Can volunteer time tracking software actually get volunteers to track time? | Track It Forward

Can volunteer time tracking software actually get volunteers to track time?

Last updated by James McBryan on 08/29/2020

Time Tracking Software- What it Does and Doesn't Do

Getting volunteers to actually track time is difficult. In this day and age, you can find plenty of articles online from experts talking about volunteerism, such as volunteer engagement, building capacity, and volunteer retention. However, despite what’s out there, none of them actually go into the specifics on HOW to get volunteers to actually track time.

Getting volunteers to track their hours can be hard, every organizer struggles with it, and honestly, nobody wants to admit it. 

Nonetheless, we’ve worked with hundreds of organizations on their time tracking programs. Some succeeded and some didn’t, but the ones that succeeded all had several things in common, and we’d like to share those things and deep dive into all of them in this series. (Make sure you follow along by downloading the worksheets provided on the bottom of each article.)

Of course, there’s a variety of things that contribute to the success of a volunteer time tracking program, and one of those is software. 

Time Tracking Software Alone Is Not Enough 

It definitely helps to get volunteers tracking their time, and it certainly helps volunteer managers track volunteers and create reports, but software alone will not just make your volunteers track their own time. 

If you do not have a workflow in place that encourages volunteers to track their time, or log their hours, then they are not going to use the volunteer time tracking software how you want them to. This will make your volunteer time tracking program seem off and inefficient, and it may make sense to blame the volunteer time tracking software, but it is deeper than that. 

To start off, we have created a quiz that can help tell you if time tracking software will be helpful for your organization, and what else you will need to implememt in order to make time tracking software as efficient and beneficial for your organization as it can be. 

To help you determine if a new software program will get your volunteers actually tracking time, you need to understand if you have the right structure in place and how software can be used to support it.

What DOES time tracking software do to motivate volunteers to actually track time?

1. Allows volunteers to keep track of their own hours

It’s not good enough to just have your volunteers submit their time into a black hole, like Google Spreadsheets, and never again see where their hours are going. The majority of your volunteers, want to know how much they’ve volunteered, for their own motivation, and especially, to keep track of their progress if they have certain requirements to meet. Imagine that you were taking an online class that had 5 online exams throughout the semester, and you did not have access to see how you scored, but instead had to always email the professor. How annoying would that get? You, as the student, would, therefore, lose motivation because you don’t know how bad or how well you are doing. This is the same thing, but the right software can solve that.

2. Simplifies the work/workflow

Whether you’re doing paper sign-in sheets or some other kind of system, sometimes volunteers are constantly recording the same information each time they volunteer - First Name, Last Name, Email Address, Phone Number etc. You may be thinking, “Well, we need that information.” Yes… but imagine how easier it would be for the volunteer if they weren’t constantly writing down the same thing over and over again? On top of that, if you have a long line of people waiting to sign in because there’s so much to write down, how many people are just leaving the line because they don’t have time. The right software avoids that because it can keep track of volunteer information so they just have to provide the basics - where they volunteered and how many hours.

3. Eliminates extra work for the volunteers and the volunteer manager

Volunteers don’t want to spend the extra time constantly emailing you how many hours they have left. At some point, they give up, and especially if they don’t know they’re behind, they may just stop tracking altogether because they may think they’re done. Depending on your organization, some volunteers are going out of their daily duties to serve in the community. The least you can do is require them to do extra work so they can really focus on what matters. Software definitely helps with that. 

However, just because you have a software system in place, doesn’t mean that your volunteers will magically begin to track hours, because maybe you still don’t have the right structural system in place. You are probably running a great volunteer program and simple changes to a check in process or a follow up process can help you realize the efforts your volunteers are going towards in your program. You can never fully know how well your program is doing until you can see the program's data from a birds-eye view. 

With a volunteer time tracking software, you should be able to run reports and have full faith that these reports are accurate. The only way to know this for sure is to know that your volunteers are tracking their own time. 

What DOESN’T volunteer time tracking software do to get volunteers to actually track time?

1. Set the expectations of volunteers and time tracking 

It’s completely up to you, as the volunteer coordinator, to set up the right expectations from the beginning. The structure of your program, especially around time tracking, is critically important for your success. This may include rules, requirements and/or penalties. But don’t automatically assume that it’ll give a negative perception to your potential volunteers because at the end of the day, you’re just doing your job and you have to make sure that those expectations are met. Unfortunately, the software won’t create a structure but instead should support it.

2. Create incentives for volunteer time tracking

Software does make a lot of things easier for you, but there are still some difficult decisions that you need to make that software won’t, such as incentives. Just because you have them, doesn’t mean that volunteers will definitely track hours, but there are certain incentives that can help, and unfortunately, the software won’t give you those ideas. I, however, will. You can find it later in our series

3. Fix all your volunteer time tracking problems

Like I’ve mentioned, software isn’t the magic pill to helping get your volunteers actually track time and it certainly won’t fix all your problems. So don’t assume that if you invest in a software program, that everything miraculously will solve itself. Running a volunteer program and especially, one that has good time tracking records is a difficult job. But we will help you to get you on the right path. 

Once you confirm that you’re ready for a software program, there are a few more things you need to have set up to ensure maximum success, including the right reasons to track.

If your organization depends on volunteers to receive grants or if your volunteers are required to volunteer a certain amount for graduation, then your whole organization SHOULD  know how important it is to keep track of hours. But, DO THEY? And are you doing the right things to make sure they know and are reminded of it?