Nashville Makes Changes to Volunteer Coordination
By: David Ibata
Anyone who knows how crazy things can get coordinating Salvation Army volunteers as Christmas approaches can identify with the challenge the Nashville Command faced, trying to ramp up its Red Kettle Campaign while managing thousands of Angel Tree sign-ups.
“Here in Nashville, I’d been using a combination of email and Google calendars to schedule volunteers,” said Misty Ratcliff, director of volunteer services. People ”would have to speak with me, and sometimes it would get a little hectic when you had eight spots available and 100 volunteers.”
With 5,000 volunteers in Ratcliff’s email address book, 3,000 to 4,000 Angel Tree assignments to be slotted during the October-December period, and the Red Kettle effort looming, “we knew we needed a better system.”
Ratcliff did internet research and recommended an online volunteer management system called Cervis (Community Event Registration and Volunteer Information System). Nashville implemented it in May. Registered volunteers can sign in and pick the opportunity, shift and location they want to serve. “You won’t have to wait for an email back letting you know if the spot is still available,” the Nashville Command’s website says.
Cervis has been used by The Salvation Army in El Paso County, Colorado, and by other nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity and Special Olympics. It also is offered to businesses, cities, schools, professional associations, and churches. Its website is: www.cervistech.com
The cloud-based program costs $25, $120 and $175 a month – discounts are offered for those who pay a year in advance – for Basic, Standard and Premiere editions. It charges a flat rate, compared with other services that charge based on the number of volunteers, and offers a “price for life” guarantee for current customers, “so as my volunteer base grows, I don’t have to worry about my costs growing,” Ratcliff said.
The basic edition registers and schedules volunteers; the more advanced versions can track volunteer service hours, offer different user access levels, produce customized data reports, generate text and email reminders and thank-you notes, manage background checks and perform other duties.
As of last week, Nashville had 10 volunteer opportunities posted. (To view the sign-up page, go: here) Some were for continuing responsibilities, such as ESL teachers and Red Shield Kids Club tutors. Others were for one-off tasks, like a shift at an Angel Tree shopping mall booth.
New volunteers fill out an online application; once they’re registered, they can check the online calendar and sign up for things that interest them. Some may have to go through additional screening: people seeking to perform court-ordered community service, who will be working with children or handling money and will need background checks run, or whose answers on the application may require further explanation.
“It’s a little easier for applicants because if I happen to be out of pocket for several days, they still have a way to start the process without having to wait for me to email them back,” Ratcliff said.
There’s also a provision for group sign-ups – a Girl Scout troop, say, or a corporate office – for efforts that use lots of people at the same time, like 75 person Angel Tree shifts in December.
“We’re hoping this will increase our ability to track individual and corporate volunteer hours, so we can better recognize individuals and companies for the amount of time they’re helping us,” Ratcliff said. “It will help us with grantmakers and funders to produce the metrics they seek. And hopefully, it will reduce a little bit of the stress and workload of the person coordinating volunteers for different areas during that busy time – essentially, around Christmas.”