Case Study

Background: 

Founded by a group of local Christian Churches in 2002, The Compass is a food bank based in Mississauga, Canada, with a focus on providing a safe and welcoming place for people in need of food and spiritual support. Over the years, operations have expanded to deliver a variety of services to the community, powered by staff and volunteers. From sorting food donations to assisting at events, among many other activities, volunteers help The Compass make an impactful difference in the community. In 2021, The Compass was honoured to be named by Charity Intelligence Canada as one of the top 10 Canadian charities, top 10 food banks and top 5 charities in the Toronto region.

Sheryl Darlington, Volunteer Manager, initially began her journey with The Compass as a volunteer in 2015 and loved it so much she was there 15+ hours every week. She was then hired as an intern in 2016 and her first task was to implement a new volunteer system.

Spreadsheets and paper-based processes were primarily used to manage and store data on volunteers. Managing volunteer schedules, creating reports, and updating volunteers’ personal information took 20+ hours a month.

Now in a position of influence over tools used in the role, Sheryl saw opportunity to swap out antiquated systems and processes for improved program operations.

Challenges: 

The consequential impact of using spreadsheets and paper-based processes was felt by staff and volunteers and hurt the stability of the program.

Key Pain Points:

  • Staff spent so much time on data entry/admin work vs. program development and engaging with volunteers
  • Volunteers abandoned the process of getting involved due to tedious recruitment processes
  • Programs struggled to recruit enough volunteers due to poor conversion rates from their paper application process.

Not only were staff doing everything manually, the paper-based approach was also an obstacle for people to get motivated to volunteer. As Sheryl explains, “we never had enough volunteers, as few people made the effort to come in and pick up the paper volunteer application. We were constantly posting for more volunteers. It was a challenge to get new volunteers to finish the necessary paperwork, such as our code of conduct and reference letters.”

“In an attempt to provide an online sign up for shifts, we had a WordPress plugin that volunteers could submit to express interest in specific shifts. It was very manual.”

It was time to improve their volunteer program by using software designed for volunteer management.

“Using spreadsheets and paper were
labor-intensive and very prone to errors.
– Sheryl Darlington
Journey: 

In May of 2016, “I emailed a Board member and asked about the possibility of switching to a paid volunteer

management software.” Sheryl got the thumbs up to proceed and got to work!

Selecting a volunteer management software (VMS) solution on her own was a long process, but from the very beginning she had a clear idea of what she wanted. Her list of 18 must-have items were devised according to her current needs atthe time, and all the obstacles they were facing and wanted improved. She did her research and informed herself well.

“I made a list of the top 12 volunteer management software solutions I found and evaluated them based on my list of criteria.”

In late 2016, Sheryl signed-up for a Volunteer Impact demo as well as seven other software contenders. She also tried them all via software trials. She quickly realized that some options were not going to work for The Compass, due to pricing or feature needs not being met. She remembers “one option wouldn’t let me email volunteers who were qualified for a shift, when trying to fill gaps in the schedule, but promised me that was a feature they were looking at adding.” Maintaining her volunteers’ data security was top priority for Sheryl. She was astounded when “one company showed me someone else’s live data and didn’t understand why that wasn’t a good idea.”

When it came time to decide, Sheryl shared her completed matrix with the Board of Directors and presented her case in support of working with her preferred volunteer management software solution. She said, “they immediately approved the project to proceed with Volunteer Impact.”

“I did trials of 8 different software, where I was able to try the software and see how it worked and interact with it a little bit. What I found really incredible is there were so many pieces of software that were obviously designed by somebody who had no idea how volunteer management worked. There were some really big gaps in some of the software. Volunteer Impact was basically the only one that checked off everything on my list and the price was good and the support was so great, so it was a really easy sell to my Board of Directors to get it approved in the end.”  – Sheryl Darlington

Why Volunteer Impact

Some of Sheryl’s favourite Volunteer Impact features include:

  • Excellent and immediate support from Better Impact staff who are former volunteer management professionals.
  • Volunteer Impact is easy for volunteers to use – it’s simple to see schedules and identify any gaps to fill.
  • Easy reporting! Previously, it took The Compass 20+ hours each month to manually create reports and log shift data in Excel.
  • The ease with which different admin roles can be created and give different volunteer groups access to just what they need.
  • Online training modules that, once completed and passed by volunteers, automatically update the volunteer’s profile.

“Volunteer Impact met all my criteria and was very affordable.” – Sheryl Darlington, Volunteer Manager

Implementation

By March 2017, The Compass went live with Volunteer Impact. Better Impact imported the food bank’s existing volunteer data and provided support along the way. For Sheryl, “the Better Impact staff member assigned to me provided clear guidance on how to set up my volunteer application and other aspects of the system.”

Results: 

“Volunteers LOVE the software!” Sheryl adds, of the program’s 200+ volunteers who easily adopted the new software, only about three are not online and they call the office to schedule shifts.

Sheryl delightedly shares, “word of our success spread, and two other local food banks have made the switch to Volunteer Impact, and a third is in the process.”

When The Compass launched their online application with Volunteer Impact, they noticed a real difference: there was a huge increase in (completed) applications. “Having our form online removed so many barriers to applying,” says Sheryl. Not only that, but having an online application attracted younger volunteers too, who were searching online for volunteer opportunities.

The influx of new volunteers has made it possible for The Compass to launch additional programs which help them serve their community better. “We also recruited more specialized volunteers to help with writing, marketing, fundraising, and social media because our needs for daily volunteers had already been met and we could dream up new opportunities for people applying to volunteer,” says Sheryl. “The system was again scaled up in 2022 to add many new volunteer positions as we transitioned to our new location, and easily handled the significant increase in the number of active volunteers.”

With Volunteer Impact in place, The Compass can easily report on data such as distributing over 705,278 pounds of food from the contributions of more than 328 volunteers donating 37,794 hours of their time in 2022.

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