The sky's the limit for volunteer organisations thanks to innovative Volaby technology

Fri, 16/04/2021 - 09:15

Homelessness is an issue that touches a large cross section of society, it affects men, women and children from a wide range of backgrounds living in our cities, suburbs and country towns. 

Homelessness not only comes at a high social and economic cost to our society, but also takes an enormous toll on a person’s self-worth and impacts their capacity to go to school, find work and stay healthy. 

In Australia 116,000 people are currently experiencing homelessness, and although the most visible experience of homelessness involves sleeping rough on the streets, it is a problem that goes beyond a lack of access to safe shelter. 

While homelessness is a complex issue that needs addressing by all sectors of society, it’s the simple things we take for granted, such as clean clothes and a warm shower that can make all the difference in the day-to-day lives of those experiencing homelessness. 

Orange Sky are one Brisbane not-for-profit on a mission to improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness, helping to restore dignity to people doing it tough – one basic amenity at a time. 

What started as an idea to improve the access Brisbane’s homeless community had to hygiene services – and with nothing more than a couple of washers and dryers in the back of an old van – has evolved into something much bigger and so much more powerful.  

Since launching in 2014, Orange Sky have forged partnerships with other service providers, such as food vans and drop-in centres, establishing more than 35 services across Australia. They’ve expanded their offering with shower services and remote vehicles and extended their support to help those in need across the Pacific Ocean.    

While these achievements are impressive in their own right, what’s most poignant about the Orange Sky story is the overwhelming willingness of everyday Australians to pull up an orange chair each week and positively connect with communities all around the country. In fact, while providing access to free laundry and shower services, Orange Sky volunteers have to date engaged in 238,373 hours of conversations with those in need. 

This incredible commitment from volunteers has not only seen Orange Sky scale quickly but led them on a parallel journey of innovation with the potential to help countless non-profit organisations manage their services more efficiently. 

By combining technology with lived experience, Orange Sky and their partners – which include Sunny Street, Pyjama Foundation and Sea Shepard – have developed Volaby.  

This volunteer management software tool supports volunteer organisations to onboard, manage, coordinate and retain volunteers, ultimately helping them better understand their impact, support more people with vital services and providing them with an exceptional volunteering experience. 

We caught up with Volaby Sales and Marketing Manager, Alex Urquhart to discuss how Volaby is helping transform the volunteer-involving organisation sector with help from Advance Queensland. 

Tell us a little bit about Volaby…  

Volaby is a modern volunteer management software solution that helps organisations do more with less by creating a simplified and streamlined process to onboard, coordinate and manage both volunteers and volunteering operations of an organisation. Some of the benefits of Volaby’s streamlined approach include: 

  • Cuts down on admin time: Volaby takes care of your volunteer signup/onboarding process, with customisable forms and progress tracking. 
  • Engagement with volunteers: with Volaby you can use remote and online activities, or expression of interest and placeholder events to keep your volunteers active and engaged. 
  • Visibility on everything, in one place: Volaby provides volunteer statistics, impact dashboards, and activity maps as well timeline views that give you effortless visibility over your operations so you can track and watch your impact grow. 

How did Volaby come about? 

Volaby came about in response to ongoing challenges being faced with the manual onboarding and management of volunteers at Orange Sky. These constant and time-consuming issues had us thinking there had to be a better way to coordinate and manage volunteers. 

This led to Orange Sky creating their first prototype technology solution which successfully allowed us to scale our volunteering operations across Australia and New Zealand to more than 2,000 volunteers and 250 weekly shifts. 

Working alongside and supporting numerous other non-profits, it became apparent that these challenges were commonplace across the sector and that a gap existed in relation to tools and resources that were available to successfully manage volunteering operations. 

In 2019, we won the Google Impact Challenge and were able to kick-start the project and begin sharing Volaby with the broader sector. 

What milestones have been reached? 

We now have more than 40 volunteering organisations using the Volaby system, 14 of which are from Queensland. Each day, more and more volunteer organisations are being onboarded via Volaby and in this financial year alone, we have facilitated more than 77,000 hours of volunteering. 

In the last 12 months, we have also grown our subscriptions by more than 1,600%. This will help us continue further developing Volaby, as well as provide ongoing support for Orange Sky’s social impact. 

We have also expanded across Australia and New Zealand and will soon be available in the United Kingdom and United States. 

What achievements are you most proud of to date? 

Winning industry awards such as the Innovator of the Year (alongside Humanitix) at the 2020 Australian Not-For-Profit Technology Awards was both humbling and encouraging and we are so proud to have been recognised with this award. 

Another achievement we’re proud of is helping non-profits capitalise on the challenges of COVID-19, by improving and refining their operations during the lockdowns across the country. Our support means they are now more prepared than ever to support our community which is a win for all. 

Having Sea Shepherd International request purchase and use of Volaby across all of their major volunteer operations around the world was also a big milestone for us. However, above all, we are most proud of seeing real world examples of Volaby helping facilitate and amplify the impact of amazing people and non-profits. 

What do you hope to achieve with your business in the next 12-24 months? 

After more than 500 conversations with the non-profit and volunteering community, we now have a strong case and subsequent plan to take Volaby to the next level by: 

  • Creating more autonomous and intelligent volunteer management features that will help significantly improve the efficiencies of users/organisations. This includes: 
    • SMS functionality for those volunteers who struggle with software 
    • reminders that help manage a volunteer’s busy schedule 
    • better communication and engagement capabilities to keep members more connected to the organisation’s cause and up-to-date with all necessary information/changes. 
  • The development of free trials to allow for risk-free piloting of Volaby and value-added awareness of Volaby/technology advancements for the sector. 
  • Lower pricing tier for extra-small or struggling organisations. According to the ACNC and other non-profit data sources, extra small organisations account for approximately 40% -50% of non-profits in Australia. Once we are fully automated and can financially sustain thousands of organisations at a fixed cost, we should be able to offer a scaled down subscription that could meet the needs of these organisations in a way that is sustainable for Orange Sky to support. 

How has Advance Queensland helped you on your journey? 

We received a grant from Advance Queensland. This funding has been incredibly crucial in the advancement of the service that Volaby offers, to not only the three organisations involved in the project, but for all current and future Queensland volunteering organisations. 
This growth has not only affected the growth of the volunteering organisations we support, but also with Volaby itself. Subsequently, this has allowed Orange Sky to provide employment to software developers, support officers and designers in the Queensland team, meaning more jobs for more Queenslanders. 

Why would you recommend applying for Advance Queensland programs? 

Advance Queensland is an amazing platform that is focused on the importance of supporting local organisations and growth in the sector for the state. It has created a suitable balance between: 

  • Ensuring quality and performing their diligence around the investment of the taxpayer’s money for the betterment of Queensland and; 
  • Providing enough freedom and trust in us as an organisation to achieve the goals we set out to achieve and manage any of the uncertainties we had (and were bound) to encounter. 

What’s your advice for other social entrepreneurs and businesses starting out on their innovation journey? 

Start where you can with what you have! There is no amount of planning or thinking that will prepare you for the reality of creating a new social venture, or how people will react to it. 

Get started with whatever you can, as soon as you can, and the opportunities will present themselves over time. 

Make sure you have a clear goal and vision of what you are going to do - it will get you through the unexpected amount of hard work that is required to make your impact! 

Most importantly, work hard and have fun! 

Why is it important to support Queensland’s social entrepreneurs and social enterprise sector? 

New social enterprises and ventures (by their very nature) involve an incredible amount of uncertainty, and as such, require huge amounts of patience, hard work and pioneering. Knowing that the Queensland Government not only understand this, but also support it, can really give Queenslanders the confidence to chase their passion and ideas - which will ultimately improve their lives, as well as the collective Queensland community for the better. 

Last updated 16 Apr, 2021
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