|Project Sponsor||Student Researchers||Goals & Objectives||Executive Summary||Final Report/Video|
Management of Volunteers and Build Sites Using Technology
Introduction and Background
An inadequacy in affordable housing is a growing concern in the United States. In Massachusetts, a state that ranks as the seventh most expensive state to live in, the concern for affordable living is high. In the Worcester area, low and middle income families face the burden of wages below the necessary cost of housing. Habitat for Humanity MetroWest/Greater Worcester (MWGW) is a growing organization dedicated to building affordable housing for families in need. The Habitat affiliate faces project and volunteer management challenges due to the growing size and complexity of the organization. The nonprofit requires the adoption of technology to manage project timelines and volunteers more efficiently.
In terms of project management, application of software is key in organizing timelines that have become increasingly complex. There are a variety of software available to assist nonprofit project management, ranging from digital sticky notes to advanced timeline tracking systems (Mistry and Maes, 2016). Two notable software are LiquidPlanner and Microsoft Project due to their visual tracking, cloud-based capabilities, and user friendly interfaces.
In terms of volunteer management, software is necessary to ensure effective use of volunteers, who are one of the most valuable resources a nonprofit organization has access to (Ariza-Montes, 2014). In 2001, the volunteer workforce in America reached a value of $239 billion, providing valuable labor needed for nonprofits to operate (Finkelstein, 2006). Volunteer administrators can use technology to harness this resource of free labor. An organization can improve their operations and increase their overall impact by finding the right management system. We researched three potential systems: VolunteerHub, Volgistics and Cervis to provide a better understanding of different available software.
The implementation of volunteer and project management software at Habitat for Humanity MWGW will assist the nonprofit in handling their unique complexities. This will strengthen Habitat’s ability to fulfill their mission of combating the issue of affordable housing in its surrounding communities.
We are a group of students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) working on an Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP). The IQP is a school wide graduation requirement that involves applied research that connects science and technology with the social science aspects of engineering and its effect on society. The group completed this project at the Worcester Community Project Center (WCPC). This project helped Habitat for Humanity MetroWest/Greater Worcester improve communications and operations by piloting and recommending an information management system to more efficiently communicate build site timelines and track volunteer hours. We achieved the following objectives to complete this project:
- Objective 1: Assessed Habitat for Humanity’s needs for volunteer/project management
- Objective 2: Assessed Habitat for Humanity’s Volunteer and Staff Access to and Comfort with Technology
- Objective 3: Identified management information technology used in other nonprofit organizations
- Objective 4: Evaluated the suitability of identified software and techniques for Habitat for Humanity
- Objective 5: Piloted and evaluated the recommended software at build sites for Habitat for Humanity
- Objective 6: Developed & Recommended a Plan to Implement the Most Effective Information Management Technology Systems
We conducted interviews with the project and volunteer managers and executive management from Habitat for Humanity MWGW, representatives from other Habitat for Humanity affiliates and various nonprofit organizations. We analyzed this interview data to determine which project and volunteer management strategies Habitat currently uses. We compared and contrasted the programs for management to find the project and volunteer management programs that most effectively satisfied the needs of the organization. We then tested and piloted the programs that included all the features the organization wanted. Then we compiled our research, findings, developed recommendations, project and volunteer management deliverables, including how-to manuals and video tutorials in order to help Habitat to fully implement and sustain our recommendations.
Findings & Recommendations
Habitat for Humanity MWGW needed a user friendly and easy to update project and volunteer management program. Habitat has sufficient technology including smartphones and tablets to support cloud based volunteer and project management software . Through 15 semi structured interviews with various organizations we discovered that there is a variety of software that could satisfy the volunteer management needs of Habitat, including: VolunteerHub, Volgistics and Cervis.
Habitat for Humanity MWGW was looking for a volunteer management program that satisfied the needs of the organization. Habitat required that this program be cloud based, have the ability to track volunteers, provide tech support, allow volunteers to register online and have the ability to track the number of volunteers. Each of these three programs were able to meet this listed criteria that can be seen in the chart below. The considerations for each software include the cost, the number of volunteers tracked, quality of tech support, and the free trial length and quality. Each of the programs were compared and extensively analyzed to determine which software had the best of these features. When testing the programs, the volunteers responded best to the simplest program that did not have extra and confusing features. Thus we prioritized simplicity and ease of use when we analyzed the possible software.
There are also a variety of project management programs that provide excellent service for other organizations which include: Microsoft Project, Buildertrend, Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel. Using interview data and content analysis, we analyzed the pros and cons of both the volunteer and project management programs.
Habitat for Humanity MWGW desired a project management software that satisfied the needs of the organization. Habitat required a program that was aesthetically pleasing, was easy to use, cloud based and was sustainable. We considered four programs for recommendation that are compared in the chart below. The group made additional considerations including the price, simplicity and maintenance. The program needed to be the right price but also needed to be very easy to update. We tested and analyzed each of these four programs to determine which software was the most effective solution to the needs of Habitat for Humanity MWGW. When testing out the program with Habitat, project manager, Mr. Bram, responded best to the program that had the simplest features and could be easily updated from a mobile phone (J. Bram, personal communication, March 24, 2016). We heavily considered these features when deciding on the best program.
We ultimately recommended the two programs that best satisfy Habitat for Humanity MWGW needs: Cervis and Google Sheets. We recommended these programs because they best met the criteria that Habitat was looking for, specifically aesthetics, price, ease of use, etc.. Cervis had the best features for a fair price. Cervis outshined the other competitor programs in categories such as unlimited volunteers, ease of online registration, tech support and price. Google Sheets was the best option because it met all the needs of Habitat for free. This program was easy to customize to the project manager’s needs and will be easy to maintain in the future (Bram, Personal Communication, March 24, 2016).
Habitat for Humanity MWGW is a growing nonprofit organization, having built 36 homes since 1985 and is currently taking on about five home builds a year. They are continuing this expansion trend in the future and need to accommodate the growth of the organization. Our group used surveys, interviews and participant observation to decide that this affiliate would greatly benefit from management information technology systems for their volunteer and project management. We looked into several programs and eventually narrowed them down based on specific needs of the affiliate. Finally, we recommended Cervis & Google Sheets to address the needs of the volunteer and project managers, respectively. We created written how-to manuals and tutorial videos to accompany these recommendations to ensure sustainability of the programs in the future.