EV CREW in The Sydney Morning Herald

Technology plays a huge role in our Emergency Volunteering CREW service, allowing us to register and match volunteers and organisations efficiently.

The Sydney Morning Herald has published a great article featuring our very own Julie Molloy – Director, Social Engagement. Julie explains how an upgrade of our volunteer management systems has resulted in a much better experience for staff, volunteers and organisations alike when disaster hits. It has also allowed a huge improvement in volunteer matching capability, to ensure volunteers with particular skills and experience can be best utilised by disaster response organisations.

Goodwill alone not enough to run charities

Charities are growing up and making the most out of software previously reserved for turning a profit.

Phones ringing off the hook, thousands of volunteers champing at the bit, and a vintage software system and sheaf of spreadsheets to muster in order to deploy elbow grease and shovel power to hundreds of sites where urgently needed.

Welcome to bedlam, says Volunteering Queensland's director of social engagements Julie Molloy.

The 30-year-old organisation faced just this scenario when widespread summer flooding saw three quarters of Queensland declared a disaster zone in 2011.

"At that time there was such outpouring of goodwill and desire to get involved," Ms Molloy said.

"The whole world was trying to help people affected by the Brisbane flood…it consumed us." 

Converting offers of assistance into immediate, on-the-ground action calls for a system with capabilities similar to those sought by commercial companies, according to Ms Molloy. So post the floods, VQ's crude systems were replaced with cloud-based sales managers' darling Salesforce to make the matching of short term offers of help with urgent need vastly more efficient.

Designed to improve interactions with current and future customers, customer relationship management (CRM) software such as Salesforce has traditionally been associated with sales-driven businesses looking to boost the bottom line.

"It was a good opportunity to embrace modern technology that was perfect for disasters," she said.

"You need to maximise the peaking and surge of interest and translate it to meaningful on-the-ground involvement."

Volunteers register online and can be sorted according to skills, geographic location and availability. They can be contacted when relevant opportunities arise and are likely to have a better experience, as a result of the improved matching process, she said.

VQ employs around 35 full-time staff and has around 81,000 emergency volunteers on the books. It also acts as a clearing house to link long-term volunteers with other organisations, including schools, community groups and non-profits, and is the state's lead coordinator for emergency volunteers – those who put up a hand to lend a hand when bushfire, flood or severe storms strike.

While, investing in high-tech infrastructure remains difficult for Australia's hard pressed non-profits, many of which still limp along with band-aided legacy technology, like VQ others are making the most of technology donations and charity licences.

Last year Mission Australia distributed 100 iPads to its front-line case workers as part of a wider technology refresh aimed at delivering more services, in real-time, to disadvantaged Australians.

Red Cross, the country's highest profile non-profit, is two years into a three-year overhaul that is replacing a mish-mash of outdated systems installed in the 1990s, following a $10 million software grant from Microsoft. It has a specialist IT Committee that oversees technology requirements at the 30,000 member organisation.

VQ's new system's worth was reinforced a year ago when parts of Queensland were once again under threat of flooding over the Australia Day long weekend, in the wake of tropical cyclone Oswald.

After fielding a midnight plea from Brisbane's lord mayor for sandbagging volunteers the following day, Ms Molloy and her team sprang into action and by morning the requested manpower had been contacted and deployed.

Telsyte analyst Rodney Gedda said there was significant scope for charities to use technology to improve the lives of Australians. They should also look at low cost mobile communications, and social networks that can connect people to support and opportunities like jobs, he said.

IBRS analyst Alan Hansell says centralising volunteer data in professional software, like VQ has done, delivered improved accountability and transparency, as well as efficiency for non-profits.

"They've done a wise thing and I'm sure more and more organisations in the volunteer space will move to this," Mr Hansell said.

This article ‘Goodwill alone not enough to run charities’ by Sylvia Pennington with Mahesh Sharma, appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald’s ITpro section on 20 February, 2014. Photo: Glenn Hunt.