Managing shift swapping for volunteers + how to develop a policy

Better understand how you can develop a shift swap policy for volunteers so that your organization is always fully resourced.

Most nonprofits rely on the dedication of volunteers to deliver their services, but even the most reliable and dedicated volunteers will occasionally have unexpected events that make them unable to attend. They may fall sick, have paid work conflicts, or just want to take a well-deserved vacation. In this case, you’ll need to find someone to fill their spot. This is  where shift swapping comes in. We know managing a roster and swapping shifts can be frustrating and time-consuming for managers.

So, what’s the best process for managing shift swapping in volunteer workforces? 

In this article, we’ll answer this question and explain how you can develop a shift swap policy for volunteers so that your organization is always fully resourced.


How to make a work schedule for volunteers 

You may think it’s easier to just let volunteers turn up whenever they have some free time. However, without a work schedule and a roster, how will you know who'll be around to get the job done each day? Creating a volunteer roster also helps keep volunteers accountable, makes planning easier, and will help your organization achieve its goals.

When you’re creating a work schedule, the most important thing to do is ask for everyone’s availability. After you've worked this out, you can start creating a roster that suits everyone and minimizes shift swapping or cancellations. It will also mean you can clearly see any gaps in the roster so you can recruit for those specific shifts or roles.

This work schedule can be done on a weekly or monthly basis, but the further out you do it, the more likely you are to get changes or no-shows.


How to deal with volunteer no shows

No shows are an inevitable part of managing volunteers as they have nothing riding on the outcome - i.e. they won’t get fired or lose pay. 

No shows are stressful for every organization, so use these tips to help reduce volunteer no shows.

  • Make it clear that you don’t mind if someone has to cancel their shift, but they just need to let you know in advance.
  • Make it clear to cancel. If using management software such as Rosterfy, this can be done easily through their shift confirmation email. Alternatively, give them someone to call or email.
  • Over schedule by 20% to account for the inevitability of no shows
  • Use software to automatically send SMS or email reminders at least 24 hours before their shift.
  • Reach out after a no-show to double-check everything is okay.

You can also remind volunteers about your shift swapping process if they know they’ll be away so you are not left short staffed.


Best practices for managing shift swapping 

When someone is sick or away, it's important to find a replacement for their shift so that you can continue to deliver your services. When it comes to shift swapping or changing shifts, follow these best practices:

  1. Make a policy and make sure everyone is aware of it.
  2. Encourage the volunteer to identify another volunteer who is available to cover their shift. Ask them to get their verbal approval.
  3. Document all shift swap requests in a written format (according to your policy).
  4. Confirm the shift swap works for everyone and will cover organizational requirements before approving.
  5. Update the roster to reflect changes so the wider team is aware.


The problem with putting volunteers in charge of shift swapping 

If volunteers are left to completely manage the shift swap process themselves, you could potentially face some issues.

  1. Unqualified volunteers might cover for someone who was qualified. For example, Sam works with children and has a WWCC, but when he asks Jane to cover his shift, he doesn’t realize she doesn’t possess a WWCC.
  2. Sam asks Jane for a shift trade for when he goes away in two weeks, but he forgets to tell anyone, and Jane never gets confirmation from the manager, so she assumes she isn’t needed and doesn’t turn up.
  3. Sam CC’s you into an email regarding a shift trade, but you are busy and forget to change the roster, so when it comes time for the shift, everyone is confused as to who is covering his role, and they start calling him to find out where he is.

By utilizing technology to handle all shift swapping, and having a clearly defined policy, you should be able to avoid these problems.


How to develop a shift swap policy 

Any policy you create should work well for the demands of your organization, but also allow your volunteers enough flexibility to manage their work-life balance and feel valued and respected. You also want shift trading policies that are easy to understand, manage and enforce.

When writing a shift swapping policy, consider including rules like:

  • Shift swaps require manager approval.
  • Shift swaps must be submitted for approval at least X days in advance.
  • Shifts can only be swapped between volunteers in the same role.
  • Shifts can only be swapped between volunteers with the same skill levels.
  • Shift swaps must be finalized through our online system.

Communicate the rules of this policy in the volunteer handbook, and remind volunteers during induction and training modules.

These simple rules will help your organization run smoothly, while reducing the administration burden on the team. Great online scheduling tools make it easy to implement these shift trading policies, so let's take a look at the ways technology can help manage shift swapping.


How technology can help manage shift swapping

Workforce management tools that simplify the scheduling process are worth their weight in gold. Technology can help manage the following tasks, freeing up valuable time and resources:

  • Automate rosters based on availability.
  • Screen and schedule workforce by skill set, location and availability.
  • Keep track of where volunteers are registering from, enabling you to customize forms, training and communications specific to that group. 
  • Set up custom attributes that enable you to segment your volunteers to ensure the right volunteers are allocated to the right roles. 
  • Import existing schedules and volunteer data via our import functionality.
  • Create custom reports that provide insight into the status of your roster, including the number of volunteers that have applied, through to shifts fulfilled and accepted. 
  • Seamlessly integrate with tools including CRM, background checks and fundraising providers.
  • Email and/or send SMS regarding shift updates.

Rosterfy’s purpose-built workforce management software can handle all these tasks and more. 

“Rosterfy is very easy to use and I love how it automates so many key functions needed to manage volunteers and staff. It allowed our team to move from manually inputting data into Excel, to information about our workforce's availability and sign up numbers being updated in real time on Rosterfy's platform. It has given us an easier way to communicate with our teams and I like how easy it is for volunteers and staff to sign up to shifts.” wrote Victoria T, Staffing, Volunteer & Logistics Manager in the UK.


Finding replacements for last minute withdrawals

Instead of calling everyone in your phone book to see who can cover a shift, Rosterfy makes it super simple to find a last minute replacement when someone withdraws from a shift.

The Rosterfy process works like this:

Jane wakes up feeling sick, and elects to Withdraw from her shift in her Rosterfy account.

If you have opted to set up a Waitlist, volunteers on the Waitlist will automatically be sent an email notifying them that a position has opened up. They can accept the shift from within the email and access important communications for their upcoming shift within their account.



Volunteer management doesn’t have to give you gray hairs! By utilizing smart software to handle all the time-consuming manual admin tasks, you can focus your energy on managing your volunteer program and ensuring you are achieving your goals. 

Taking the time to research the best volunteer management software for you saves you time and effort down the track and ensures your volunteers are always looked after, and your shifts are always staffed.

Keep reading more about volunteer management on our blog:


About Rosterfy

Rosterfy exists to connect communities to events and causes they are passionate about through our volunteer and paid workforce engagement solution. We reduce the amount of time volunteer managers spend in spreadsheets and manual processes, as well as increasing the retention, engagement and attendance rates of our client’s volunteer database. Our scalable technology streamlines the previously manual process of volunteer and paid staff management for organizations of all shapes and sizes, from the Super Bowl & London Marathon to tin rattlers for local charity events.

Get in touch with us to book a demo to see why Rosterfy is the ultimate volunteer management platform that can help your digital transformation.

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