The case for Automation in Volunteer Scheduling

By on June 7, 2015 in blog, scheduling

Automation is defined as “the linking of disparate systems and software in such a way that they become self-acting or self-regulating”.

The concept of automating volunteer scheduling is in its infancy in the Church.
In fact, most fortune 500 companies have just started to realize the major cost benefits of fully automating processes. These companies are investing more and more resources to automation efforts.

Sometime ago, I came to know of a report produced by a retail company that suggested that stores where employees were able to have input into how they were scheduled, performed better than stores where employees were forced to adhere to schedules created by supervisors.  In other words, employees who have some input into how they are scheduled come to work more content, which translates to better customer service, which then translates to better sales.

The more I thought about the details of the report, the more it made sense. Allowing people to have input into how they are scheduled would provide such flexibility for them that coming to work would feel a little less like “work”.

As a volunteer, I began to think of how this same concept could apply to Volunteering, especially Church volunteering. In a previous blog , I discussed the “80/20 rule” and how many potential volunteers shy away because they don’t think they will have enough time for volunteering. Volunteer scheduling automation just fits as a way to solve that problem.

Over the last couple of years, I have received mixed responses during discussions about volunteer scheduling automation. Some admins have been skeptical that it can make any difference in getting more people to not just start volunteering but to stay volunteers over a long period. Another concern with the admins is that scheduling would become chaotic, volunteers could choose to serve very few times and admins could constantly be blindsided with unfilled slots.

While I understand these concerns, the actual cases of many of the organizations who currently have automated scheduling in place suggests otherwise. Volunteers tend to welcome the flexibility and open communication that comes with automated scheduling but very rarely do they abuse the system. After all, they are volunteers not employees and, they have already made a choice to give their time and energy to serve. Additionally, a good scheduling system automatically identifies any scheduling gaps and notifies the appropriate administrators so that appropriate action can be taken.

Truthfully, as convenient as automated volunteer scheduling is for volunteers, it is even better for administrators. A good scheduling system will have some/all of the features below:

  • a easy-to-use feature to allow volunteers to confirm or decline assignments
  • the ability to find or at least identify substitutes when assignments are declined
  • the ability for volunteers to swap assignments at the click of a button without having to go through an admin
  • regular automated reminders (email, text messages) sent to volunteers
  • the ability to automatically process volunteer scheduling rules and preferences (i.e. preferred events, date/time periods, availability, etc.)
  • regular automated admin reports of upcoming events and the current status of open slots

Features like the ones listed above allow less tasks for admins to perform on a regular basis and tend to relieve a lot of the stress that comes with volunteer scheduling. Ultimately, admins still maintain the ability to manage volunteer schedules/assignments but, they would not have to be concerned with tedious details like having to find substitutes or having to send regular reminders or having to create multiple scheduling drafts before publishing a finalized version.

Automatically scheduling volunteers may be a new concept for Churches, but it does not have to be a scary one. It is very different from the way scheduling has been conducted up till now but, the benefits are exponentially better. I hope more Churches will be willing to try it out for a few weeks/months to see the benefits for themselves.

If automation can help companies to run more effectively and efficiently, just imagine how it can help the Church.

Getting more people involved in ministry work is the main goal, volunteering can provide a path to that goal,  and automating volunteer scheduling can make the process much more efficient.



Edward Aifah founder

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