When it comes to Volunteer Management Software (VMS), it’s absolutely normal to have questions. Of course, VMS’s are a fantastic way to keep you, your nonprofit, and your volunteers organized, but adding one to your onboarding process, or transitioning to a new one that better serves your organization’s needs, takes a little work. What is the best approach to transition internally and what’s the best way to transition volunteers from the old software to the new? We’ve got the seven steps you need to take.
The Case for Volunteer Management Software
As a nonprofit, you probably accumulate lots of data throughout the year ― logged volunteer hours, recurring shifts, contact information, specialized skills, and a multitude of other information on your volunteers. The time-consuming task most volunteer-based organizations are faced with is tracking and reporting on all of this data.
Some nonprofits track all of this information in a series of Excel spreadsheets, while others use Google Calendar, or in some cases, paper sign-in sheets. This decentralized web of paperwork leads some nonprofits to invest in volunteer management software (VMS). Midsize and large nonprofits in particular may find relief in automating some of their tracking and reporting obligations.
When Your Software Purchase Doesn’t Go as Planned
Picture yourself as a volunteer coordinator who just pitched the perfect VMS to your Executive Director or Board. You’re enthusiastic about saving yourself time and resources so that you can get back to focusing on what’s really important: impacting your community. You get budget approval after presenting your case and you start using your new system.
It all goes well...until it doesn’t. With a sinking feeling, you begin realizing the limitations of your current software. It’s not as easy to use as you thought it would be. Maybe it doesn’t have all the features you need, or it’s not mobile-friendly, or you can’t use it to manage corporate groups. After a moment of despair, you decide to transfer to another VMS.
Take a deep breath. The hardest part is accepting that your current “solution” isn’t working. With that done, you now face the logistical aspects of making the switch. To help you plan your next moves, we’ve compiled this guide of best practices that is based on years of transitioning new customers from prior solutions to the Galaxy VMS.
Step 1: Decide on a New VMS
Volunteer Management Software comes in many flavors—some excel at volunteer relationship-building and engagement, some focus on scheduling, and other software is all about tracking volunteer hours. Galaxy’s flagship product, Get Connected, is mostly “middle-of-the-road” in that it offers all of the above while focusing mostly on volunteer engagement and strengthening volunteer relationships within your community.
We mention this because it’s important to know the benefits of the system you’re moving towards. A clear vision of your organization’s needs and goals will help steer your decision towards a VMS. If you’re thinking of switching and need to do some research, we recommend using Capterra as it provides a comprehensive list of options with user reviews, all in one place.
Step 2: Archive Everything
While you’re still in your old system, get a good snapshot of your current data. When moving to a new system, you’ll likely lose access to your old one. Make sure to archive everything and get a complete export of all of your data. It’s possible that you’ll be able to import a portion of that information into your new system.
Step 3: Decide What’s Important
Your next step is to decide what to import into your new system. So think about which data are important, and which are dispensable. According to Dave Breske, Galaxy’s Data Specialist, “the most common cause for a difficult transition is when a client has a lot of data, but they haven’t thought about what’s important to them. Often they’ll just ask us to ‘shove it all in any way you can.’ That can easily lead to problems down the road with their database. But if you know, for instance, that your users’ past volunteer hours are very important, then we can mold the import to protect the integrity of that data.”
If your data are already in a format that you can reference if needed (like an Excel sheet, or an archive from your old system), then we generally recommend that you don’t bring old data into your new system. Rather, import your users, volunteer opportunities, and agencies/community partners. Think about which agencies you still work with. Which volunteer opportunities will still be current once the import is complete? Who has volunteered in the past year or two? Avoid importing inactive agencies, old opportunities, or volunteers who haven’t been active in years; this will help remove some of the complexity of the import process.
Step 4: Format Your Data
Now you should format your data in a way that is compatible with your new system. Be aware that one system is likely to store information differently from another. For example, your old VMS might store both a home and mobile phone number, while your new system might only have the option to store one. Don’t be afraid to sand down your data a bit to fit it into the new system.
Step 5: Import Your Data
The next step is straightforward—it’s time to import your data into your new VMS! Some companies have a data specialist who can do the import for you, and others will use a self-service import tool.
Step 6: Train Your Staff
If your new software provider offers training, take advantage of it! Then teach the necessary people how to use your new site. Proper training will minimize user error and will ultimately save you time and resources.
Step 7: Launch to the Public!
Keep in mind that launching a new VMS is a chance to build excitement and get a fresh start with your volunteers—particularly if they were frustrated with the old system. If this is your first time using an online VMS, especially if you’re moving from a paper sign-in or computer spreadsheet, this is a great time to build excitement and get people involved.
Before you share your site with the public, you’ll want to be sure it features multiple volunteer opportunities. You don’t want to send out the link to your new platform only to have volunteers click it and find nothing there. They won’t have an incentive to return.
Tips for a Smooth Transition
Early on, when decisions for importing data are being made, make sure the right people are in the room. The individuals on your staff who will be managing your site should definitely be in on the conversation. It’s also helpful to have a technical person present (IT if you have one) if you’ll be exporting data from your old system or preparing data for import.
Once again we asked Galaxy’s Data Specialist, Dave Breske, to think about a time that the transition went really smoothly. He described a client who had “the right people in the room from the very beginning. They had a really large database to export, but they had already thought about what they did and didn’t want to bring over ahead of time. They were responsive and followed directions, which are two undervalued qualities.” He went on to say that “in general, it’s also really valuable to leave enough time for the transition. If you don’t, you can put yourself up against a deadline that is not possible. We recommend seven days on the short end and two weeks on the long end for data import.”
There is no reason to suffer with a VMS that isn’t working for you or your organization. By following the best practices outlined here, your transition to a new system will be streamlined and painless.