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Evaluating Online Scheduling Tools

Why Online Scheduling?

“Its urgently needed work–and also a big challenge to organize,” says Eric Knackmuhs, Habitat for Humanity of San Franciscos Interfaith Coordinator. In an effort to meet that challenge and streamline its volunteer event coordination, Knackmuhs Habitat organization has begun using a web-based, online scheduling tool. “Since 2005, weve used the system to schedule build days, or ientations, and other volunteer activities,” informs Knackmuhs. Before adopting the scheduling system, Knackmuhs notes, managing volunteers was a time-consuming process that included hand-keying data into documents or spreadsheets.

Is your organization also searching for ways to reduce time spent coordinating volunteers and keeping records? As evidenced by Knackmuhs experience, a scheduling product can provide a valuable step in the right direction. For maximum accessibility, consider a web-based solution. Volunteers are then able to register quickly and easily wherever they are, at any time of day, and administrators are able to log in from any location to easily assess up-to-date registration lists.

There is a variety of scheduling packages available, so its a good idea to comparison-shop before making a decision. As with any other product, you will want to get the right set of features at the right price. So, when evaluating your options, here are some important questions to ask:

Does the scheduling package simplify communication?

This probably the most important factor to consider. A good system should centralize the flow of information, allowing you to send mass emailings announcing new events and schedule changes. It should offer automatic registration confirmation, event reminders, and thank-you notes. Your choice should also allow users to easily update their own contact information.

Does the software monitor and regulate the number of registrants per event?

If your organization is like others that rely on volunteers, you may be getting a surplus of registrants for some events and a shortage for others. In or der to prevent an overload of volunteers at an event, your scheduling package should allow you to set a maximum number of registrants. The system should also allow you to review real-time registration numbers at a glance, permitting event coordinators to better plan for materials, equipment, and catering. This, in turn, helps eliminate waste and cuts cost.

Does it make record keeping more efficient?

Your choice should provide an easily printable sign-in sheet for recording volunteer attendance at an event. Look for a solution that will generate reports summarizing volunteer hours by event or by user. Records should also easily export to a variety of formats.

Do I need to be tech-savvy?

By default, online systems do not involve a lot of technical maintenance. However, be sure to investigate technical support policies. A good scheduling program provider should offer response within 24 hours.

Are there unforeseen costs?

Evaluate how cost is assessed. Is it a flat fee or per user? If cost is calculated on a per-user basis, make sure the system recognizes turnover by excluding or archiving inactive volunteers. Also find out if there is a cost to upgrade when new features are offered.

Is it easy to use?

The only way to truly know is to try the scheduling system out for yourself. Check to see if there is a free trial period. Posting new events should be a quick, uncomplicated process. Event schedules should be easy to edit, and reports simple to generate. The software should be user-friendly for both administrators and volunteers.

Take time to find the right scheduling option for your organization before making a choice. The same guiding principle that applies at the work site also rings true here: “Measure twice, cut once.”

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About Christine Litch

Christine Litch has over a decade of experience working in the nonprofit industry, specializing in helping nonprofits do more with technology.

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