Since our first blog post on CiviVolunteer
, we've been on the lookout for user stories that differ from our own, as well as input from other CiviCRM users about what they'd like CiviVolunteer to be. We received quite a bit of feedback at a users group meeting in DC and have gotten a lot of input from other development shops and well as interested nonprofits.
Several use cases that were brought to us – managing a speakers' bureau and mentoring at risk youth, to name a few – are already pretty easily handled with existing tools in CiviCRM. With help from Tim Otten, we identified three categories that cover all of the currently unmet volunteer management use cases:
Volunteer matching or "brokering"
More than any other category, event management most closely fits with the mockups we presented in our first CiviVolunteer post. Within the area of event-based volunteering, we identified three subtypes.
Major events with several volunteers filling varied roles at different times. One particularly good example of this scenario came to us from the DC user group. "Jim" helps with a swim club in Northern Virginia which has 500 members and 170 kids on the team. In order to meet the legal requirements in the area, each meet requires the participation of 50 volunteers in various capacities. They are currently using GoogleDoc Forms, Sign-Up Genius, and other such tools to manage volunteers, leaving them with no reminders, notifications, or history.
Recurring events where the primary challenge is matching volunteers with assets. For some organizations, the challenge is not managing the number of volunteers (or their multiple roles) but rather matching those volunteers with an asset such as a meeting room. Here's an example from an organization we spoke to. "Teach First" organizes series of art classes across the NYC area. They regularly partner with schools and community centers which serve as venues for the classes. "Teach First" struggles to manage instructors' schedules, to match instructors to venues, and to report on the number of hours an instructor has performed in a given month.
Shift volunteering. In this case the primary challenge is scheduling volunteers. A few examples follow:
"Go Veg" has a table at a festival which they hope to use to distribute pro-vegetarian literature. From 10am to 1pm, they need one staffer and two volunteers at the table; from 1pm to 4pm, when traffic is heavier, they need one staffer and four volunteers at the table.
"Go Veg" needs four volunteers in the office each Tuesday from 4pm to 6pm to stuff envelopes.
"Help Now" operates a hotline on the weekends and needs volunteers to answer calls and serve as receptionist.
Volunteer Matching or "Brokering"
Some organizations serve as volunteer clearinghouses. They screen volunteers and organizations seeking volunteers, advertise widely to attract potential volunteers, then match up orgs and vols with similar interests. For the most part, these clearinghouses hand off volunteers to the organization executing the project and have little to do with them afterwards. These clearinghouses generally have a geographic focus (e.g., Good Samaritans of Hillsborough County) or a service-area focus (e.g., Natural Disaster Response).
Some volunteer positions require a certain amount of training before they can be filled. "City Trees" is a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to augment and support the work of the District government in reforestation and tree maintenance efforts. Before a volunteer can be sent out to plant trees on public land, they must watch an instructional video and pass a quiz demonstrating comprehension of the material. Additionally, they must assist an already-qualified volunteer in two planting sessions before they can be promoted to a session leader.
One thing we learned very quickly is that the name CiviVolunteer is a bit misleading for some folks. Some people wanted CiviVolunteer to replace functionality already in core, while others found it limiting. The art instructors in the "Teach First" example, for instance, are not technically volunteers; they are paid consultants. While the name "CiviVolunteer" wouldn't prevent groups like "Teach First" from meeting their goals, it might keep them from considering it in the first place. On the other hand, a moniker like "CiviCoordinate" is kind of boring and is unlikely to capture the interest of a potential user skimming Civi's feature list. If you have a better name for CiviVolunteer, please suggest it in the comments!
We also discovered that the interface we designed for matching volunteers to assignments could have other applications and – with some changes – might be a nice addition to core. For instance, the same interface could be used to assign open cases to a team of caseworkers, or to assign caseworkers to the individual activities of particularly involved cases, or for any number of assignments.
It is becoming clear to us that, like CiviCRM as a whole, CiviVolunteer could be many things to many people. This presents some interesting challenges, as adopting a single paradigm when several are desired is likely to alienate swaths of users. Additionally, attracting funding for the development of an extension with wide-ranging use cases – some of which may not apply to a given potential sponsor – is more challenging than raising funds for a more focused project.
We've had some interesting brainstorming sessions about these issues, and we feel that the functionality in CiviVolunteer is elemental in many respects. Keeping these features basic and flexible for very different use cases will provide the most bang for the community's pooled resources.
After the users group meeting, we got together with Tim Otten, of the core team, and Jessie Austell, of Simplicity Metrics, and began hashing out implementation concerns. We have identified four distinct features that, if necessary, could be implemented on their own. In different combinations, and with scenario-specific interfaces, we believe these components offer greater flexibility than a monolithic volunteer extension.
Stay tuned for further reports on our progress and brainstorms. Your feedback is most welcome and we are of course open to more collaborators as we visualize, fundraise, and finally implement this exciting extension.