How a nonprofit achieved successful results in getting their volunteers to track hours | Track It Forward

How a nonprofit achieved successful results in getting their volunteers to track hours

Last updated by James McBryan on 08/30/2020

Just because getting volunteers to track their hours is difficult, doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. There are plenty of organizations that are successfully getting their volunteers to log their hours. The story below is about how a nonprofit achieved tremendous success using the main principles we’ve discussed in this series to help achieve maximum participation.

Tulsa Master Gardeners is a nonprofit foundation located in 45 states that provides programs to promote and educate the public on the benefits of good horticultural practices. Volunteers have to go through an interview process to join, once they get accepted they are required to participate in 80 hours of training (which is led by OSU professors), and afterwards they need to volunteer 80 hours of service to payback for the training, as well as 30 hours of service per year and 10 hours of continuous education. Master Gardeners are essentially volunteer educators. They teach elementary school kids, they provide horticultural therapy classes at senior living centers, they teach classes at the downtown library, and much more.

Time Tracking System Structure

Once a year, the Tulsa Master Gardeners admins interview, accept and begin the training classes for the new group of volunteers. In those training classes, the professors share about their requirement structure including where to log hours, how it works, and who to see if they need help. Afterward, the volunteers use Track it Forward as their volunteer time tracking software program to log their hours and help stay accountable for hitting their requirements. 

Read more about how the right structure is critical to a successful program

Reason For Volunteer Time Tracking

Volunteers track for two primary reasons. The first reason is that they have 2 annual requirements they need to achieve - 30 service hours and 10 continuing education hours, in order to remain a member of the organization.  The other is for the different levels of recognition that they can achieve (we’ll talk more about that in the incentives section). Of course, a by-product of why their volunteers use the Track it Forward software is how easy it is. The admins didn’t need to sell the idea of using the system, because once they tried it, they were hooked. 

Read more about how having the rights reasons will help your team

Promotion and Implementation of the Volunteer Time Tracking System

Not only did the Master Gardeners initially announce the new software in their member meeting and show how to use it, they also include hands-on training on the software during their member training. During the initial introduction, the volunteer coordinator presented the software, discussed the benefits, showed how to use it, and then talked about why they made the decision and how much better and easier it was than their former method. Afterward, members were encouraged to go to the organizer’s office if they needed one-on-one assistance. Lastly, to this day, coordinators and professors always make a point to remind the volunteers at their monthly meetings, during their events, and during their training, “Don’t forget to log your hours!” It sort of became a part of their culture.

Read more about how promotions can help your organization

Rewards & Incentives for Volunteer Time Tracking

Members at Tulsa Master Gardeners usually join to learn about horticulture and become stewards of the community, however, the personal rewards by far exceed anything else because of the friendships that are created. The organization encourages camaraderie through social events, such as awards banquets, holiday parties, and garden tours, which bring the volunteers closer than ever. At the end of the year, there is a large member banquet where volunteers are celebrated for reaching the 300, 400, & 500-hour levels, including anyone who goes above and beyond. According to Tom Ingram, the volunteer coordinator, he says “People like to be recognized, so they think, “I better log my hours”."

Read more about rewards & incentives to help your organization

Out of the 254 volunteers registered on Track it Forward, 95% of them are actively logging hours. Which is incredible! Was there anything else special that they did?

One of their best ideas should be an approach that all organizations should take. They found key volunteer influencers that are respected and known in the organization amongst volunteers to sell the idea of the new software program, as well as get all upper management buy-in.

Of course, if you've been following this series, you know that there is more than one thing that goes into the recipe of successfully getting volunteers to actually track hours. However, if you have your structure in place and are ready for software, read our last article in this series that compares the different software options.