Getting Started- Looking for Tips and Feedback

Hi Everyone,

My name is Laura Van Booven and I am the Volunteer Coordinator with Habitat for Humanity of Burlington County and Greater Trenton-Princeton in New Jersey. We're in the finishing stages of setting up our site but are running into some obstacles and I wanted to see how you navigate them. 

  • Email personalization- From our understanding, there is no way to send a different need response e-mail per program sign up. This makes it difficult for us, especially since the general guidelines surrounding what to wear, park, and bring are so different for the ReStore and the construction sites. We've gotten around this by making the initial need response thank you/welcome to the team e-mail general to include information on both and have put the information on the opportunity page but we wish it was more simplified- does anyone do something else to make the process easier?
  • Regarding e-mails, from what we understand, there isn't a way to modify the template keys, is this correct? For example, the need title template key doesn't include the end time and the format "GROUPS TEST(Jun 7, 2019 8:30am)" isn't as user friendly as we'd like. It's also frustrating that certain template keys are only available for specific notification responses. Being new to the program, this may simply be user error but I wanted to get some feedback.
  • General site instructions- We have found that when registering as a team or individual it's a bit difficult to navigate and understand the specific steps required such as the fact that the team leader must first enter their information, then go back and enter everyone else's. Has anyone run into this issue with their volunteers having trouble? If so, how have you resolved it?
  • With team registration- do you find it easier to require all volunteer e-mails at sign up by the team leader or not? We go back and forth on this because we schedule groups far in advance and most of the time the leader or individual setting it up doesn't know who or how many will be attending. With that being said, we also want to make sure we receive all waivers so we're worried if we don't require the e-mails, we won't get them. 
In general, we're essentially looking for tips on how to simplify the process and make it as clear as possible to the volunteers. Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated, thank you! 

Hi Laura,

I was happy to see your post.  Hopefully other Habitat sites will participate in this Forum and share their ideas.

Habitat Cape Cod is also in the final stages of setting up its site.  We've been through many of the same issues and are interested in sharing ideas with you. 

It seems like one of the most important differences among Connect clients is whether or not they are a single Agency using the system (e.g. a single Habitat Affiliate), or a multi-agency site (e.g. United Way or more than one Habitat Affiliate).   Habitat Cape Cod is a single agency affiliate.  This distinction greatly influenced how we chose to implement the system.  As ideas are shared, what works well for single-agency might not work well for multi-agency.

A little more about Habitat Cape Cod .... It is really quite simple - we have two ReStores and run three construction projects (or sites) in parallel.  We build an average of 10 houses per year, covering the entire Cape, which is about 90 miles east to west.  Our volunteers come from all over the area and will often drive up to an hour to volunteer.  If this description is similar to yours, I'd be happy to share how we designed our site and discuss some of the problems we still face.

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Good Morning John,

Thank you for the reply, it is great to hear from you! Our affiliate is a single affiliate that covers about two counties. We currently have one ReStore but are hoping to open another in a year or so, As far as builds, we typically have about two projects going on at once and will have completed about 8 builds for the 2019 fiscal year. 

I'd love to get some feedback from you regarding your experiences and the methods you have found to work best. 

Thanks again for the reply! 


It sounds like our two organizations have very similar requirements - a single affiliate with multiple build sites and stores.  With that in mind, here's a high level description of how we chose to configure Community Connect (Note:  I use ALL CAPS when referring to CONNECT OBJECTS)

Every build site is defined as a PROGRAM.  We have three new build sites that are starting construction late this summer, and they each are defined within Connect as their own PROGRAM.  When construction is complete, the PROGRAM will be made INACTIVE.  When a new site begins, a new PROGRAM will be created for it.  The same structure is used for the ReStores.  We currently have two stores.  Each of them are also defined as their own PROGRAM

The PROGRAM MANAGERS for the construction sites are the Volunteer Coordinators (VC) and Lead Carpenters.  There are one of each per site.   The VCs manage the volunteers for their site, including overseeing the check-in process on work days and communicate in advance any special instructions or information.  Our Volunteer Coordinators are volunteers.  The PROGRAM MANAGERS for the ReStores are the store managers, who in our case are employees of Habitat.

The advantage to organizing our sites and stores as PROGRAMS is that Connect provides a lot of structure within the definition of PROGRAMS for things such as WHO WE ARE, WHAT WE DO (which we renamed to How to Prepare), LOCATION, CONTACT INFO, HOURS OF OPERATION, OPPORTUNITIES, PICTURES, etc.  Within each PROGRAM description we include information about what to wear, what to bring, time to arrive, who to see when you arrive, pictures of the Volunteer Coordinator and Lead Carpenter, and so on.  We've put a lot of effort into making this attractive and informative.

We use GROUPS extensively to organize our volunteers and currently do not use TEAMS.   We tried both, but found GROUPS provided everything we needed, plus it gave us better control.  Here is the list of GROUPS that are necessary to have on site every day:

Name of GROUP                          CAPACITY

Lead Carpenter                             1

Crew Leaders                                3 to 6

Family and Friends of House #1   2

Family and Friends of House #2   2

....                                                  2

Family and Friends of House#8    2

Snack Provider                             1

Devotion Provider                         1

Construction                                 8 to 20  (this is not a GROUP, but a PUBLIC OPPORTUNITY open to all)

GROUPS are managed by the SITE MANAGER, including membership.

A RECURRING OPPORTUNITY is created for every GROUP needed on site.  They are marked PRIVATE and assigned a GROUP.  This means, for example,  that only members of the Crew Leader GROUP can sign up to work as a crew leader.  It is also the way we manage and track the 'Sweat Equity Hours' of the homeowners.  

Similarly, when an organization contacts Habitat Cape Cod and offers to volunteer (e.g.  Bank of America, Chamber of Commerce, or the local fire department) a new GROUP is created for them.  They arrange with us which build site works best for them, the date, and CAPACITY (max number of people they will send).  A PRIVATE OPPORTUNITY is then created for the GROUP at the chosen site, date, and CAPACITY.   The contact person at that organization receives an email from us containing the LINK to join the GROUP, which they in turn send to those within their organization who might be interested in volunteering on that day.  The email that is distributed encourages everyone who plans to participate to REGISTER in advance and RESPOND to the OPPORTUNITY created for them.  This approach is extremely helpful to the Volunteer Coordinator.  It provides them with information several days in advance related to the number of people who are coming, their registration information, as well as signed waivers.  It also informs them how much to order for lunch, the number of Crew Leaders to manage them, and the sizes of t-shirts needed.

Our build sites are active on Tuesdays and Saturdays every week.  Special teams, such as those mentioned in the previous paragraph, often work Thursdays.   The day before each work day, the Volunteer Coordinator sends out an email to everyone who has signed up.  This is not a requirement, but is often done.   The email is sent from their personal email account (more on this later) and contains last minute information such as specific tasks that will be done that day, special clothing or tools that will be required to perform those tasks, or one of the most popular notices .... Lunch will be provided!.  This same type of email will be sent in the case of cancellations or delays due to inclement weather or other factors.

We plan to go live with our system within the next six weeks.  It has been demonstrated to a number of our volunteers and they like what they've seen.  A handful of them are now testing and experimenting with it and they too are finding it to their liking.  We have been encouraged by their feedback and remain optimistic that it will be received well by all our volunteers.

The biggest challenges we face are with the Volunteer Coordinators (or PROGRAM MANAGERS).  Their jobs will be much more difficult with the new system.  Some of these challenges can be addressed with training and other resources, but some of it will remain a challenge because that's the way the product is designed.   The part that will remain a challenge is the Coordinator's inability to manage easily the volunteers who have signed up for a day.  This last phrase was underlined because it sounds simple but is loaded with complexity.   I'll try to explain.

The root of this problem is our requirement to manage our build sites around roles and responsibilities (hence, all the GROUPS)  For example; a) we are limited to only one Lead Carpenter per site, b)  we must have several Crew Leaders (people who know how to operate power tools, manage scaffolding, and build a house), c)  the homeowners for each house are required to work 250 hours, and d) we also need a group of regular, every day volunteers to help get the work done.   Furthermore, for safety and sanity reasons, we have to limit the number of volunteers within each GROUP on site at any given time.  It's a common problem.  I'm sure you know it well.   Power tools are running, pneumatic nailers pounding, people climbing scaffolding, trucks delivering supplies.  It has to be controlled or accidents will happen.   Fortunately, PRIVATE OPPORTUNITIES assigned to GROUPS works perfectly for this!   All appears well.  At least until the VC logs in to find out who has RESPONDED to volunteer the next work day.  Here is where things start to fall apart.  There is no single list of people who have RESPONDED.  Instead, there are many lists, one list for each GROUP.  The actual number of lists will vary by build site.  Our largest site this year has 8 homes, meaning there could be a many as 15 OPPORTUNITIES defined for every work day to support the 15 GROUPS needed (8 of the 15 are for Family and Friends)  Similarly, because there is no single list of people who have RESPONDED, there is no single set of email addresses that can be accessed to send out last minute instructions or changes in plans.  This makes it impossible for the VC to send out an EMAIL BLAST from Connect to everyone who has signed-up for the day. Yuk!

The lack of a single list is also a problem for our Lead Carpenters.  The day before a work day, the Lead Carpenter reviews the list of volunteers due on site and assigns each of them to teams of 3 or 4, and then assigns tasks to each team.  At the head of each team is a Crew Leader.  Unfortunately, the Lead Carpenter, like the VC, has to visit all 15 OPPORTUNITIES just to create a single list of who has signed up.  It's a headache.

The way we've worked around the problem is with Custom Reports.  Galaxy wrote two reports for us.  One that provides a list of all the volunteers who have signed up for a day, as well as a list of everyone on the WAIT LIST for that same day.  The second report provides all the email addresses for these two groups.   Now, if the VC needs to send out an email blast at 6:30 am to announce that work has been cancelled due to snow, they can copy the complete list of email addresses and paste them into an email composed within their own email account.  It's not perfect, but it is much simpler than the alternative..   These Custom Reports are a big help, but the problem of managing up to 15 Opportunities for every work day at each build site means there's going to be a lot of repetitive and tedious work ahead for the VCs.

I realize this summary doesn't explain adequately everything we've done, but hopefully it has given you a general idea of how we're trying to configure the system to meet our needs There's a lot of good things to like about the new system, but there are also some real challenges.   Hopefully I've given you a glimpse of both.   If you would like more information, please let me know.  In addition, if you would like to see how our implementation is designed and operates, I'd be happy to provide a demo.  As they say .... "a picture is worth ten thousand words".


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Hi There!

John has done a great job of outlining how his Habitat has chosen to set their site up. Thanks for getting the conversation started in the forums both of you!

As the Customer Care manager, I thought it was important that I piped in here. The configuration John has laid out won't work for every Habitat, as much of these decisions are based on how his specific Habitat does things and what is important to them. Luckily, our Support team is composed of experts that would love to learn more about your specific use case or questions and guide you with our experience, so please email us at We are happy to listen to the things that matter to your organization and make recommendations just for you! I'm also happy to chime in here on the forum if there are specific questions about best practices.

One alternative way to handle your builds is to use our initiatives tool. It allows you to group volunteer opportunities together by a build, provide build specific information, build specific messaging and ask build specific questions to volunteers when they are registering. This configuration did not work for John's Habitat because of the number of builds running concurrently -- it didn't make sense for each VC or Lead Carpenter to get the emails for all of the builds when they could just get the emails for their specific builds. This is one of the reasons Habitat Cape Cod opted for Programs as builds instead of initiatives. 

Laura, here are my thoughts on your original questions: 

Initiatives is one way to provide email personalization by a specific group of opportunities. 

Template keys cannot be used unless they are present on the right hand side of the screen when editing an automated notification. They also cannot be customized as to what information they pull in. Changes to template keys and their availability make great posts for our product suggestion forum

We have this video which might help with team signups! 

We are super excited about working with Habitats and are developing some Habitat specific resources. I'll post new things as we have them. So far we have: 

Keep posting all this great information and ideas!

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