If you take a bird’s eye view, the state of volunteerism seems pretty healthy. The volunteer rate in the U.S., for instance, stands at around 63 million people, roughly a quarter of the total population. And that’s only a few basis points down from the 29 percent that government statisticians recorded when they first started tracking rates of volunteerism back in the early 2000s. The importance of those volunteers to the health of the economy (not to mention the mission of their nonprofit organizations) can’t be overstated either. Some estimates show that volunteers contribute upwards of $150 billion in services.
Photo by MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsBut just look slightly below those topline numbers, and troubling trends start to emerge. For one, volunteer retention is a serious problem. After one year’s time, more than one-third of all volunteers stop showing up or donating their time to nonprofit organizations.
And that’s not the only serious management challenge facing volunteer organizations. We often see sharp recruitment spikes during moments of crisis as part of the larger phenomenon of convergence, i.e. the mass movement or attempted movement towards a disaster site. Undoubtedly converging volunteers bring badly-needed skills, abilities, and manpower to relief efforts. But as most managers can attest, enthusiastic volunteers aren’t always a net positive; disaster response and risk management experts, Lauren Fernandez, Joseph Barbera, and Johan Van Dorp put it best:
Spontaneous volunteers can actually hinder disaster response by creating health, safety, and security issues, distracting responders from their duties, and interfering with response operations. Volunteer efforts can be ineffective because organizations and management systems have not prepared for nor considered how to integrate the volunteer resources. As a result, response personnel are diverted from their primary duties to consider how spontaneous volunteers will be used, to create and assign tasks, to manage logistics related to volunteers, and to supervise actions.
In other words, volunteer convergence can often “overwhelm the capacity” of organizations to efficiently manage their resources, ultimately harming the response effort.
We don’t just witness this situation in large-scale emergency. Nonprofits, in general, have great difficulty managing their volunteer populations. Even managers from non-emergency nonprofits routinely report their concerns with volunteer reliability, often citing the failure of volunteers to complete explicitly agreed-upon assignments. Clearly, the challenge for managers in effectively deploying available resources is to ensure that the volunteer (in question) has a proven track record of performing certain tasks within the organization’s established protocols.
So what can be done to help? Here, strong resource management technology can make the difference. For one, the resource assignments feature in Noggin OCA, our all-hazards incident management platform, offers a unified way to manage the selection, assignment, dispatch, and rostering of people and assets. Managers can define roles for each resource they need and requirements to fulfil those roles. And that’s not the best part: OCA gives managers the ability to easily find and rank candidates, communicate with and confirm those candidates, as well as create and manage rosters.
Most importantly, OCA adds much-need intelligence to the selection of candidates by letting managers factor in role criteria, like resource capabilities, proximity to the event, or availability. Managers also have the flexibility to choose whether a given criterion is essential or optional to candidate evaluation. The system then automatically ranks candidates accordingly.
What’s more, the ranking system is itself extraordinarily intuitive. When short-listing candidates for a role, a manager’s match will be represented via an easy-to-understand 5-star rating, a simple way to rank candidates from best to worst fit.To learn more about Noggin OCA, check out our full features guide.
For more content like the blog you just read, follow us on Twitter @TeamNoggin and stay tuned for part 3 of our Get to Know Noggin OCA series next week!