Is your reason valid enough to track volunteer time? | Track It Forward

Is your reason valid enough to track volunteer time?

Written by James McBryan


A critical aspect to getting volunteers to actually track time is to make sure there’s a real reason to do it and that the volunteers know of it! Think of exercising for example. Do you think that everyone that exercises actually loves it? Of course not!  But if diabetes runs in my family, then you bet I’m going to make sure that I’m exercising at least 30 minutes a day to beat the family trend!

Keeping track of volunteer hours is the same thing. If I know why it’s important for my organization that I keep track of my hours, then, of course, I’m more motivated to do it.

So, as you’re reading this, ask yourself “Why do I NEED my volunteers to track hours?” By the end of this article, you should be able to determine if your reason is hindering your organization from having the maximum participation in volunteer tracking and if you need to find another.

To help you follow along, download the worksheet at the bottom of this page to assess your reasonings.

Structured organizations with penalties perform the best

There are certain organizations that have very clear reasons why they need their volunteers to track hours.  Volunteers may need to accumulate a certain number of hours:

  • To graduate

  • To be eligible to remain a part of a membership group

  • To offset their tuition costs

In each of these volunteer structures, the volunteers have a strong motivation to record their hours because something important depends on it: their ability to graduate, to remain a part of an organization, or their financial obligations.

I consider these organizations the easiest group to motivate to track hours.  However, if your organization has this type of structure, you could still fail to get volunteers to track hours, because you may not be promoting it sufficiently. We’ll talk about in the next article.


Structured organizations involving financial impact turn out well

Having penalties, like the ones above, might not make sense for your organization, so instead there are some organizations that find other reasons to inspire their volunteers to track hours.  

Match grants are grants where an organization can get funds for every hour that someone in the community volunteers.  For example, if a volunteer volunteers for 1 hour, a company will grant them $25 for each hour completed.

If you currently have a grant, try to restructure it with a foundation so that it’s a match grant.  Or if you already have a match grant, make sure all your volunteers know about it and what their personal contribution is. If they are volunteering with your organization, they have a vested interest and they care, so remind them of the reasons why every hour logged is so critical.


Structure(less) organizations are most likely to fail

That brings me to the last group of organizations.  

If your volunteers don’t have a clear reason for why they need to keep track of hours, they just won’t track hours.

For example, there are some organizations that are just curious about collecting the data, but they don’t really have a real reason. That’s OK, but it does make it a lot more difficult to get all your volunteers to track their hours, and instead, you’ll just get a subset of that data that you’re looking for.

On the other hand, if you’re a non-profit organization that has a mission and a vision, like most nonprofits do, then have you shared with your volunteers what the community impact is? This, by far, is the most difficult to measure, however, it is the most critical to help your volunteers align with you their purpose for volunteering. Your volunteers want to know how their efforts have impacted the community and if keeping track of the hours helps them to see if better, of course, they are more likely to do it.


I definitely don’t want you to be discouraged if you realize that maybe you don’t have the right reasons. If that’s truly the case, then think seriously about restructuring your organization to make time tracking work. You can create some type of membership structure, find a grant that relates to your impact, or just put extra emphasis on always focusing on your community.

At the end of the day, keep in mind that you may have the best structure in place, however, without the proper feedback loop, it’s all pretty worthless. What does that mean? Read about the importance of promoting your time tracking program in our next article.