Using volunteers to beta test your organization

Tight financial times can cause nonprofits to try to squeeze as much value out of volunteers as possible. Getting a lot of bang for the non-buck is not the only reason to be creative in assigning volunteers their duties.

Susan J. Ellis, founder of Energize, Inc., in Philadelphia, Pa., says that volunteer value can be maximized through a new application of the term “beta testing”–second-stage testing of products or services to ensure consistent quality. For example, Ellis suggests:

  • Regularly assign individual volunteers to sit in the organization’s waiting room and observe the client experience: wait time, number of seats, handicapped accommodations.
  • Ask volunteers to spend a 24-hour period “in care” and report on what real patients experience: noise level, amount of surface space to read or use a laptop, eat meal from a tray. How hard is it to reach the television remote, light switch, nurse call button.
  • Volunteers can be assigned to visit agencies to which an organization refers its clients for other services. Are these agencies welcoming and knowledgeable? Do they answer their phones?
  • Ask volunteers to find specific things on the organization’s Web site and then report back on how easy it was the navigate the site, find needed information, etc.
  • Invite volunteers to take cell phone photographs whenever they see anything that needs attention.