You need to stop tracking volunteer signups on a spreadsheet

Excel spreadsheets are excellent at organizing data and making complex calculations. But they are not enough to manage a team of volunteers.

Are you a coordinator who is sending around a volunteer signup sheet created in Google Forms? There are a few reasons why you should maybe reconsider. Keep reading!

Illustration of a woman lost in a spreadsheet swamp

Spreadsheets are great for crunching numbers, not for coordinating volunteers

Many nonprofits rely on Excel for completing tasks that it isn’t designed for. Sometimes it’s gaining insight into yearly donations, but more often these spreadsheets are trying to facilitate volunteer signup.

Managing people is very different from managing data

The basic information you need to know about each of your volunteers is quite simple. Name, contact information, availability, certificates. None of that data plugs into a calculation formula; you can’t sum or average their language skills. It’s all information made for human eyes.

And if you have human eyes, you probably know how hard it is to grasp a big, dense spreadsheet at a glance. You end up merging cells, drawing boxes and using 12 different highlight colors just to make your signup sheets visually navigable.

Now imagine you have to share that multicolored sheet with your colleagues to accommodate your organization’s everyday workflows. That person adds a column and clicks “Save As…” to create another volunteer sheet template for their own records. Or deletes some fields and changes a formula.

It’s too easy to accidentally modify a field, or send multiple versions of your volunteer spreadsheet flying around. You’ve lost control of the very thing you were trying to manage.

Spreadsheets aren’t that secure

In nonprofit organizations, it’s important to keep the sensitive information of donors, staff and volunteers safe and secure. Don’t let the passing of volunteer tracking sheets become a security breach.

The only real security offered by Excel is that spreadsheets can be password-protected. But password protection complicates sharing.

If you need volunteers to access some data, you’ll have to share the data directly with them, one by one. Or you could copy and paste the relevant information into another document. Neither of these options is secure, and both are a time drain.

Clunky, error-prone signup sheets are costing you valuable time

Relying on spreadsheets for tracking information often leads to more work. Spreadsheets are static by design, and they don’t update in real time.

Updating a spreadsheet daily is inefficient time use. Spreadsheets aren’t very good at versioning, so it’s hard to know whether the latest updates have been made. If something goes wrong, it can be impossible to fix the issue. Unless you roll back all of the more recent edits, of course.

It’s hard to see the big picture with spreadsheets

The siloed nature of spreadsheet data makes it difficult to get a bird’s-eye view of their organizations.

When you have detailed information spread across multiple cells and sheets, you cannot quickly understand trends and changes.

A volunteer schedule template needs a lot of professional setup and custom formulas before it can analyze historical data. Or provide high-level dashboards for day to day volunteer tracking.

But coordinators need to see at a glance who volunteered at what time. At a more strategic level, this kind of historical data helps organizations gauge the measurable impacts of their hard-working volunteers. After all, showing a successful track record is the best way to appeal to donors, stakeholders and potential new volunteers.

Volunteer management means collaboration and communication

Volunteer organizations need to enable quick, efficient collaboration at all hours of the day. While many people use Excel spreadsheets for communication and volunteer signup, they simply aren’t designed for this task.

Excel sheets are designed to be managed by one person at a time. Having too many people work on a spreadsheet at once doesn’t lead to efficient communication; it leads to confusion.

Spreadsheets are great for collecting a large pool of static data. But that’s about all they can do. They can’t send out signup invitations. They aren’t equipped for keeping an updated list of responses or schedule changes.”

In contrast to the challenges above, a dedicated signup tool can make work much more efficient.

  • allow volunteer coordinators to easily get signups and assign tasks,
  • wall off sensitive information from collaborative workflows,
  • open up clear lines of communication,
  • track the achievements of individual volunteers so everyone can see what kind of impact their efforts have.

How we can help

You have important work to do. Stop battling with the limitations of an a signup sheet. We are building Zelos Team Management to save the time of volunteer coordinators. Learn more about Zelos and how we help volunteer coordinators organize and empower their teams.