time on your weekly calendar to update your volunteer hours log excel spreadsheet. You may also scan the volunteer hour paper logs into your computer to quickly access digital copies should stakeholders or donors request data.
Remember that the data entry process can quickly become time-consuming, especially for larger volunteer programs.
You won’t be able to use your volunteer hours and determine impact without a dedicated and reliable way to track them. Establishing the above processes will help your organization better manage hours and maintain a user-friendly experience for your volunteers and community partners.
A verification process is necessary for any organization that incorporates self-reporting. In other words, if you’re asking volunteers to submit their own hours, you’ll need to provide some oversight to ensure the accuracy of management data.
You may verify hours by comparing attendance records with volunteers’ submissions or simply scanning submissions for any anomalies and duplicate entries. Manual verification can be tedious. That’s why self-reporting is recommended for organizations that employ time-saving volunteer tracking tools with a streamlined verification process.
3. Choose Your Tools for Tracking Volunteer Hours
Which tools will you use to log volunteer hours? Some organizations log volunteer hours manually, while others implement an automated system to track volunteer hours.
Here are some considerations for each so that you can choose the method that makes the most sense for your case:
Printable Volunteer Hours Logs
Manually logging volunteer hours is budget-friendly and quick to implement. You don’t need the internet or a computer to log volunteer hours on-site; simply print your log and invite volunteers to track their hours according to your system. (Remember that you’ll need to compile the paper logs into a spreadsheet or database later.)
If you choose to log volunteer hours manually, check out our templates below, and download the sample volunteer hour log that works for your needs.
Logging hours manually can be time-consuming and requires considerable attention to keep your volunteer hours data updated and organized.
Additionally, manually tracking individual volunteer hours may not be viable for programs with many volunteers. If it’s important to your organization that individual hours are tracked, you may consider implementing an automated system that can capture and report every volunteer’s hours.
How to Track Volunteer Hours in Excel (or Google Sheets)
If you’re manually recording volunteer information, you’ll want to enter any attendance sheets and hours logs into a spreadsheet, making it easier to add hours and search your logs later. You can also record volunteer data directly into the spreadsheet.
There are several ways to track hours using spreadsheets. For example:
Logging Hours by Volunteer
Perhaps your program wants to track the hours and activities of each volunteer. This strategy is great for programs that want to recognize individual volunteer contributions or find data on volunteer retention. If you log hours by volunteer, you’ll want to include the following columns in your spreadsheet:
- Volunteer Name
- Contact Information
- Date of Initial Registration
- Running Total of Volunteer Hours for the Month/Year
- Activity Preferences
Each volunteer should have their own row, as in the example below:
Using the SUM feature, tally your volunteers’ total hours at the bottom of the spreadsheet.
If your volunteers self-report their hours, consider creating a public Google Sheet. Google Sheets live online, so they’re easy to share and edit.
Logging Hours by Program or Activity
Organizations with many programs may want to measure the number of volunteer hours contributed to each program. For example, you may want to know which programs are most popular among your volunteers and which could use more resources.
To log hours by program or activity, we recommend creating a tab for each activity, as in the example below:
You’ll notice that this spreadsheet records attendance and hours based on the date of each activity or event associated with the program. These additional details can also aid decision-making and resource planning.
What are the pros and cons of a volunteer spreadsheet?
If you’re not ready to invest in automated volunteer time tracking, spreadsheets are a workable digital solution offering some reporting capability.
Excel hours logs are effective for individuals who want to track their hours at home. You can provide your volunteers with an Excel or Google Sheets template (which may even incentivize repeat volunteerism with your organization).
Spreadsheets can also work for smaller volunteer programs that want to track basic volunteer data.
As your organization grows, you’ll find that manual data tracking and entry limits your capacity to track necessary volunteer data. Ultimately, this kind of data administration takes time and may not be feasible for volunteer leaders who are already stretched thin. That’s why organizations of all sizes turn to automated hour-tracking software.
Automated Volunteer Hour Tracking
If you need more accurate results, an automated system that can track volunteer hours digitally may be the right choice for your organization. Volunteer management software can capture dozens of data points in seconds, all housed online for easy accessibility.
An automated system also simplifies organization-wide impact tracking. Plus, impact reports are readily available and ready to share with your donors, stakeholders, and volunteers.
There are lots of reasons to track volunteer hours using volunteer management software. With a dedicated web-based system, you can:
- Gauge more accurate results
- Manage a large amount of data more efficiently
- Easily celebrate individual volunteer contributions
- Simplify and streamline organization-wide impact tracking
- Access real-time reports from anywhere
Test and Reevaluate
Make sure to test out your new system, from sign-up to data entry. Get feedback from staff and volunteers.
As the volunteer leader, be sure to evaluate the system on your end. How are you managing? Do you feel that hours tracking has added value to your volunteer program? Is hours logging worth the time investment? Be patient and give yourself time to work out any kinks.
Once you feel comfortable with your new system, you’ll have a deeper sense of the impact that hours tracking has on your program.
If you’re finding that volunteer hours tracking adds value to your program, but you’re struggling to keep on top of data entry, it may be time to consider an automated system to track volunteer hours.
Ultimately, logging volunteer hours should help to increase your return on investment. Consider the systems that are working and those that can be improved. If you’re ready to upgrade your system, weigh your options, and choose the method that you feel comfortable with.
More Best Practices for Tracking Volunteer Hours
Tracking volunteer data is about more than just logging their attendance. Volunteer data can empower your volunteers and stakeholders and increase your return on investment.
So here are a few considerations for optimizing your volunteer data:
Focus on the Volunteer Experience
Logging volunteer data is a team effort, requiring cooperation from all sides for the best results. So, if you ask too much from your volunteers, you may discourage future participation and miss out on key data.
Therefore, you need to create an experience that is streamlined and user-friendly. Give volunteers the ability to create unique profiles that store their data and preferences and even track their cumulative impact. And implement a web-based logging system so volunteers can self-report from anywhere.
If you find that you’re asking volunteers to spend lots of additional time logging their activities but you don’t want to sacrifice the quality and scope of your data, you may want to rethink your current tracking system.
Don’t Overlook Reporting
Your data-tracking efforts are futile without effective reporting. In other words, once you have recorded volunteer data, you need to be able to compile, analyze, and communicate results.
Why is reporting important?
Imagine giving your corporate partners a report on each employee's volunteer hours, activities, and attendance. What if you could unlock hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding with the click of a button? It is possible with the right tools!
Readily available reporting is one common reason volunteer leaders upgrade from spreadsheets and manual data entry. While spreadsheets are an effective way to organize and present data, getting to this point can be tedious.
Instead, consider a system that produces dozens of reports in real-time while saving volunteer leaders time. These systems can produce reports from the big picture and organization-wide trends to information on individual volunteers.
Capture Team and Plus-One Hours
You want to capture every volunteer hour. So if a volunteer brings their family or friends along, you’ll want to implement a protocol for collecting plus-one information and hours. Does your current process allow for on-the-spot registration? If not, it may be time for a system upgrade!
Additionally, consider how you’ll track hours for teams and groups. From employee volunteer days to school groups, you need a way to organize and report on attendance and impact by group.
These days, volunteers expect to interact with your organization from their mobile devices. From signing up to checking out, a contact-free mobile volunteer experience is more than a nice-to-have; it’s increasingly necessary.
If you already use an online system for check-in and hours logging, why not make it mobile-friendly? You can post a QR code at your check-in location that brings volunteers directly to the appropriate webpage.
Even better? Mobile apps are some of the most accurate tools for tracking every volunteer hour. A volunteer check-in app enables supporters to discover new opportunities, check in to shifts or events, and track their impact directly through their mobile devices. Using the smartphone's geolocation and notification capabilities, they can even prompt volunteers to check in when they’ve arrived on site.
Most volunteer check-in apps are free and integrate with a volunteer management platform. So, data collected from the app is automatically communicated and stored within the volunteer management system.
Volunteer Hours Log Templates to Try
To give you a leg up, we’ve compiled this handy collection of popular volunteer hours log templates that you can conveniently download.
For instance, the template above is our Printable Volunteer Hours Log (PDF). This is a basic, printable volunteer hour log sheet PDF that can be used for any volunteer program. It highlights the basic volunteer details (like name and email), the activity at hand, check-in and check-out time, and the completed hours.
However, your exact volunteer opportunity might need additional, specific fields, like a supervisor’s signature, if the program is through a school or university. Explore our other templates and find one that meets your unique needs.
In summary, our downloadable resource includes the following templates:
- Printable Volunteer Hours Log (PDF) – A basic, printable volunteer hour log sheet PDF for any volunteer program.
- Standard Volunteer Hours Log (Microsoft Word) – A blank volunteer hours log sheet for community organizations.
- Volunteer Hour Log for Any School (PDF) – A log for students to track their service learning or volunteer hours. Wondering how to log volunteer hours for high school programs? This template works as a volunteer hour log for high school students!
- Volunteer Hours Log for College Volunteer Programs (Microsoft Word) – This is a volunteer log sheet for colleges, universities, service learning, or student volunteer programs (with a signature column).
- Volunteer Hours Log Template (Excel Spreadsheet) – For tracking organization-wide volunteer data and program hours data in a spreadsheet.
- Individual Volunteer Hour Log Template for Volunteer Programs (Excel Spreadsheet)– Use this Excel Spreadsheet for tracking accumulated volunteer hours over time, organized by volunteer name.
Your organization can log volunteer time to measure program impact, win grants, and demonstrate accountability. We hope you find these templates and best practices useful for tracking and reporting on your volunteers’ contributions to their communities.