Volunteer Time Tracking Program Success Starts With Volunteer Motivation | Track It Forward

Volunteer Time Tracking Program Success Starts With Volunteer Motivation

Last updated by James McBryan on 03/17/2021

Being a volunteer coordinator is great until it isn’t. What they probably never told you about this role is that you’d have to wrangle your volunteers. Maybe you assumed that your volunteers would do what they’re told, but that’s not the world we live in. Volunteers need motivation to track their hours, sign up for volunteer shifts, and even attend those events. 

Getting volunteers to track time is one of the most challenging aspects of volunteer coordinating. What drove your volunteers to your organization was to make a difference, not to do ‘extra work’ in your time tracking program. Volunteers need motivation to track time.

But let’s be real, time tracking is work. So, how do you motivate your volunteers to track time? 

In college, I oversaw both small and large groups of volunteers. As a volunteer coordinator at an education non-profit in Milwaukee, I supervised high school aged students. Trying to get high school students to not only remember when they worked, but also to remember to write down their hours, was incredibly frustrating. 

Each week was a struggle with time tracking. At least ten students without fail would forget to sign in. I felt like I wasn’t a good enough volunteer coordinator if I couldn’t get them to track their time. Not only did it create more work for myself and the other volunteer coordinators, it created a lot of friction between myself and my volunteers. My volunteers needed motivation to track time in order for me to feel successful. 

It took a lot of trial and error, but eventually I learned that it wasn’t my fault, I just needed to change my expectations. Once I started doing that I recognized I had the wrong expectations for my students. 

Once you change your perspective, you will find better ways to motivate your volunteers to track time. 

Setting your expectations

If you have the wrong expectations of what your volunteers can actually do, you’re not setting them up for success, and you’ll end up just assigning blame onto yourself. But also, if you don't try to motivate your volunteers towards your expectations within your time tracking program - you'll never get there.

If you have not set your expectations with your volunteers, it’s not too late, it’s always easy to set them midway through. Here are three ways that have worked for us in setting expectations:

Step One: Having a conversation upfront 

  1. Start on the right foot by letting your volunteers know what you need on your end up front. They can’t read your mind. Laying out what their tasks will be and what you expect from them is an often overlooked, but crucial piece establishing a long lasting volunteer relationship. 
  2. After letting them know what you expect of them, have your volunteers tell you what they hope to get out of their experience. Understanding where you both stand will help you find the right position for your volunteer. 
  3. If you haven’t had this conversation when a volunteer initially joined, set some time aside at your next event to have this conversation. It doesn’t need to be a long talk, talking for even five minutes will help you get to know the volunteer better and they you. 

Step Two: Outlining Your Conversation

  1. Explain the reasons why you need to track time. If your volunteers don’t know why you’re asking them to track hours, they may think that it’s no problem if they don’t write their hours down. If you rely on grants, telling your volunteers that their hours need to be tracked for grant purposes gives them a reason to keep track of their hours. Simply explain that when hours don’t get tracked, funding can be impacted, which hurts the organization as a whole. 
  2. If you track hours for reasons outside of grant purposes, let your volunteers know that when they don’t track hours, administrators end up having to do a lot of extra and unnecessary work. When volunteers don’t track hours, they’re making other people do it for them. 
  3. Maybe after you’ve had these conversations, you and your volunteer realize it’s just not a good fit. By setting expectations right away, you’ll end up avoiding being ‘ghosted’ by volunteers later down the road. 

Step Three: Getting Feedback

  1. After working hard to have a conversation up front with your volunteers, it’s important to check in again and continually manage your volunteers.
  2. As a volunteer coordinator, you want to create a process for checking in with people. By checking in, you can determine if the role or tasks that they’re doing is still a good fit. Maybe they have an extroverted personality but the role they’re in now has them working alone. If you don’t address these issues occasionally, volunteers will stop showing up. Rarely will a volunteer come up to you or a supervisor and initiate a conversation saying they want to change roles. 
  3. Catering your volunteers to tasks makes sure that volunteers remain happy and will continue to support your organization. By initiating conversation, you allow them to feel comfortable with you and connect to you in a way that isn’t possible if these conversations didn’t exist. 

Volunteering is an incredibly loaded word and it’s so easy to think it’s your fault when things don’t work out. In reality, it’s not your fault that your volunteers don’t track their hours, your expectations and motivation tactics within your time tracking program just need to be adjusted. By having a conversation upfront about what volunteering means to your volunteers and to yourself, explaining the reasons why they need to track hours, and having follow up conversations is a guaranteed way to maintain and retain great volunteers. 

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