Organization is crucial to any effort, especially those involving volunteers, hours, dates, and other pertinent details to ensure success. Each year, approximately 62.4 million people volunteer for at least one organization [1]. As a result of this massive effort, organizations are scrambling to derive ways in which to mobilize volunteers while at the same time finding a way to manage them. At the end of the school semester, when it comes time to verify service hours, the teenage pandemonium begins as organizations struggle to look back at the records and make sense of it all. Aside from the traditional methodology–creating an Excel spreadsheet–there are innovative alternatives that can facilitate greater incorporation and maintenance of youth volunteers.

Consider SignUp Genius

SignUp Genius is an extremely useful tool for managing and updating volunteer information. Setting up an account is free. Basically, you choose a template from the thousands of options and then enter information about your organization. SignUp Genius forms can be centered around a single activity, or simply be the “base” for all of your organization’s activities. New activities can continually be added to the form; to this end, different “roles”–actions or jobs a potential volunteer can sign up for–can also be entered along with the number of volunteers needed in each role.

Yet, the most effective feature of the SignUp Genius system is the automation system. Let’s focus on the sign up process itself first. While Google Drive is a somewhat viable option, it often entails the problems of people tampering with the information of others, as the Google Drive system allows users to edit anything on the document, not a specific area. Alternatively, with SignUp Genius, potential volunteers can scroll through the different dates, times, and activities available. They can then choose to sign up for an activity, but are only able to enter new information. The signup process itself is very useful. Users do not need a SignUp Genius account to volunteer. Information, such as names and email addresses, are provided by text box fields. You also have the option to request additional information, such as phone number and address, from the volunteer. Most impressively, you can add a custom question to the form that you create (i.e. questions not already provided by SignUp Genius).

The reminder feature on SignUp Genius is also invaluable to any organization using volunteers. When creating a form, an organization can choose any number of days before the scheduled event that it desires to have SignUp Genius send out a personalized reminder to each volunteer. This alone saves the chaos of trying to send out a reminder on an email list to all the volunteers and potentially missing one. Furthermore, the SignUp Genius system provides the option to send an iCalendar (.ics) file that can be inserted into the Calendar app for simple reminders.

Finally, once you start using SignUp Genius, be sure to take advantage of the monitoring and statistics function of the system. SignUp Genius allows the creators of sign up forms to view such statistics as the percentage of slots still opened and a complete listing–with contact information–of all past volunteers and those signed up for future events. It can be converted to an Excel file and analyzed with ease.

Maintain Regular Contact with School Clubs

Usually, the greatest motivation for any teenage student to volunteer is the need for service hours stipulated by local clubs at the school. Out of all age groups under 35, age 16 through 19 is the most likely to volunteer [2]. It should make sense that organizations have the best chance of retaining teenage volunteers by appealing to the clubs that dictate activities. In the school environment, organizations like Beta Club and Key Club create a list each month outlining the activities that members can sign up for to be considered for service hours. If an activity is not on the list, then it usually will not count for any service hours. Thus, it is imperative for organization wishing to retain teenage volunteers to reach out and make sure each month that activities are included on the club’s calendar.

Aside from the monthly events, school clubs often look for additional–“impromptu”–opportunities for members struggling to garner enough hours. If you email a club explaining your dire need for volunteers for an activity in the near future, you will often be able to get the help you need. Further, the more urgent your need is, the more the school organizations will be inclined to help you. For instance, organizations lacking volunteers will often not receive any from schools until the day before, when the volunteer organizations “up the ante” by doubling the value of the service hours that count toward the club. You should not only reach out periodically but also constantly remind the clubs of your need.

Appoint a Volunteer Coordinator

The Institute for Volunteering Research says it best: “There is no one model of volunteer management and no one way of developing and implementing good practice” [3]. Yet, this rests on two assumptions: (1) it is beneficial to have some sort of volunteering management system and (2) making a strategic plan to maintain volunteers is necessary. This begs the questions: what works for teenage volunteers? Should everything be automated?

One extremely effective way to garner additional support in volunteer management is to create a Volunteer Coordinator position. This role focuses on ensuring that all volunteer positions are constantly filled for each activity as well as handling reminders, rewards, and policies relating to volunteers. This can help your organization tremendously because Volunteer Coordinators focus specifically on managing volunteers and are a reliable source for volunteers to turn to when they need help. According to Joanna Machin and Angela Ellis Paine from the Institute for Volunteering Research, paid Volunteer Coordinators are the most active of all managing roles in regards to writing policy on volunteer involvement (around 92% do), conducting reports on volunteer impact (around 76% do), and acting as a “key person volunteers can go to for advice” (around 98% are) [3]. If the Volunteer Coordinator is an experienced adult or a respected peer, the role is very significant to ensuring synergy within your network of volunteers and developing a sense of trust in your organization.

Take Advantage of Social Media

Social media will be the most reliable way of connecting with teenage volunteers. According to the Pew Research Center’s American Life and Internet Project, around 95% of all people aged 12-17 are online [4]. To that end, 81% of those teenagers that are online use social media, with 77% using Facebook [4].

It is thus highly critical that an organization targets Facebook as a way to maintain contact with volunteers. Often, school clubs have a Facebook page or group in which organizations needing help can post requests for volunteers. This is a great opportunity not only because of the exposure for your own organization but also because students from the same school can see what other students are doing and possibly be enticed. Further, social media–Facebook especially–allows for quick messaging; news of your volunteering opportunity will spread fast around the teenage community.

In terms of your own Facebook page, make sure it is presentable and is updated often. What throws volunteers off from helping out again is an outdated page that was “Last Updated more than 6 months ago.” Regular Facebook updates build credibility ethos and lead to more hits on your organization’s website.

Provide Regular Updates

Finally, ensure that constant updates about information–mostly pertaining to volunteering opportunities–are sent out to students who have already volunteered. While for some this may become an annoyance, it often helps others to remember the events they have signed up for. With increasing pressure from academics, students may forget about volunteering activities they previously signed up to assist with. While SignUp Genius may have you covered, asking volunteers to send back an email confirming that he/she will be helping out is the best possible way to ensure volunteers are ready to go.

This article was originally published in the Nonprofit World magazine.