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Tracking Volunteer Hours: Top Challenges and Solutions

Logging volunteer hours can be done!

Free Resource: volunteer hours log templates

Your volunteers work hard, but without tracking their hours, it can feel like your program’s incredible impact goes unnoticed. 

Logging volunteer hours is essential to measuring the success of your program, but capturing every volunteer hour is easier said than done. The truth is, plenty of volunteer programs just aren’t getting the data they need. 

Not sure how to get started tracking your hours, or looking for a better way? We’re in your corner. We’ll discuss the common volunteer hours tracking challenges, plus proven solutions for encouraging your volunteers to log their hours. 

Why Your Volunteer Program Needs To Log Volunteer Hours

If you’re a volunteer leader, you need to be tracking your volunteer hours. Here’s why:

Top Reasons to Log Volunteer Hours

    1. Know Your Volunteers - Understand how many volunteers you have, which ones are participating, and how often. Celebrate every volunteer’s contributions to your organization and watch your volunteer retention skyrocket!
    2. Inspire Volunteers, Donors, and Stakeholders - Use your volunteer program’s impact data to inspire current and future supporters. 
    3. Make Informed Decisions - Shape the future of your volunteer program and direct adequate resources based on the volunteer initiatives that are succeeding, and those that need a bit more attention. 
    4. Get More Funding and Resources - Your volunteer data is the key to unlocking funding. Make the case for your volunteer program by demonstrating your volunteer program’s impact and return on investment. 

You know why you need better volunteer data, but actually logging volunteer hours isn’t always a walk in the park…

Logging Volunteer Hours: Top Challenges

You want to recruit more volunteers and grow your program. But the more volunteers and volunteer locations you have, the more complicated tracking volunteer data becomes. 

Here are some of the most common challenges volunteer programs of all sizes face when it comes to logging volunteer time:

  • The Board Wants Data, But I Don’t Know Where to Start
  • I’m Spending All My Time Transferring Paper Logs
  • Volunteers Are Ignoring My (Repeated) Requests
  • My Organization’s Volunteer Data Is Inaccurate
  • We Have Lots of Different Programs, Locations, and Types of Volunteers
  • We Don’t Have the Budget for Fancy Apps

Here’s what’s really behind these challenges…

The Board Wants Data, But I Don’t Know Where to Start

The Board is asking for volunteer program data. But you’re not sure where to start. You might be asking: What data do I even need? What’s the best way to collect volunteer hours? How do I present these hours to stakeholders? 

Answering these questions can seem overwhelming, but we’ll break it all down!

Know you need to track volunteer hours, but not sure what other data you should be collecting? Check out our How-to Guide on Assessing, Collecting, and Leveraging your Volunteer Program Data!

I’m Spending All My Time Transferring Paper Logs

You ask volunteers to log their hours at the beginning and end of each shift. That’s great! But there’s still a lot of work to be done on your end. 

Thumbing through paper logs, manually entering data, staring at spreadsheets. The headaches, the papercuts! The whole process is painfully inefficient. Even if you’ve roped in a volunteer to transfer your paper sign-in sheets, there’s a better, more impactful use for your time and your volunteers’ time. 

Volunteers Are Ignoring My (Repeated) Requests

Are you finding that your volunteers just aren’t logging their hours despite your many reminder emails? 

Asking your volunteers to log their own hours requires them to remember to do so and then follow the process you’ve put in place. If this is the case, you may have too many steps in place. Not to mention, some of your most loyal volunteers don’t love change and are less than eager to follow your process—especially if it involved technology. 

If you’re asking volunteers to log their own hours, it has to be convenient and comfortable for them. 

Our Volunteer Data Is Inaccurate

A volunteer forgot to sign in.

Someone brought a friend along.

You don’t yet have a process for logging volunteer hours so you just kind of estimate.

These are all common reasons your volunteer hours may be inaccurate. 

If your program is still logging volunteers on paper sign-in sheets (or not at all), you may be selling yourself short. 

But why is it important that your volunteer hours are accurate? 

The funding and resources allocated to your program may depend on the volunteer hours logged or volunteer impact reported. But with inefficient processes vulnerable to human error, dozens (even hundreds) of missing volunteer hours can lead to lost funds.

We Have Different Programs, Locations, and Types of Volunteers and Different Ways of Logging Hours

Keeping track of volunteer time across an entire organization can be especially challenging for larger organizations with varied volunteer programs. If this sounds familiar, your big challenge is getting everyone on the same page. 

Let’s say you’re a food bank with several collection locations across your community with lots of different types of volunteers, from drivers to student groups. You probably have several volunteer leaders on-site, too! 

Different types of volunteers require different types of data collection. Plus, every program might have a unique process for logging hours! 

There is a better way (don’t worry, we won’t leave you wondering). 

Free Volunteer Hours Log Templates

We Don’t Have the Budget for Fancy Apps

You’ve heard of volunteer management software and volunteer apps that make logging volunteer hours a breeze. But you worry they’re just too far beyond your program’s budget. 

There are plenty of great solutions designed for every size volunteer program and smaller budgets! These tools range in capabilities, from free web-based sign-up sheets to simple, affordable volunteer scheduling software to more robust volunteer management systems. 

We’ll help you determine the best method for tracking volunteer impact based on your organization’s needs…

How to Get Volunteers to Log Their Hours

You know you need to track volunteer hours. But how do you know you’re doing it right? What does successful volunteer hours tracking even look like?

Successful hours tracking means that you’re capturing all the critical data you need using a process that is both efficient and scalable

So what’s the secret sauce to logging volunteer hours successfully? Here’s our winning formula:

Volunteer Hours Tracking = Volunteer Buy-In + Scalable Process + User-Friendly Technology

Let’s discuss each of these components, which make up your ultimate hours-logging solution (we promise)! 

Getting Volunteer Buy-In with The Power of Persuasion

Logging hours is more than just a tech challenge, there’s also the element of people power! 

To get volunteers to remember to log their hours and want to do it, you’ll need these three ingredients: 

  1. Volunteer Engagement 
  2. Volunteer Motivation
  3. Volunteer Leadership

Volunteer Engagement

The most important ingredient to getting the volunteer hours you need is capturing your volunteers’ attention!

It’s a bit of a no-brainer, but volunteer engagement is one of the most challenging volunteer management practices to master especially because the whole concept of volunteer engagement can be somewhat nebulous and tricky to gauge. 

We won’t dive into the volunteer engagement nitty-gritty here, but we can point you to our full list of helpful resources to boost your volunteer engagement and grow your impact:

Simply put, when volunteers are engaged, they’re more likely to spend time with your organization…and then log that time!

Volunteer Motivation

You can’t force your volunteers to do anything. After all, they’re giving you time for free. However, you really need them to log their hours.

So, how do you motivate volunteers to keep track of their time? 

If you suspect your volunteers are lacking motivation, try these tips for size: 


Sometimes all your volunteers need is a little incentive. What better way to incentivize logging hours than to invite some healthy competition? Run a competition for most hours logged in a month. Offer a prize, such as a gift card to a favorite local eatery. 

You can also feature a Volunteer of the Month on your website, social media channels, or in your newsletter. A little recognition for their time can go a long way in encouraging volunteers to log it! 

Volunteers Need to Know Why

Some of your volunteers may not log their hours because they don’t know why it’s important to your organization. When asking volunteers to log their hours, try communicating the importance of their time and specifically how their hours lead to better outcomes for your organization and your community. 

Volunteers Need to Know How

Your volunteers will as for help if they need it, right? Not necessarily! Some of your volunteers may feel a bit embarrassed that they can’t remember how to log their hours, maybe they don’t want to bother you, or perhaps they just don’t like waiting for help. 

Whatever the reason, you need to make it easy for your volunteers to find answers. Record a how-to video and keep it on your volunteer homepage. Send a friendly reminder that you’re available for help, and let them know the best way to get in touch with you. Or, offer regular in-person training to that help is always accessible (and even fun). 

Volunteer Leadership

Logging hours is often an afterthought, especially because it can be overshadowed by the wonderful experience of volunteering itself!

But you can encourage volunteers to log hours by gaining your volunteers’ trust. 

Strategies like consistently keeping your volunteers in the loop, showing appreciation, and getting to know your volunteers personally can make all the difference in gaining trust. 

Ultimately, your supporters are more likely to care about your organization and its outcomes when they feel a personal connection with the people who make it great. 

Building a Scalable Process for Tracking Volunteer Hours

Another component of your winning volunteer hours tracking formula? Process. 

If you want to feel less overwhelmed by the task of tracking your volunteers’ time, you need to get all your volunteers, programs, and staff on the same page. But, how?

Centralize your volunteer hours logging process.

In other words, all volunteer leaders and volunteers should use the same system for logging volunteer time. Whether your volunteers are remote or on-site, they should be following generally the same steps and entering data into the same system—whether it’s a spreadsheet or an online sign-in sheet. 

Develop a Process for Logging Volunteer Hours

The easiest time to track volunteer hours is during certain “touchpoints” with your volunteers. Determine key points in your volunteers’ journey with which you’re in contact. Once you’ve defined these touchpoints, you’ll be able to outline a clear process for logging hours:

  1. Volunteer Registration / Sign-Up - When a volunteer signs up for a shift, they should already know the number of hours they’re being asked to participate. This way, volunteer coordinators can use these hours as a reference when logging hours. You’ll also want to collect basic information like volunteer name, contact details, and preferences.
  2. Volunteer Check-In (On-Site) - 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). 
  3. Volunteer Check-In (Remote or Unsupervised) - Even if your volunteers are remote or working a shift unsupervised, you’ll still want them to check-in. You’ll need to provide volunteers with access to a sign-in sheet. The easiest way to do this is to set up an online check-in system, using a self-check-in tool like web-based sign-in sheets or volunteer management tool. 
  4. 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 or court-ordered hours.
  5. Email Follow-Up - Send an email to your volunteers within a few days of their participation. Thank them for their time and provide specific instructions for recording their hours if they haven’t done so on-site. Volunteer management software automates the communication process, so you won’t need to send out hundreds of individual follow-up emails (imagine how much time you’ll save)!
  6. Data Entry - If you are using a manual hours logging process, you’ll need to set aside time each week to compile your data. It is possible to completely eliminate this step by using a dedicated volunteer hours tracking tool
  7. Hours Verification - If you’re asking volunteers to log their own hours, you’ll probably want to implement a verification process. Verify hours by comparing attendance records with volunteers’ submissions or simply scanning submissions for any anomalies and duplicate entries. (Volunteer management software allows you to verify hundreds of hours with the click of a button!)

Other Hours Logging Tips and Tricks

A few more tips for your hours-logging process: 

  • Set Your Website Up for Success - Volunteers should know where to go on your website to log their hours…or at least access instructions for logging hours. Designate a page on your volunteer site just for logging hours. Include instructions on how to log their time, web links to logs and forms, and contact information if they have questions. 
  • QR Codes - QR Codes are convenient for any volunteer with a smartphone—plus, they are super simple to set up. You can create a QR Code from virtually any web page. So, if you’re using an online log or sign-in form, you can easily create, print, and post a QR code for logging hours at any of your on-site check-in locations! 
  • Hours Logs Templates - If you’re not ready to invest in a dedicated system for managing volunteer scheduling and tracking, we’ve created these free volunteer hours logs guide and templates

Reducing Barriers with Hours Tracking Tools 

The best way to finally get your volunteers to log their hours is to invest in a better hours-tracking tool. 

What Are Volunteer Hours Tracking Tools? 

There are tools out there that empower volunteers to log their own hours without volunteer leaders having to hassle volunteers—and there are solutions that fit your budget. 

Considerations for Volunteer Hours Tracking Tools

  • Budget. These tools are an investment. What do you have to spend on volunteer management tools? What returns can you get out of the investment? 
  • Use-Case. The type of tools you choose will ultimately depend on your organization’s needs, scale, and budget. Larger, more complex volunteer programs may require a more robust solution. While smaller, single-cause organizations may be able to get away with a simpler tool, such as a web-based attendance form. 
  • Additional Volunteer Management Features. While some tools are made just for collecting volunteer hours, others can offer so much more. From advanced scheduling to insightful reporting, robust volunteer management software can be a total game changer. Plus, when the software does more, you get more bang for your buck. 

Researching your options is key to getting the right time-tracking tool for your volunteer program. Look for options that provide free demos or trials so you can get a feel for the solution before making the investment. 

What Can Volunteer Hours Tracking Tools Do for Your Volunteer Program? 

A volunteer hours tracking tool can do so much for you, your volunteers, and your organization. Some of the benefits include: 

  • Streamline and Centralize. Get everyone on the same page. Because your hours tracking software is web-based, volunteers log their own hours anytime, anywhere in a way that’s most convenient to them. The best part? All hours are automatically stored in the same place, so data is completely manageable and accessible, no matter the size of your organization. 
  • Improve Flexibility. Just because everyone is using the same system, doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible in the methods in which your volunteers log their time. Giving your volunteers options (such as a mobile app, your website, or a tablet on-site) can actually increase your volunteers’ chance of recording their hours. 
  • A User-Friendly Experience - Introducing new technology doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, finding a user-friendly solution for getting involved and logging hours means your volunteers are more likely to do it again!
  • Automate Volunteer Hours Tracking. The best volunteer management software does the work for you. This software comes with a free mobile app just for volunteers. It automatically notifies volunteers when they arrive on-site. They’ll check in to their shift with the click of a button, and hours are logged automatically. It doesn’t get much more convenient for you or your volunteers!
  • Reduce Hassle. So many of you are tired of hassling your volunteers to log their hours—and we don’t blame you! It’s time to cut down on the back-and-forth. volunteer management system simplifies communication so you can send emails and texts to lots of contacts at once—say volunteers attending an event. The system can even send automated reminders that prompt volunteers to log their hours after they’ve completed their shifts. 
  • Increase Your Program ROI - When you’re spending less time on the arduous administrative tasks associated with logging hours, you’ll have more time to flex your volunteer leadership skills (like building community). You’ll be able to take on more volunteers, build capacity, grow your program, and increase your return on investment
  • Insights Beyond Hours - When you find a better way to track volunteer hours, you’ll have the opportunity to capture even more data and trends, such as volunteers’ favorite programs, participation, program impact, and other insights. Better reporting means more informed decision-making, a happier board, and more funding. Everyone wins! 
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