Sometimes volunteer coordinators are a little shy when it comes to collecting information from their volunteer staff. As human beings, we don’t want to dig too much into personal information, particularly if that individual is doing us a favor. The old saying don’t look a gift horse in the mouth comes to mind. While this is often good advice in life, when it comes to volunteer management, there are certain pieces of information you should know about folks, even if they are unpaid. Remember, compensated or not, they are conducting business at or on behalf of your organization.
Naturally, you should start by obtaining basic contact information. Start with name, address, home phone number and/or cell number, and email. Depending on your situation, you may also want to ask for state-issued identification. For instance, if someone will be working with kids or the elderly, you’ll want to make sure the volunteers are who they say they are. If you want to take it a step further, consider doing a background check. They’re inexpensive and can help prevent some legal problems later on.
Next ask for an emergency contact person. You never know when the need for this information will come up. Be prepared when you ask the question; at this point, many people will volunteer that they have a medical condition. Ask your corporate attorney what you should do with this information. Having medical information — even if you didn’t ask for it — can be tricky, so rely on your lawyer to guide you through this area if it comes up.
Get Some Demographic Information
You’ll also want to grab as much demographic information as possible. This can be very useful when designing future marketing campaigns. The more you know about your current volunteer base, the easier it is to find people similar to them in the future. Ask how the individual found out about the opportunity and go from there. Age, education level, income, and occupation are a few examples of key information that can help you learn more about your volunteers. If you think these questions are too personal, consider coming up with ranges for each category and/or making this information optional. For instance, the age categories could be 18-34, 35-50, and 50+. This will give you some good information without being seen as too invasive by volunteers.
What Can You Do with It?
Once you have accumulated all of this info, the last thing to ask the volunteer is, “What can I do with this information?” As far as volunteer management is concerned, this is a key question. Some people don’t like receiving emails (and sometimes even snail mail advertisements), so ask if you may put them on your mailing lists. Digitally, it will assist you in not having your electronic communications, such as newsletters, reported as spam. In the same vein, not everyone has unlimited text capabilities on their cell phones, so you may want to clarify if they will allow SMS messages. Other volunteers may want to be as anonymous as possible, so assure them that demographic data will not have identifying information attached to it. Get permission before you use a volunteer’s photo in marketing materials. Even ask if there are people you can share his or her schedule with if they call. After it’s all worked out, create some forms that are clear on what you can and can’t do with their info and get a signature.
As you can see, obtaining volunteer information is a good idea in most situations. The key is to collect an appropriate amount without making your volunteers feel that they are giving up their privacy. However, if you remind them that the goal of gathering this information is to further the organization’s mission, it should go a long way toward helping you walk this line.
Shawn Kendrick holds an MBA from Ohio Dominican University and has over a decade’s experience in the nonprofit and business sectors. He enjoys researching and blogging for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management system that offers online registration, email and text messaging, report generation, and much more.