Food banks and pantries provide a vital service in their community, ensuring nobody goes hungry. As an essential community service, food banks rely on community members to volunteer their time to help with operational tasks to ensure every client receives the food and goods they need when they need them.
Volunteers are the primary workforce for most food banks, and as demands on the food banks’ services increase, the volunteer team must keep up with that demand. This guide will outline all the steps required to recruit, schedule, and manage a growing volunteer team while addressing the unique volunteer management challenges food banks face.
Creating a Process for Your Food Bank’s Volunteer Program(s)
When demand increases, food banks need to act quickly to accommodate what the community needs–which means things are often missed. It is a best practice to create a basic volunteer management process for your program to serve as a guide to follow no matter how busy or chaotic things get.
First, create a strategic plan to provide your food bank with a clear, long-term vision for your volunteer management program that serves as a reference at all stages of the process. That way, you know what steps need to be taken at any given time.
We have created a 6 step volunteer management process to help you get started.
Section 1: Plan Your Volunteer Program
This is where your mission statement and vision can create actionable goals and outcomes for food bank operations. Often, this is overlooked because of the fast-paced nature of running an essential service.
With that in mind, here are just a few things to quickly define, to help you achieve better outcomes when implementing a volunteer program.
Define Your Goals: This could be as simple as ensuring every community client is served within a certain amount of time, or it could be the total number of clients you serve in a period of time. Whatever your food bank’s goals are, they need to be defined and communicated to every staff member and volunteer to ensure everyone understands what they need to do.
Establish Your Needs: What does your foodbank need to meet your goals? How many donations do you need? How many volunteers do you need per client? This is also when you should work on a staffing analysis that outlines the skills, certifications, and requirements needed from your volunteers to complete the tasks.
Define a Leadership Team: Who are the people with the answers? Volunteers are no different than regular staff and require direction and support to get the job done. Be sure to create a leadership team–it is essential for a successful volunteer management program.
Section 2: Recruit Volunteers to Your Food Bank
This is when people tend to jump right in. Still, before you start to build your volunteer opportunities and post them on your website and social media pages, you will need to define your volunteer recruitment process.
Here is a diagram that outlines the process.
Plan & Define
Again, we know how important it is to recruit volunteers quickly and fill shifts, but you need to make sure they can complete those tasks effectively. To define your volunteer recruitment strategy, there are three key questions to ask yourself:
- Which roles require special training, skills, or certifications? Whether it’s CPR, a driver’s license, or the ability to speak a second language, make sure you identify the roles that require specific skills.
- Which roles have physical requirements? Some roles may require volunteers who can stand all day, go up and down stairs, or lift 50-pound boxes.
Create a Signup Process
Next, create a signup process that collects all the important information needed to assign volunteers correctly to a shift. The more straightforward the signup process, the better. You want to ensure you collect only the relevant information you need to assess an application accurately. This is not something that you want to do manually with a spreadsheet. Doing it yourself with spreadsheets will result in a lot of wasted administrative time, confusing email chains, and frustrated volunteers.
For an effective signup process, you should consider a volunteer management system that allows you to quickly create a custom volunteer sign-up form and publish public-facing volunteer opportunities that you can promote on your website. Bloomerang’s volunteer management solution offers food banks the most efficient way to recruit volunteers online with a flexible and logic-based signup process.
Promote and Recruit
Once you establish an efficient volunteer signup process, it’s time to get those opportunities up on your website and promote them to your community. Make sure you are sharing as much information as possible with potential volunteers. Include opportunity details like time slots, locations, and task descriptions, make them publicly available on your website, and promote links to the opportunities via social media.
If you have a list of volunteers who have worked at previous programs you’ve organized, make them feel appreciated and give them exclusive access to the positions you have available. Plus, you’ll already know their strengths and where they fit.
Screen and Assign
Based on your organization’s policies and requirements, a volunteer interview might be an essential step in the recruitment process. You will need to create a well-defined interview process for highly skilled volunteer positions as the second phase of the screening process.
Once you have properly screened your volunteer according to your organization’s protocol, you can place them in the role they are best suited for, based on the information you collected during the signup process.
See why nonprofits love our volunteer management software!
Section 3 – Building Your Food Bank Volunteer Schedule
Creating a volunteer schedule for your foodbank can be overwhelming. So many people! So many tasks! So many variations of availability! To make this process as painless as possible here is a 6-step process to get the job done.
1. Map the Shifts by Time & Location
Identify the hours required for each task and the location of each shift. For example, you may need volunteers to work at the pantry warehouse to build food boxes before they can go out for delivery, so it’s simple to then create shifts for that time and place.
2. Identify & Create Volunteers Roles
What roles are required to get the tasks completed in a shift? Do you simply need four volunteers to deliver food to the community? Consider what those volunteers need to be qualified for in order to do the work. To be effective, it’s create roles that have clear qualifications (such as a driver’s license and access to a car), as well as a role description that gives volunteers an idea of what they will do. Once you have those roles created and defined, all you need to do is assign the roles to shifts.
3. Define Your Staffing Requirement
What are the minimum and the maximum number of volunteers you need to work the pantry warehouse shift to build enough food boxes in time for their delivery? Once you have determined that, you can add the number of volunteers required for the shift.
4. Allow Volunteers to Select Their Own Shifts
This is a huge time-saver for you. Instead of gathering everyone’s availability and trying to coordinate them all, let the volunteers self-manage by signing up for the time slots that work best for them. They can even be allowed to choose a role that best suits them (of course meeting necessary qualifications and any volunteer screening needed ahead of time).
Once you complete your schedule and the sign-up starts coming in, it’s time to make sure those volunteers are properly equipped with everything they need to succeed.
Section 4 – Training Your Volunteers
Training your volunteers for your food bank is an important part of ensuring success. And, it doesn’t need to be difficult as long as you have the materials in place to get the job done. Your volunteers’ health and safety are important, so that should be the first training they receive. Your top priority is to ensure your volunteers are equipped with all information, protocols, and resources they need to work safely and efficiently in the community.
A great option is to implement online training through a Learning Management System (LMS). This allows you to fully automate the volunteer onboarding and training process between your volunteer management solution and a LMS. This approach can help you automatically keep track of all the courses your volunteers have completed and it makes it easier to schedule them for shifts they are qualified to work. Online training is a more efficient and convenient way for volunteers to complete training on their own time. You can also offer in-person training for those who aren’t able to participate in online training.
Volunteers will need to access all the training materials, as well as create and submit necessary documentation (when required). A volunteer management tool makes it easier for volunteers to share important documents from anywhere. You keep everyone in sync and up-to-date when you standardize the communication tool–for both your paid staff and volunteers. Everyone can access the same training documents from anywhere.
Section 5: Managing Food Bank Volunteers
Congratulations. You planned, onboarded, trained, and scheduled your volunteers. Now it’s time for the main event–managing and supporting your team while they work. Effective management of your volunteer team is essential to ensure everything runs smoothly and your volunteers feel supported. One person can’t manage it all, so it’s important to have a team of supervisors to support the volunteers. This will go a long way in effectively engaging with your volunteers.
1. Give clear expectations to your volunteer team–ahead of time.
Let them know the code of conduct, when to arrive, and where to check in. Nothing should be a surprise to your volunteers when they show up to work. When you communicate all this information in advance, you can avoid confusion and last-minute frustration.
2. Supply volunteers with safety equipment.
Ensure that your volunteers have everything they need to work safely in the community. For example, since the onset of COVID-19 food banks need to follow their local health authority’s health and safety guides, and supply volunteers with proper PPE to protect them from potential exposure.
3. Equip volunteers with the right tools.
Whether your volunteers are out in the community delivering food or are back at the food bank warehouse creating food boxes, they both require a way to communicate directly with you when they have questions. That’s where a volunteer mobile app like Bloomerang’s can help. Volunteers can communicate directly with you through a chat, as well as access schedules and all training documents from their phones. This type of app offers volunteers a simple way to access everything they need to get the job done successfully.
Section 6: Evaluation and Optimization
There is always work to be done at your food bank, but remember, it’s important to take time to review your volunteer programs’ progress and reflect on what is working well or not. Access to data is needed to effectively review processes and identify trends–from understanding proper volunteer onboarding to the number of hours worked in a given period of time.
For example, how many volunteer no-shows did you have in the past six months? Understanding this data can help you extrapolate what all those no-shows have in common so you can improve your communication or scheduling protocols to reduce the number of no-shows.
The evaluation stage also allows you to report on the impact your volunteers’ work had on the community through hours tracked. This can be used to help secure more funding, as well as effectively share the impact with your volunteers. Most people love to learn about the results of all their hard work.
A Volunteer Management Solution For Food Banks
Bloomerang’s volunteer management solution is used by community food banks to help keep up with community demands by saving time on repetitive administrative tasks. Our team of experts can quickly get your food bank up and running on our volunteer management solution, so you can start saving immediately.
If you are interested in learning more about how we can help your food bank or pantry, please click here to schedule a demo with one of our sales experts.