Streamlining volunteer scheduling can help your nonprofit in many strategic ways.

When it comes to volunteer scheduling, most coordinators fall into one of two camps. First, there’s the traditional or “top-down” approach, which essentially puts all the finalizing of schedules into the hands of one or a few key individuals. The other is a newer approach called “self-scheduling,” which uses volunteer scheduling software and ultimately allows the volunteer to decide where he or she will be scheduled. Of course, both have their pros and cons. Below we’ll take a look at how the two philosophies differ, as well as some strengths and weaknesses of each.

Old School Volunteer Scheduling

Many volunteer coordinators prefer the tried and true “top-down” approach. In this method, one or more key decision makers are involved in most steps of the volunteer scheduling process. This kind of system can work quite well when the gatekeeper is competent, efficient, and has the time to focus on scheduling. Many organizations like this system because of its simplicity. Others continue with this approach just because that’s the way it’s always been, so there’s no need to reinvest time or money into a new system.

Despite its simplicity and effectiveness (with the right leader), this approach does have serious drawbacks. The main concern is a heavy reliance on just a few (or one) person/people. If that person or small group leaves the agency, their knowledge goes with them, and the program can fall into disarray. At some point, this model also stifles growth potential: no matter how efficient the gatekeeper or gatekeepers are, there are human limits to how many events and people they can manage.

Volunteer Scheduling: Self Registration

The newer thought in volunteer scheduling revolves around the idea of self-scheduling. Advances in technology and volunteer scheduling software now allow volunteers the opportunity to sign up when and where they want. The advantages are vast. From a volunteer coordinator’s perspective, the time savings are huge. No longer is there a need to be involved in every aspect of signing someone up for an event; the volunteer management software does most of the heavy lifting. This means more effort can be put into growing the volunteer list, as opposed to simply trying to keep up with day-to-day operations. And most software programs still allow the volunteer coordinator an ample amount of oversight. A good program will allow the coordinator to set specifications or requirements for an event, so he or she can still effectively decide who is eligible to sign up for an event.

The other upside is from the volunteer’s perspective. Being able to self-schedule is much more convenient than trying to catch the right person at the right time on the phone to sign up. This approach allows volunteers the opportunity to browse upcoming volunteer events, see which ones fit most with their interests and schedules, and register at their convenience. Most volunteers appreciate these perks, and making the process as simple as possible, of course, is a great way to establish a good rapport right off the bat with them.

Clearly, the traditional or top-down approach is one that can be acceptable in certain circumstances. However, the self-scheduling approach is best formost volunteer coordinators. With the right volunteer scheduling software, a coordinator can now do more with much less time and money spent.


See first-hand the advantages that streamlined volunteer scheduling system can bring to your organization. Check out this short overview video of how VolunteerHub works.