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Which Should I Use: Initiatives or Advanced Events?

Because initiatives and the Advanced Events Module (AEM) provide similar benefits, you may find yourself wondering which tool is best for your upcoming event. This article explains how the two tools are different, and suggests which tool might be better for different situations. Click a topic below to learn more.

Initiatives and Advanced Events: How They're Alike

Initiatives and the Advanced Events Module (AEM) both provide these benefits:

  • Ability to group volunteer needs (opportunities) under a single "umbrella"
  • A unique banner on the screen that shows the volunteer that the needs listed belong under that "umbrella"
  • Needs within both modules can be public, privately available to a group, or a mix of both
  • Custom questions for volunteers (such as for t-shirt size)
  • The person posting the need can enter helpful information about required tools, inclement weather plans, wheelchair accessibility, and more.

About the "Umbrella"

Both advanced events and initiatives can serve as "umbrellas," or mechanisms by which multiple needs are grouped under one heading. Typically this "heading" is a large-scale event such as a Day of Caring, but site managers have used these tools in many different ways--for holiday volunteer opportunities, for examples, or opportunities for a certain group.

Your Connect site uses a banner to show that a group of needs falls under a single umbrella, whether it is an advanced event or an initiative.

The Advanced Event Banner

When you click to create a new advanced event, you're prompted to provide a title, a description, and a date or date range. You can also pick the color of the banner and banner text. All of that information shows up on the AEM banner (example below), which anyone can access by going to the AEM link that you provide.


The "heart" icon shown on the banner is the same for all banners; there is no option to change it.

The Initiative Banner

When you click to create a new initiative, you're asked to provide the title, description, and banner information (including banner color, text color, and icon). That information shows up in the initiative banner, which can be accessed by anyone who has permission to view the initiative. (If the initiative is public, then anyone can view the banner.) Here is an example of an initiative banner, using the same event shown in the previous example:


Note that no date or date range is provided, and that the site manager was able to select something other than the "heart" icon.

Regular Needs and AEM Needs

This article discusses two types of needs:

  • Regular needs are (typically) posted by an agency manager from the Needs tab of their agency management area. A volunteer can find regular needs by clicking the Needs menu item on a Connect site. Regular needs can be added to initiatives. They cannot be added to an advanced event.
  • Advanced event (AEM) needs are created as part of an advanced event. They cannot be switched to regular needs, and they cannot be part of an initiative.

The following section goes over a few benefits of using either type of need and should help you to understand which type of need you want to use for your event. The sections after that look at special considerations regarding private and public needs, customization, teams, reports, and waivers.

General Benefits of Using Regular Needs

Because initiatives apply to regular needs, site managers and agency managers may want to use initiatives if:

You want to apply initiatives to existing needs. One of the biggest benefits of initiatives over AEM is they can be applied to regular, existing needs; there is no need to open a new module and create new needs that are specifically for the initiative.

You have needs that are ongoing, run until a particular date, or occur in shifts. Unlike AEM needs, regular needs can have one of five durations: ongoing, runs until, happens on, recurring shift, or custom shift. AEM needs can only happen on a certain date; the other four durations are not available to them.

Note: You can create shifts in the AEM, but the process involves cloning needs and is a more labor-intensive than selecting shifts for regular needs.

You want volunteers to be able to find needs the way they usually do. With AEM, you must provide a special spotlight (or send out a link) for people to be able to see your advanced-event needs; otherwise, they may not know where to find them on your site. With initiatives, needs are easily viewed and searched from the Needs page (accessed by clicking Needs in the left-hand column of any Connect site).

You want more freedom in what details you provide about the needs. The AEM need form is more detailed than the form for regular needs. You can, however, add attributes to regular needs, which enable you to provide information that is as detailed--or more detailed--than what you can provide for advanced events.

Note: You can provide additional details for AEM needs, but they must be included in the need description.

General Benefits of Using AEM

While there is a great benefit to using regular needs and initiatives, there are some instances where you might want to use AEM instead.

You want to prevent agency managers from posting needs outside of a certain date range. With the AEM, you must specify the date or date range of the event. Once you've done that, any need posted must fall on that date or within that date range. The AEM expires once the end-date passes, and it is no longer shown on the front end of your Connect site.

Note: An initiative does not expire. If it has current needs, it will be available on the front end of your site, either publicly or to the user groups who have access to it. Once the needs within it expire, it will no longer be displayed to volunteers.

You want to limit the additional details agency managers can provide outside of the need description. The AEM need form includes questions about required tools, meals provided, and more, but it doesn't have a special "attributes" area for entering additional details that are of interest. If you prefer this kind of form, you may want to use the AEM.

You don't want the needs to be mixed in with regular needs. If the needs within your advanced event are public but you don't want them to be searched and viewed with all of the other needs on your site, you may want to use the AEM.

Public, Private, or Both?

Prior to Connect version 2.8, the AEM was the only option if you wanted to make needs privately available to one or more groups. You now have more options for making needs private. With version 2.8, you can now make regular needs private, whether or not they are associated with an initiative. You can also make an initiative private, handpicking which of the needs within the initiative will only be available to a specified group or groups. Read on to see how privacy works in these situations, starting with a review of private needs in the AEM.

AEM: Using Companies to Offer Private Needs

The AEM includes a "companies" feature, where a site manager can set up groups to which private needs can be assigned. These groups are traditionally companies, but they can be church groups, Scout troops, or another group of volunteers who are to have access to a private need. A site manager can then assign individual needs within the advanced event to individual groups. Below are some of the situations for which AEM needs may be preferable over regular needs.

You want to have a designated "company manager" who can see what needs their employees/group members are signing up for. With the AEM, each company has a primary contact person known as the "company manager." That person has access to a "company dashboard" listing all of the needs that have been made privately available to that company. The company manager can view the needs and can add or remove responses on behalf of employees or group members. The company manager can also see who has signed up for which needs and how many slots are still available. The company manager can also send out a unique "employee access link," which employees or group members can use to sign up for the privately available needs themselves. Finally, the company manager can export response information into a spreadsheet.

You want individual needs within the event to be exclusively available to certain groups. The AEM allows you to make one need within the advanced event available to one group, and another need available to another group. You can also make a single need available to multiple groups. Each group member's employee access link takes them to only those needs that have been made available to them, with the AEM banner near the top of the page.

Note: With private initiatives, everyone who has been assigned access to the initiative will be able to see all private needs within the initiative.

You want the needs to be private by default. With the AEM, the site manager has to complete two steps before making a need available to volunteers: (1) activate the need, and then (2) either make it public or assign it privately to a group. Any new need added to the advanced event must go through those steps; as a result, AEM needs are never public by default.

Making Regular (non-AEM) Needs Private

Beginning with Connect version 2.8, you can make a need private. The need doesn't have to be associated with a larger event. You should use individually private needs if:

You have volunteer opportunities that you don't want public on your site. If a non-initiative need is marked private, then it can only be accessed via a direct link that you provide to your volunteers.

Having a banner is not important. If the needs aren't associated with a larger effort or event, make each need individually private and send out links as needed.

Private Needs and Private Initiatives

An initiative can contain both public and private needs. A "private" initiative is one that is assigned to one or more user groups. Once a need has been assigned to a user group, the members of the user group(s) will automatically be able to see any private needs within it. If the initiative is public but contains private needs, you must send the private need links to individual volunteers.

Note: Making an initiative private doesn't make the needs within it private. Needs are public by default, and anyone can see them. Click here to learn more.

Here are the situations in which the private initiative/private need setup might be preferable:

You want to make all of the needs privately available to all user groups that can view the initiative. If you've added multiple user groups to an initiative and that initiative contains private needs, all members of the user groups will be able to view all of the private needs (and any public ones).

You don't want the added complexity of a company manager. While there are definite perks to having a company manager in the AEM, not everyone wants or needs the complexity of a "middleman" that makes needs available to employees or group members, monitors responses, and runs reports.

There is no need for someone (other than a site manager or agency manager) to monitor responses. This is related to the previous item. User group responses are private; any member of the user group can view the user group report, but the report only provides a general overview and doesn't show who has responded to what. Private initiatives with private needs work well if a greater level of detail and management is not needed within a group.

Custom Questions and Custom Notifications for Participants

Both the AEM and initiatives provide a level of customization not available for regular needs alone.

Customizing the Participant Experience in the AEM

You can add three "custom questions" to the AEM:

  • Agency Questions - These questions appear for the agency manager before they can get to the need-posting page.
  • Supplemental Need Questions - These are event-specific questions that you can add to the need form itself. 
  • Volunteer Questions - These questions appear for the volunteer before they can complete their need response.

For more information on AEM custom questions, click here.

You may want to use the AEM if:

You want to include agency questions. If you want your agency managers to answer one or more event-specific questions as a prerequisite to posting needs, the AEM gives you this capability.

You want to add supplemental need questions only to those needs within the event. These questions show up on the need form for the specified event and not for other events.

Note: You cannot customize automated notifications for needs within an AEM. Any changes to an AEM notification will automatically apply for all active advanced events on your site.

Customizing the Participant Experience for Initiatives

With initiatives, you can add custom volunteer questions, which appear for the volunteer before they can complete their need response. While initiatives doesn't have a "supplemental need questions" feature, you can add questions to all regular needs in Site Settings. There is no option for agency questions in initiatives.

For each initiative, you can add text to the automated notifications that go out--specifically, confirmation, reminder, and follow-up emails.

You may want to use initiatives if:

Agency questions and event-specific need questions are not important to you. If these aren't issues, then initiative may be your best choice.

You want to customize the notifications that go out to the volunteers. You have this capability with initiatives but not with the AEM.


Both AEM and initiative needs can accept team signups; its up the the person posting the need to decide whether they want to enable the team sign-up feature. The team enhancements included in version 2.8 apply to regular needs only; they are not available for AEM needs. Below is a summary of those enhancements.

  • Site managers can create and manage teams from the site manager panel.
  • The team creator must provide a team leader's email address, preventing the possibility of a team without a contact person.
  • Team leaders can email all of their team members, both individually and in bulk.
  • Individuals can join a team via a "join link" sent to them by the team leader or a site manager.
  • Team leaders can edit team members' need responses and can submit volunteer hours on their behalf.
  • Team leaders can clone an existing team in response to a need.
  • Teams can view their team resume.

These features are available for all regular needs--not just those that are part of an initiative. They are not available for AEM needs.

Reports and Exports

You can access reports for both initiatives and advanced events in the Reports area of your site manager panel. In addition, there are several areas where you can generate exports of raw data for either tool. The following section explain what reports and data exports are available for each.

Initiative Reports

The Reports are of your site manager panel includes the following initiative-specific reports:

  • Initiative Summary - Shows needs, responses, and submitted volunteer hours for each initiative. Each initiative has its own row in the table displayed, and you can view data by a selected date range.
  • User Groups by Initiative - Shows user-group participation in initiatives. In this report, you select an initiative from a dropdown and can then view assigned user groups and the number of needs, responders, agencies, responses, and volunteer hours associated with the initiative.

Initiative Exports

All need-related exports include initiative data so that you can see what needs are associated with which initiatives. The user and email blast filters also include an option to export or email all volunteers who are associated with a particular initiative.

AEM Reports

The Advanced Event Summary, located in the Reports area of your site manager panel, lists all active advanced events on your site. It shows the start and end date of each, along with the associated agencies, needs, companies, and teams. It also shows the total volunteers needed, the total responses received, and the total volunteer hours submitted for each advanced event. 

AEM Exports

Several exports of data are available in the AEM section of your site manager panel.

  • Agency Application Data - If your advanced event includes custom agency questions, you can export agency managers' answers to those questions.
  • Companies - If your advanced event includes needs assigned to companies, you can export the company information. The export includes basic information about the companies, along with the number of needs assigned to them.
  • Teams - If your advanced event includes team signups, you can export the teams.
  • Needs - You can export all needs within an advanced event. The export includes the number of volunteer slots available for each need and how many have been filled at the time of export.
  • Responses - You can export all need responses in an advanced event. The export includes any company information, team information, and waiver information, as well as user data for each volunteer who responded. 


You can currently attach both an agency waiver and a volunteer waiver to an advanced event. The agency manager must agree to the agency waiver before they can post a need, and the volunteer must agree to the volunteer waiver before they can complete their need response. If a waiver is uploaded for an advanced event, it will be a required field.

You cannot currently attach a waiver for an initiative, but you can attach waivers for individual needs within an initiative. If a waiver is attached to a need, it will be a required field.

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