Food banks and pantries provide an essential 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 service increase, so must the volunteer team to 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 Banks Volunteer Program(s)
When demand increases, we know that food banks need to act quickly to accommodate the community needs, which means things often get missed. When possible, it is a best practice to create a basic volunteer management process for your program, which acts as a guide to follow no matter how busy or chaotic things get.
Creating a strategic plan offers your food bank a long-term plan for your volunteer management program providing a clear vision to 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: Planning Your Volunteer Program
This is where your mission statement and vision can create actionable goals and outcomes for food bank operations. This step can often be 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 are striving for.
Establish Your Needs: What does your foodbank need to meet your goals, how many donations, how many volunteers per client. This is also when you should start working on a staffing analysis that outlines what skills, certifications, and requirements are needed from your volunteers to get the tasks completed.
Defining 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. Creating a leadership team is essential to a successful volunteer management program.
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Section 2 : Recruiting Volunteers To Your Food Bank
This is when people tend to jump right in. Still, before you start building your volunteer opportunities and posting them on your website and social media pages, you 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. When you're defining 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 downstairs, or lift 50-pound boxes.
Create A Signup Process
Next is creating a signup process that collects all the important information needed to assign volunteers to shift correctly. The more straightforward the signup process, the better. You want to ensure you are only collecting the relevant information you need to assess an application accurately. This is not something that you want to do manually with a spreadsheet. More often than not, that method will result in a lot of administrative time, confusing email chains, and frustrated volunteers.
To do this effectively, you should consider using a volunteer management system that allows you to quickly create a custom sign-up form and public-facing volunteer opportunities that you can promote on your website. InitLive'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 start promoting them to your community. You want to make sure you are sharing as much information as possible to potential volunteers. Make sure you include opportunity details like time slots, locations, and task descriptions, make them publicly available on your website, and share social media links.
If you already have a list of volunteers who have worked at previous programs you've organized, make them feel appreciated by giving them exclusive access to the positions you have available. Plus, you'll already know their strengths and where they fit.
Screen & Assign
Depending on your organization's policies and requirements, interviewing volunteers might not be an essential step in the recruitment process. However, organizations will need to create a well-defined interview process for highly skilled volunteer positions as the second phase of screening.
Once you have properly screened your volunteer according to your organization protocol, you can begin placing them in the role they are best suited for, based on the information you collected during the signup process.
Section 3 - Building Your Food Bank Volunteer Schedule
Creating a volunteer schedule for your foodbank can seem overwhelming. So many people! So many tasks! Such varying availability! To make this process as painless as possible here is a 6 step process to get the job done.
1. Map Out the shifts by Time & Location
Identify the hours required for each task as well as the location of each shift. For example, you may need volunteers to work at the panty 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 out in the community? Consider what those volunteers need to be qualified for in order to do that work. Creating roles with clear qualifications like a driver's license and access to a car and descriptions that give volunteers an idea of what they will be doing is essential. Once you have those roles created, all you need to do is assign those 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 time-saver for you: instead of gathering everyone's availability and trying to coordinate them all, let the volunteers self-regulate by signing up for the time slots that work for them. They might also be allowed to choose a role that suits them (within their qualifications and any prior volunteer screening you completed).
Once you have completed your schedule and the sign-up starts coming in its 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 setting them up for success. Training your volunteers 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. Ensuring that your volunteers are equipped with all information, protocols, and resources they need to work safely and efficiently in the community is the number one priority.
Consider implementing online training through an LMS (learning management system). This allows you to fully automate the volunteer onboarding and training process between your volunteer management solution and a learning management system. That way, you can automatically keep track of all the courses your volunteers have completed making it easier to schedule them for shifts they are qualified to work. Online training is also 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 do online training.
Volunteers should be able to access all the training materials and produce documents easily in order to reference them when required. Use a volunteer management tool to share important documents from anywhere. Standardize the communication tool used by everyone on your team so that regular staff and volunteers use the same app and access the same training documents from anywhere.
Section 5: Managing Food Bank Volunteers
You have planned, onboarded, trained, and scheduled you to volunteer, so now it's time for the main event, managing and supporting your team while they are working. Managing your volunteer team is essential to ensure everything runs smoothly and your volunteers feel supported. One person can't manage it all, so designating team supervisors to support the volunteers will go a long way.
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. By communicating all this information in advance, you can avoid confusion and any last-minute frustrations.
2. Supply volunteers with safety equipment.
Ensure that all your volunteers have everything they need to work safely in the community. For example, since the onset of COVID-19 food banks to follow their local health authorities' health and safety guides and supply volunteers with 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 back at the food bank warehouse creating food boxes they both require a way to communicate directly with you if they have questions. That's where a volunteer mobile app like InitLive comes in. Volunteers can share directly with you through chat while also gaining access to their 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.
Section 6: Evaluation and Optimization
Although there is always work taking place in your food bank, it is essential to take some time to review your volunteer programs' progress and reflect on what is working well and what can be improved. Data is so important to review processes and trends from onboarding volunteer properly to the number of hours that were worked in a period of time.
For example, how many volunteers no shows did you have in the past six months? That data can help you extrapolate what all those volunteers have in common and further refine your communication or scheduling protocols to reduce the number of volunteers no show you are having.
This evaluation stage allows you to report on the impact your volunteer's works have had on the community through tracked hours worked. This can be used to help secure more funding and communicate impact to your volunteer to show them the results of all their hard work.
A Volunteer Management Solution For Food Banks
InitLive's volunteer management solution is already used by community food banks to help keep up with community demands by saving time on 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 chat with one of our sales experts.