Welcoming immigrants as volunteers at your organization

Disclaimer: this is not legal advice. I am not a lawyer. Any activity incurs risk. The author (me) assumes no responsibility for the use of information contained within this document.

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteers
Volunteer engagement is so much more than getting work done
: it allows the community to see, first hand, what a nonprofit or other mission-based organization or program does, it allows a nonprofit or government program to cultivate relationships with certain demographic groups it might not otherwise, it creates stronger ties between a program and the community, and it can contribute to community cohesion, bringing together different segments of a population in a setting that can help build relationships and understanding.

All of these reasons for engaging volunteers are why it’s a good idea for mission-based programs to explore ways to welcome residents who are immigrants as volunteers. You are missing out on a tremendous amount of talent and energy if you are excluding immigrants as volunteers, and such exclusion contributes to community divisions.

Immigrants might be long-term residents of a neighborhood or community, but they can feel on the margins of such, for a range of reasons. They often have children in the local school system, work in a local job, attend a local community of faith, pay taxes, are affected by the same social, political, economic and environmental issues as other residents, etc., but may not feel included or welcomed to volunteer in their communities. Just like other people, immigrants care about children, the environment, people with disabilities, safety, local prosperity, animals and more in the places where they live.

There is no law preventing an immigrant from volunteering with nonprofit organizations in the USA, and most local government agencies, including public schools, also aren’t prohibited by law from involving immigrants as volunteers. This is in contrast to federal agencies, where there are some prohibitions (more on that later).

Here are ways to make your organization more welcoming for immigrants living in your community. Note that this is USA-specific information, and, again, note that rules regarding volunteer screening and engagement can be different for nonprofit organizations versus federal agencies:

If your nonprofit organization or local government agency currently says on its web site or in other material that a volunteer must be a citizen of the USA, reconsider that requirement. Such a requirement excludes green card holders – legal permanent residents – among others. Why would you exclude green card holders from volunteering as, say, volunteer firefighters or tutors in the local school system? Think carefully about why you have certain citizenship or legal residency requirements for volunteers, and unless you can come up with a specific reason for this requirement – for instance, some roles require a multi-state criminal background check because the volunteer would be working with children or other vulnerable populations – consider changing that protocol.

According to this web site from the USA National Park Service, citizens of countries other than the USA are eligible to participate in federally-sponsored volunteer programs only if they are accepted for one of the Exchange Visitor Program categories through a designated sponsoring organization that is certified by the U.S. Department of State. Individuals who are not USA citizens but reside in here may volunteer with a federal agency if they are a lawful permanent residents (green card holders); or if they are non-immigrant aliens with F-1 or J-1 visa status, who are bona fide students residing in the USA to pursue a course of study at a recognized, approved institution of education. Again, these are rules for volunteering with federal agencies, NOT with local government agencies, like public schools, nor with nonprofit organizations.

Also, note that the US military allows certain undocumented immigrants to serve.

If your organization requires volunteers to provide documentation to prove their identity, then state on your web site and in orientations for new volunteers that, at least for some volunteering roles, this could be a driver’s license or passport from any country, not just the USA. You could also ask for a consular identification card, which is issued by some governments to their citizens who are living in foreign countries (they are not certifications of legal residence within foreign countries). If you require proof of a local residence and a local mailing address, ask for a utility bill or housing lease. You can also ask for references from employers or officials of the person’s community of faith. It is possible to do criminal background checks on immigrants without social security numbers: even with just a person’s name and date of birth, many county and state criminal databases will indicate if any applicant has had any prior arrests or convictions. Make it clear to applicants if you are going to do this with their information (submit it to local law enforcement). You may want to check with the law enforcement agency that does your criminal background checks to ask them about their policy for working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); many law enforcement agencies will not turn over any information to ICE without a court order, and if they have this stated policy (these days, it will be on their web site if they have this policy), you can let your volunteer applicants know.

Some organizations, such as public schools, require that volunteers provide social security numbers so that a particular type of criminal background check can be conducted, and in many cases, that requirement cannot change because it is required by a state law. But what can change is volunteer roles that are offered. Could you create volunteer roles that don’t require a criminal background check, because a volunteer is never alone with children or other vulnerable populations? For instance, nonprofits that do beach cleanups don’t do criminal background checks of the participating volunteers, nor ask for their social security numbers. Habitat for Humanity does not ask for this information for volunteers participating in house building. Nonprofit theaters and performing arts centers rarely do criminal background checks on volunteer ushers, who show people to their seats before a performance. Could you create such volunteering tasks that don’t require criminal background checks, because the volunteers are always in groups, never one-on-one with a volunteer, client, member of the public, etc.? For instance, in a public school, you could set the rule that only volunteers with a social security number and valid state ID would be allowed unsupervised access to children, for such activities as tutoring and to chaperone field trips, but allow other volunteers without social security numbers (but are vetted in other ways) to create murals or help at in-classroom parties.

(and remember that keeping children and other vulnerable populations safe requires MUCH more than a criminal background check – see this resource for more information)

No matter what form of identification you ask for, state clearly on your web site and in your orientation for new volunteers that you will not sell, trade or give this information to any other agency, that only your human resources staff and head of the organization will have access to this information (no other staff should be able to go through volunteer – or paid staff – files), and that you will not give these records to any law enforcement agency without a court order. Also clearly state that you will not voluntarily release personally identifiable data or information to any law enforcement agency, and will not release information that may be used to ascertain an individual’s religion, ethnicity or race, unless for a law enforcement purpose unrelated to the enforcement of a civil immigration law and only with a court order – or with the volunteer’s permission. Explain your photo release policy carefully, and give all volunteers the right to ask that a photo of themselves be removed from your web site.

Note in your communications with new volunteer applicants that no staff member at your organization shall grant ICE or border patrol agents access to your facilities for investigative interviews or other investigative purposes without a court order. You may want to put this statement on your web site as well.

Except when compelled by a law or a specific written policy, there’s no reason for an organization to inquire into the immigration or citizenship status of anyone. Talk to all employees, consultants and volunteers about what they should and should not ask of each other – not just immigration status, but also things like income, property holdings, health conditions (“Are you disabled?!”), etc.

Consider posting a sign such as the one below at your entrance and in your lobby, to make it clear you welcome all people to inquire about volunteering, about client services, etc.:


A group of volunteers supporting the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina was assigned to find a way undocumented immigrant parents could volunteer in their schools. This article is about their struggle and this article is about what they finally ended up doing.

My only other caution regarding involving immigrants as volunteers would be involving such in unpaid internships. An unpaid internship is volunteering, just as virtual volunteering, skilled volunteering, pro bono services, microvolunteering, episodic volunteering, group volunteering and all the other forms of donated, unpaid service are. But internships are full-time experiences and meant specifically to give someone on-the-job training for eventual paid work. The US Department of Labor is concerned both with the protection of jobs for United States citizens, and views internships as jobs, even those at nonprofits.

On a different note: A federal judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit filed in 2014 claiming thousands of detained immigrants were forced to work for $1 a day or nothing at all while in custody of ICE at Denver Contract Detention Facility. The forced labor could be considered a violation of federal anti-slavery laws, according to the Washington PostJaqueline Stevens, head of Northwestern University’s Deportation Research Clinic, said the Denver facility violated the federal standards of volunteer work programs in which many detainees are required to participate. Stevens’ research prompted the original lawsuit. “Just slapping the word ‘volunteer’ in front of ‘work program’ doesn’t exempt the prison firm from paying legally mandated wages any more than McDonald’s can use ‘volunteer’ senior citizens and pay them Big Macs,” Stevens told the Washington Post.

Here are more resources from other organizations:

  • National Volunteer Week: How Much Do Immigrants Volunteer? “Volunteering has long been shown to bring stability to neighborhoods and increase the level of cohesion and bonding among friends and neighbors. In communities with large immigrant populations, these are particularly desirable attributes, and places like New York City have already increased efforts to incorporate immigrants into social and political volunteerism… Our analysis produced some interesting takeaways that can help advocates and community leaders inspire more immigrants to join organizations—and, in turn, get more out of their participation.” From the New American Economy Action Fund
  • Increasing Knowledge Related to the Experiences of Undocumented Immigrants in Public Schools. This article describes the experiences of school personnel working with undocumented immigrants in public schools and the opinions and attitudes of school personnel. It was published in Educational Leadership and Administration: Teaching and Program Development, Volume 24, January 2013, ISSN 1532-0723 © 2013 California Association of Professors of Educational Administration
  • Parental Involvement in Schools. “Students with parents who are involved in their school tend to have fewer behavioral problems and better academic performance, and are more likely to complete high school than students whose parents are not involved in their school. Positive effects of parental involvement have been demonstrated at both the elementary and secondary levels across several studies, with the largest effects often occurring at the elementary level. A recent meta-analysis showed that parental involvement in school life was more strongly associated with high academic performance for middle schoolers than helping with homework. Involvement allows parents to monitor school and classroom activities, and to coordinate their efforts with teachers to encourage acceptable classroom behavior and ensure that the child completes schoolwork. Teachers of students with highly involved parents tend to give greater attention to those students, and they are more likely to identify at earlier stages problems that might inhibit student learning. Parental involvement in school, and positive parent-teacher interactions, have also been found to positively affect teachers’ self-perception and job satisfaction.”

Here are my own resources on related topics:

Frank description of what it’s like to work in communications in the UN

UNLogoI love working for the United Nations – except when I don’t.

The United Nations can do amazing work, and I’ve been honored to be a part of it on occasion, in Ukraine, in Afghanistan, and in various locations with UNDP/UNV. It can also stumble badly, and it can be painful to be a part of.

The reason for missteps by the UN, or perceptions of missteps, can be attributed to various things:

  • pressure from donor countries and host countries regarding messaging and action that’s out-of-step with reality,
  • profound misunderstandings by donor countries, host countries and the press regarding the challenges and needs related to humanitarian aid and development, such that they see what the UN is doing and find it lacking,
  • a fear by UN staff that reporting honestly about what’s not working will be seen as institutional failure or will cause donors to withdraw funds, host countries to withdraw support and the media and grass roots groups to attack,
  • a UN culture that recoils from any controversy and confrontation,
  • some people who end up in positions of power and are either unqualified for the position or deeply flawed in their motivations and intent for the position.

The excerpt below from a long article in PassBlue by Barbara Crossette from December 4, 2016 offers an excellent account of what happens when many of these challenges align – and they align all too often. The links are the article’s:

In 1999, Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general at the time, and his spokesman, Fred Eckhard, published media guidelines for UN officials that for the first time in the organization’s history introduced a formal policy of being “open and transparent in its dealings with the press.” The guidelines, initially devised for the peacekeeping department, gave all Secretariat staff members the right to speak to the media on subjects “within your area of competence and responsibility,” but to “provide facts, but not opinions or comment.” The guidelines are still in effect, according to the UN spokesman’s office, though they have languished and are disregarded repeatedly.

In no area has this unwillingness to listen to UN staff or allow them to do honest reporting been more harmful to the organization than in peacekeeping. Internal information on scandals of various sorts have been suppressed, ignored or shelved for unconscionable periods of time by higher-ranking people in a hierarchical system. Outsiders — in the media, nongovernmental organizations and sometimes courageous staff within the UN — make these scandals public, putting the organization immediately in a defensive position, as allegations fire up critics…

Every peacekeeping mission has a large public information unit dedicated to ensuring that the local population understands the mandate of the peacekeepers and to garnering international support for their operations. But lately, with shrinking newsroom budgets and the closing of international bureaus, news organizations don’t send as many reporters to cover far-flung conflicts that are only simmering, or cooling, when more dramatic stories compete…

In peacekeeping missions, communications officers are expected to sell trite “positive” stories to the media, while withholding comment on more complex or sensitive issues, from political negotiations to outbreaks of violence. Recent headlines — from attacks on civilians in South Sudan to sex abuse by peacekeepers in Central Africa and the cholera epidemic in Haiti — dominate in media, which give minimal coverage to other aspects of a mission, each one a complex operation taking more than tweets to explain fully.

Roberto Capocelli, a Fulbright scholar from Italy, worked as a human-rights public information officer with Monusco — the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — the largest peacekeeping operation. The mission had been mired in bad news when a landmark human-rights trial took place in 2014, conducted by Congolese courts with assistance from Monusco and UN human-rights officials. A notorious war criminal, Bedi Mobuli Engangela, or “Colonel 106,” who had long terrorized communities in eastern Congo, was finally meeting justice.

Capocelli got to the trial ahead of the international media and with his deep knowledge of the issues, wrote up the story, stressing the UN’s contributions in logistics and protecting witnesses. He sent it for release to his superiors at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. It was published two months later, virtually unchanged but buried in an obscure part of the UN Human Rights website. A video he made on the event was never used.

“In the end, we are not journalists,” Capocelli said recently. “But everyone had been complaining about impunity and after a huge investment of time and resources, [the UN] managed to do something good, especially at the moment the UN was under criticism for child abuse, corruption and inaction. Everyone is aware of this dynamic, how much the bureaucratic process can stop you from acting. I had the impression my work was not really needed.”

Susan Manuel, a writer for PassBlue and an American journalist before joining the UN, worked in some of the most important and dangerous peacekeeping missions in the world, in addition to spending eight years in UN headquarters. During that time, she saw the relationship between UN missions and the media shrink from her first decade in Cambodia, South Africa, the Balkans and Afghanistan to her final posting in Darfur before retiring in 2012.

“In Cambodia, the UN peacekeeping mission, Untac [the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia] was narrating the electoral process to a large international press corps,” she said in a written interview. “In the former Yugoslavia, I literally saw coverage of the UN improve after making an effort to get to know the local and regional journalists and provide them with concrete information. We told the story, even when the UN failed, even when the so-called UN-protected enclaves in Croatia and Bosnia were overrun. We public information officers were reporting these events in real time to media because these people were our responsibility.”

“In Kosovo we were narrating the growth of a new administration — with regular press briefings, interviews, guided visits for journalists,” she said. “We fed them constantly, and not with fluff, as these were discerning professionals, some of them veteran war correspondents.

“There were incidents of exploitation and abuse of the local population by peacekeepers in those earlier missions –particularly Cambodia and Somalia,” Manuel said. “But they didn’t threaten to bring down UN peacekeeping. Journalists knew these were complex and largely vital enterprises, which they covered on a daily basis. Scandals weren’t the only headlines.

“In Afghanistan, the UN mission was the most credible voice during a long saga of conflict, peace processes and human rights struggles, and the media depended a great deal on it.

“But when I arrived in Darfur [in 2011], the international media were gone, local media were ignored and the conflict was invisible, even — to a large extent — to the peacekeepers. We weren’t saying much about it.

“Senior UN mission officials disdained the sole opposition radio station, Dabanga,” she recalled. “Sometimes it was only when a blogger, Matthew [Russell] Lee, who is based in New York, read out reports from Dabanga on incidents in Darfur at the daily briefing by the secretary-general’s spokesman in New York that we could convince the mission leaders to respond. Or, I would figure out ways to release information surreptitiously by embedding it in otherwise anodyne messages or op-eds from the head of mission.”

When she retired from the UN, Manuel wrote in her end-of-assignment report on Darfur — where hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed as Sudan’s repressive government battled a regional rebellion from 2003 to 2009 — that UN policy makers needed to decide whether the peacekeeping information offices are there to promote only the “good news” of the mission or to “get and disseminate clear factual information about the situation on the ground related to our mandate,” which, Manuel added, “could enhance our credibility and lead to realistic responses.”

“Is it our role to report publicly on the conflict, as part of the mission’s security and protection of civilians’ mandate, or is it ‘none of your business,’ as one senior official told me after repeated requests to be included in information on fighting and human rights abuses?”

The entire article is very much worth your time to read. It’s focused primarily on how the Trump Presidency will affect the United Nations.

Also see:

United Nations personnel system needs radical overhaul

Legacy of Early Tech4Good Initiatives (including UN initiatives)

My experience in humanitarian aid and development initiatives

My consulting services regarding communications and community engagement

A grassroots group or nonprofit org = disorganization?

logoThree comments I received or read in the last few weeks via email or social media:

As a nonprofit, we can’t always make updates and changes to our web site quickly…

As an all-volunteer organization, we won’t be able to do much marketing for this event…

We haven’t replied to people that have posted on Facebook saying that they want to volunteer because we’re an all-volunteer movement and we’re progressing methodically…

Being a nonprofit, or being an all-volunteer organization, or being a grassroots group organizing a march, has nothing to do with a group or organization’s ability to:

  • make simple changes to its web site
  • market an event
  • provide quality customer service
  • have an up-to-date list of the board of directors or senior staff on the web site
  • say on the web site what volunteers do at the organization and how to express interest in volunteering
  • say on the web site what the organization needs in terms of volunteer support
  • respond to emails in a timely manner
  • refer all phone calls and emails to the appropriate person immediately
  • quickly reply to every person who wants to volunteer, even with a simple message that says “you will hear from us in the next two weeks with next steps”

Legitimate reasons for not doing those things is because the organization or group:

  • is suddenly and severely understaffed (mass staff walk out, mass layoffs…)
  • has other immediate, urgent priorities in that specific moment (building burning down, death of a client, etc.)
  • is inefficient
  • is disorganized

If you have ever wondered why so many people from the for-profit sector think nonprofits are incompetent, that people that work at nonprofits aren’t experts, this is why: because we use our nonprofit status, or our volunteer staffing, as an excuse for not being able to do the basics of customer service, management and marketing.

My reaction to someone who says As a nonprofit, we can’t always make updates and changes to our web site quickly… or As an all-volunteer organization, we won’t be able to do much marketing for this event… is this: maybe you should dissolve your organization, or seek new leadership for your organization and its programs. And my reaction to anyone that says their group doesn’t have time to respond quickly to every person that expresses interest in volunteering is this: in fact, you don’t have to involve volunteers at all, and you should say so.

Yes, I’m talking to all you folks organizing marches as well.

When you get an email from someone asking why certain information isn’t on your web site, or why you aren’t updating your Facebook page, or why your nonprofit wasn’t represented at some event, here’s an idea: apologize to the person for not having the information or activity that you should have had, tell that person you are currently understaffed, and ask if he or she would be interested in volunteering with the organization to help you correct this. For instance:

Thanks so much for the email noting that we haven’t updated our Facebook page for four months, and haven’t posted any information about our upcoming event. Our marketing manager is currently on maternity leave, and we are looking for a volunteer to help us with social media management for the next four months. Would you be interested in helping us? 

Or

Thank you for writing about your frustration about trying to volunteer with your organization. People that want to volunteer with us deserve a quick response to their expressions of interest. Would you like to help us do that? Would you be interested in volunteering to help us quickly respond to people that want to volunteer?

Yes, I know, I wrote a similar blog back in 2012.

Also see:

Involving volunteers: a cop out for paying staff?

Nurses in the Philippines are angry. They are being forced to work for free, or for a stipend on which they cannot live, while the hospitals where they are working call them “volunteers.” Some hospitals are even charging nurses for their “volunteer” work experience. Thousands of graduate nurses are paying hospitals and working for months without salaries under the guise of “training,” so the nurses can gain work experience and have an improved chance of being employed as a regular staff eventually. As a result of this exploitation, nurses have filed cases against four hospitals through the Philippines Department of Labor and Employment – National Labor Relations Commission in February and March. Nurses have also sought the help of a Philippines political party, the Ang Nars Party, which has been using its Facebook page to highlight their campaign against what they are calling “false volunteerism”. (Thanks, oh-so-awesome DJ Cronin, for the heads up about this situation!)

You can read more about this situation at the Nursing News, March 2, 2017, but be warned: this is a click-bait site, packed with advertising banners and in-text advertising links.

I am, of course, outraged about this situation in the Philippines. It’s the same outrage that prompted me to call on the United Nations to defend its involvement of full-time, unpaid interns. It’s not only horrible that these nurses are being exploited; these kinds of actions create campaigns opposed to some or all volunteering (unpaid work). No doubt the hospitals in the Philippines have happily talked about the value of volunteering only in terms of money saved in not paying staff, just as ILO, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies, UNV, and others have encouraged them to do.  The result of this exploitation will be a further backlash against all volunteering in hospitals in the Philippines – and beyond. The fight against unpaid internships hurts volunteering. And all of this is because so many organizations see volunteers only as a way to not pay staff, to save money.

If you do not have a  written statement that explains explicitly why your organization reserves certain tasks / assignments / roles for volunteers, including unpaid interns, and that statement has NOTHING to do with not having enough money to pay staff, then you have no business involving volunteers, or unpaid interns, or whatever it is you want to call people you aren’t paying for work.

Good luck to the nurses in the Philippines. And good luck to hospitals in justifying future engagement of volunteers after making so many enemies to the term.

Also see:

volunteers scramble to preserve online data before government deletes it

Online volunteers aren’t always remote; hackathons and Wikipedia edit-a-thons bring together people in the same physical space, at the same time, to volunteer online, to code for good, to create content for the arts or under-represented groups or science topics on Wikipedia, and now, to preserve critical scientific data that is under threat by the new Presidential administration in the USA.

ProPublica found that the new administration edited an educational website for kids to significantly downplay the negative impacts of coal. The White House also removed all of the data from its portal of searchable federal data. The site previously included data on everything from budgets to climate change to LGBT issues. It now displays a message telling people to: “Check back soon for new data.” Staff under the new Secretary of Education have deactivated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) web site. You can still see it at http://www.archive.org. That archived version is packed with information for parents of children with disabilities. If you go to the new web site, however, you’ll see a greatly-scaled back web site, with a lot of information no longer available.

Groups are organizing through traditional social tools like Twitter and Facebook to help preserve information before it disappears and to retrieve information removed from official government web sites.

This 25 February 2017 story on the CNN web site, Why Trump’s election scares data scientists, talks about Data Refuge, which was founded after the election with a goal of tracking and safeguarding government data. The volunteer group of hackers, writers, scientists and students collects federal data about climate change in order to preserve the information and keep it publicly accessible. In the past three months, Data Refuge has hosted 17 events where hundreds of volunteers learn how to copy and publish research-quality data. The group, which grew out of the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, also monitors scientific research that depends on government funding because there’s concern this could dry up.

One platform, data.world, is a social network exclusively for people who want to find and collaborate on building data sets, much like how programming site GitHub lets coders collaborate on building apps. It already has tens of thousands of open government data sets available.

This 13 February 2017 Wired.com story, Diehard Coders Just Rescued NASA’s Earth Science Data, talks about volunteers coming together across the USA to preserve online scientific information and other info they fear will be permanently removed from government web sites under the Trump administration, and building systems to monitor ongoing changes to government websites. By the end of one day, one group had collectively loaded 8,404 NASA and DOE webpages onto the Internet Archive, effectively covering the entirety of NASA’s earth science efforts. They’d also built backdoors in to download 25 gigabytes from 101 public datasets, and were expecting even more to come in as scripts on some of the larger dataset finished running.

But there is still much work to do. “Climate change data is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Eric Kansa, an anthropologist who manages archaeological data archiving for the non-profit group Open Context. “There are a huge number of other datasets being threatened with cultural, historical, sociological information.” A panicked friend at the National Parks Service had tipped him off to a huge data portal that contains everything from park visitation stats to GIS boundaries to inventories of species.

Some of these efforts on Twitter:

@DataRescueBOS

@SeattleDataResQ

Also see:

Advice for and examples of One(-ish) Day “Tech” Activities for Volunteers

Hackathons for good? That’s volunteering!

Where are the evaluations of hacksforgood/appsforgood?

Open Air Hackathon – Nonprofits Get Web Sites, Designers Get Accessibility Training

Wikipedia needs improvement re: volunteerism-related topics

vvbooklittle The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, by Susan J. Ellis and myself, is our attempt to document all the best practices of working with online volunteers, from the more than three decades that virtual volunteering has been happening. It’s available both in traditional print form and in digital version. Thanks to everyone who has purchased it so far! Bonus points if you can find the sci fi/fan girl references in the book…

Want to work internationally? Get involved locally.

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersI get asked a lot about how to work in international humanitarian aid and development. I explain, over and over again, the importance of getting practical experience that would be relevant to work in other countries, and emphasize that ways to get this experience are all around you. I also say repeatedly, “You can’t expect to get hired to do something overseas that you haven’t done right in your own community.” I’m often met with skepticism and comments like “I live in a small town” and “we don’t have any refugees where I live” and on and on.

I’m often met with skepticism and comments like “I live in a small town” and “we don’t have any refugees where I live” and “what I want to do is completely different than anything happening here” and on and on.

I live in a small town 30 miles from Portland, Oregon. The population of my town was 21,083 at the 2010 census. The town right next door had a population of 11,869 at the 2010 census. We are surrounded by farm fields, wetlands and woods. The three wealthiest communities in Oregon are all in unincorporated areas of the county where I live.

And with all that said: opportunities to test and to continue to grow my skills as a consultant regarding international aid and development abound. The opportunities are all around me. Most are within walking distance. A few require me to take a 15-minute bus ride, and one has required me to drive:

  • I attend community meetings organized by the area’s state legislative representatives and US congressional representatives, where citizens communicate their concerns regarding public education, immigration, sustainability, respect for the environment, safety for minorities, foreign interference in our country’s affairs, transportation, and on and on – most of the same things you will hear at any community meeting anywhere in the world.
  • I attend public meetings by the police and sheriff’s deputies serving the areas where I live and frequent, to see how they communicate and collaborate with those they are supposed to serve.
  • I attend city council meetings whenever possible. Topics that have been discussed have ranged from a new plan for city parks to declaring the city a sanctuary city, affirming that the city will not act as agents of the federal government regarding immigration law.
  • I volunteer with a local group that helps the Latino residents, particularly the Latina residents, of the county where I live. I help them regarding volunteer engagement policies, volunteer recruitment strategies and social media strategies.
  • I joined the citizens advisory committee for my community regarding public safety. Once a month, we meet, review citizen concerns regarding safety, hear presentations by the police chief and fire chief, and make recommendations to the city council. As a result, I met with the local police officer in charge of community outreach to discuss some concerns I have regarding the unease of many in our city regarding the current Presidential administration.

Community engagement activities and community development meetings are what I have often been involved with and advised on in other countries, in Afghanistan or Ukraine or wherever. It’s been easy to find similar activities to get involved with here in my own community. If I lived in downtown Portland – and urban area with far more nonprofits and government programs – the opportunities would be even greater.

If nothing else, no matter how you feel about the current political situation in the USA, what’s happening now is providing a plethora of opportunities for anyone that works in international development to hone or to build his or her skills.

Is there an organization in your area that assists refugees? Or a program that educates people regarding HIV/AIDS? Or an initiative that educates young people about sexual health and how to prevent pregnancies? Or a nonprofit farm cooperative? Or a domestic violence shelter? Or a program that helps people develop marketable job skills? Or a program that brings people with and without mental disabilities together for friendship-building activities? Or a non-partisan organization that promotes voter registration? What is your local police department, your local library, or any government agency doing to reach out to people that aren’t a part of the ethnic or religious majority in your community? Identify these organizations, programs and initiatives, and then start looking on their web sites and calling to find out if they involve volunteers, or have paid work that you could apply to do. Volunteer, or work, and get experience.

And go to public meetings by city, county and state officials, the police, the school board, or any other major public entity or significant public official. Watch how people interact with the speakers. Do people seem to trust the speakers? Is it a lecture or is there discussion? Do people understand the process they are witnessing? Is there hostility in the room and, if so, is it being addressed? Are answers clear and to the point or are they evasive? Are people attempting to dominate the conversation? Do you know if one-on-one meetings happened before the event regarding the topic at hand? How are representatives from the press covering the events you are attending? Learn from what you are seeing and hearing – it will all serve you well as you work in other countries.

Also see:

Is it really *impossible* to break into humanitarian work?

Isn’t my good heart & desire enough to help abroad?

Citizens academy – intensive community engagement – my own largely positive experience with the Washington County Sheriff Department’s citizens academy.

When “participatory” & “consultation” are just words

In defense of skills over passion

Misconceptions re: VSO, UNV & Peace Corps

Ideas for Leadership Volunteering Activities /

Ideas for Creating Your Own Large-Scale Volunteering Activity

Promises & Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering

Vanity Volunteering: all about the volunteer – one of the most popular blogs I’ve ever written

My CV and résumé consulting services for those wanting to work in international development

AmeriCorps, VISTA, other CNCS programs could soon be gone

On February 17, 2017, The New York Times reported that the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) may be among the federal programs being considered for elimination in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

As a federal agency, CNCS is the nation’s largest grant-maker in support of service and volunteering. The agency manages AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, the Social Innovation Fund, and the Volunteer Generation Fund. AmeriCorps alone engages more than 75,000 men and women in intensive service each year at more than 21,000 locations including nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country.

If you are a US citizen, I strongly encourage you to:

  1. Call your Congressional Representative and two US Senators and share your opinion about national service funding. Calling or sending a postal letter is most effective; emails are too easily ignored.
  2. Sign up to participate in the National Peace Corps Association’s National Days of Action, March 3-15, to convey to your elected leaders why these programs matter.
  3. Support the efforts of those speaking up for the Peace Corps nationwide on social media March 3 by joining the NPCA’s “thunderclap”, a coordinated social media blast.
  4. Contact your local newspapers with a letter to the editor in support of CNCS programs.

News stories & blogs re: AmeriCorps cuts:

Agencies in Oklahoma worry about fate of AmeriCorps

Denver schools brace for Trump’s proposed AmeriCorps cut

The Republican Case for Saving Americorps

Also see:

14 (was 13) things you do to annoy me on social media

handstopMore than a dozen things that annoy me regarding the use of social media by too many nonprofits, government initiatives and other mission-based programs:

1) You don’t post at least one item a week to your Facebook page.

2) You have created a gateway where everything you post to Facebook goes out on your Twitter feed. Never mind that every message ends up being truncated on Twitter, so that Twitter users see things like this: Join our staff, donors, participants, volunteers & allies as we march on Saturday to support the vital issue in our community regarding… with a link for more information. Most people will NOT click on that link to find out what in the heck you are talking about!

3) You don’t list every public event by your organization on the events function on Facebook, so that people can mark “interested” or “attending” and, therefore, receive automatic reminders of the event as the date approaches, or get an idea of who else is interested or who is attending. It also makes it easier for others to share those event details with others via Facebook.

4) You don’t have your organization’s full name in your Twitter profile. That means, if anyone wants to tag your organization in a tweet or wants to follow you, it will be difficult to find you, and they may even use the wrong Twitter handle, driving traffic to someone else instead of you.

5) You post only “one way” messages to Twitter and Facebook, rather than posts that encourage engagement, like questions, or posts that say “Tell us what you think about…”

6) On Twitter, you don’t participate in Tweetchats, you don’t respond to other organization’s tweets, you don’t retweet other organization’s messages – you don’t ENGAGE.

7) On Facebook, you don’t “like” or comment on the status updates of other organizations. You want them to do that for you, but you don’t do the same for them.

8) On Facebook, you don’t reply to or even “like” comments made on your status update. That means no one ever knows if you care that they’ve provided feedback on your activities.

9) You don’t thank people that share your Tweets or Facebook status updates.

10) On Twitter, you don’t spend any time reading tweets by others – you just tweet your own messages. That’s like going to a conference, shoving your brochure into people’s hands and walking away, never listening to them, never meeting anyone, never attending workshops.

11) You post far more messages encouraging donations than you post about accomplishments by your organization, things your volunteers have been up to,

12) You work with teens but don’t use Instagram.

13) You don’t experiment with GooglePlus or YouTube or Snap Chat, because you couldn’t figure out the value a year or two ago.

14) You have something awesome in your email newsletter and I want to share just that item via Facebook, but it’s not on your Facebook feed nor your Web site (except as maybe in a PDF version of your newsletter, which no one reads online) Feb. 22, 2017 addition

If you changed your ways regarding social media:

  • your donors and volunteers would feel more strongly about supporting you,
  • your donors would be more motivated to continue giving and volunteers would feel more motivated to complete assignments and take on more,
  • the media would be more inclined to contact you regarding a story or for your comment on current events,
  • you are more likely to attract new donors and volunteers,
  • your staff would become even better versed in talking about their work,
  • other organizations would be more inclined to refer others to you, to collaborate with you and to rely on you

Also see:

The legacy of early tech4good initiatives

UNLogoThe Internet changes so quickly. As does our offline world. It’s amazing not only how quickly web sites go away, but how often entire initiatives are scrubbed online as well – even major United Nations initiatives that were covered extensively once-upon-a-time in major media. That’s a big problem if much of your professional work has been for and with online initiatives.

I’ve been working with organizations online since the 1990s, and many of those organizations are long gone. The initiatives I worked with may have gotten coverage from major media outlets and had huge names behind them back in the day – David Bowie, Bill Clinton, Bono, Nelson Mandela and more – and done a lot of great work, but when those initiatives go away, so do their web sites, all their research and all the records of their work – sometimes from the Internet Wayback Machine as well.

You may think outdated information is no longer useful and should go away. The reality is that “old” information is often vitally important. If anything, it often offers baseline data you can use to compare with data now, and together, it shows you, for instance, if the situation has improved for women online, or if the challenges for women getting online are the same now as they were in the 1990s, or if the promises made now regarding technology are the same unrealized promises from 20 or 30 years ago, and on and on. Having access to old information can also help you avoid previous missteps – or rediscover something that never should have gone away that you can use now.

If you can remember a defunct initiative’s web site address, you can often find archived versions of the site at archive.org, a site I use at least a few times a month. But if you can’t remember a defunct initiative’s URL, you may never be able to find deleted information again. And, as has already been noted, archive.org may not have the web site; sometimes, new owners of an organization ask for old web sites to be taken down, and the site complies.

Early in 2016, I started spending a lot of time updating various pages on Wikipedia related to subjects of greatest interest to me, including several defunct tech4good initiatives. Many times, when I’m trying to find information about a now-defunct volunteering or tech initiative, a Google or Bing search leads me to a page on Wikipedia, but the information isn’t always up-to-date or complete. When I can improve an entry, I do. But a big problem with Wikipedia is that someone can come along at any time and rewrite and delete all of your hard work – or even delete an entire page you have relied on for reference for modern research projects and proposals. I’ll keep updating Wikipedia, but I’ve realized there’s a need to create a more permanent archive of some of the volunteering and tech initiatives with which I’ve been associated, as well as those that I know did great work in the past.

So I have created the following pages on my own web site, to more permanently capture this information. Some pages are just summaries, while other sections are comprehensive. Whenever possible, I’ve included the original URLs, so that you can use archive.org to see complete web sites of these initiatives yourself, if they are there at all. I hope this info is helpful to those who worked on such initiatives in the past and would like to reference this work, as well as helpful to those doing research on the impact of nonprofit/NGO tech use, tech4good, ICT4D, volunteering and other initiatives.

I also hope these pages will be a caution to those who launching so-called disruptive technologies, or a tech tool or management approach the designers believe is entirely new and innovative, or a tool or approach with some pie-in-the-sky promises: always look at what’s been done before. You might be surprised to find that what you were promising now, or think you invented, was talked about many years ago:

United Nations Tech4Good / ICT4D Initiatives, a list of the various UN initiatives that have been launched since 2000 to promote the use of computers, feature phones, smart phones and various networked devices in development and humanitarian activities, to promote digital literacy and equitable access to the “information society,” and to bridge the digital divide. My goal in creating this page is to help researchers, as well as to remind current UN initiatives that much work regarding ICT4D has been done by various UN employees, consultants and volunteers for more than 15 years (and perhaps longer?).

United Nations Technology Service (UNITeS), a global volunteer initiative created by Kofi Annan in 2000. UNITeS both supported volunteers applying information and communications technologies for development (ICT4D) and promoted volunteerism as a fundamental element of successful ICT4D initiatives. It was administered by the UN Volunteers program, part of UNDP, and during the tenure of UNITeS, the UNV program helped place and/or support more than 300 volunteers applying ICT4D in more than 50 developing countries, including 28 Least Developed Countries (LDC), making it one of the largest volunteering in ICT4D initiatives. Part of the UNITeS mandate was to try to track all of the various tech volunteering initiatives and encourage them to share their best practices and challenges with each other. UNITeS was discontinued as an active program in 2005.

What Was NetAid?
A history of the NetAid initiative, part of which became the UN’s Online Volunteering service. This is what I was referring to specifically with all that name-dropping at the start of this blog.

Lessons from onlinevolunteering.org
Some key learnings from directing the UN’s Online Volunteering service from February 2001 to February 2005, when I directed the initiative, including support materials for those using the service to host online volunteers. This material, most of which I authored, was recently removed from the latest version of the OV service.

Tech Volunteer Groups / ICT4D Volunteers
A list of tech volunteering initiatives, some defunct, some still going strong, that recruit tech experts to volunteer their time support either local nonprofit organizations or NGOs in developing countries regarding computer hardware, software and Internet tech-related tasks.

The Virtual Volunteering Project
In 1995, a then-new nonprofit organization called Impact Online, based in Palo Alto, California, began promoting the idea of virtual volunteering, a phrase that was probably first used by one of Impact Online’s co-founders, Steve Glikbarg. In 1996, Impact Online received a grant from the James Irvine Foundation to launch an initiative to research the practice of virtual volunteering and to promote the practice to nonprofit organizations in the United States. This new initiative was dubbed the Virtual Volunteering Project, and the Web site was launched in early 1997. After one year, the Virtual Volunteering Project moved to the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and Impact Online became VolunteerMatch. I directed the project from December 1996 through January 2001, when I left for the UN; the project was then discontinued. This is an archive of the Virtual Volunteering Project web site just before I left.

Early History of Nonprofits & the Internet
The Internet has always been about people and organizations networking with each other, sharing ideas and comments, and collaborating online. It has always been interactive and dynamic. And there were many nonprofit organizations who “got” it early — earlier than many for-profit companies. So I’ve attempted to set the record straight: I’ve prepared a web page that talks about the early history of nonprofits and the Internet. It focuses on 1995 and previous years. It talks a little about what nonprofits were using the cyberspace for as well at that time and lists the names of key people and organizations who helped get nonprofit organizations using the Internet in substantial numbers in 1995 and before. Edits and additions are welcomed.

Also see:

Incredibly Sad News re Gary Chapman Internet Pioneer

This article from the Nonprofit Quarterly about nonprofits losing critical archives as tech changes rapidly. In the article, the Atlantic is quoted:

Digital space is finite and expensive. Digitally stored data can become corrupted and decay as electrical charges used to encode information into binary bits leak out over time, altering the contents. And any enduring information could be lost if the software to access it becomes obsolete. Or a potent, well-timed coronal mass ejection could cause irreparable damage to electronic systems.

For an effort to be sustainable, volunteers & activists need a break

Many national and state legislators in the USA are reporting record attendance at their public meetings, and their phone lines are constantly busy and voice mail accounts are constantly full, as constituents call in record numbers. The largest series of protest marches that have ever occurred in the USA in one day happened on January 21, 2017, the Women’s March, and there has been a range of protests, big and small, ever since. People are holding legislative and editorial letter-writing parties at their house, for attendees to pressure legislators and the media regarding various issues. VolunteerMatch is reporting a record number of people visiting its web site and signing up to volunteer – according to an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (it’s behind a paywall – can be seen by subscribers only), VolunteerMatch set a single-day record with more than 72,355 unique visitors on January 24, four days after the new president was inaugurated. VolunteerMatch’s second busiest day was November 10, two days after the election, with 69,318 visitors. January 25 and November 15 ranked third and fourth in web traffic.

The amount of civic participation in the USA right now is staggering. But it’s also unsustainable. People will need a break. They will also need to be re-inspired at some point. Those are critical points that those supporting and managing these activists and volunteers need to keep in mind.

I’ve been more politically active since November than I’ve been in more than 20 years, and I’m exhausted. So, a week ago, I wrote on Facebook “Sometimes, you have to cash in some privilege and go to the beach….”  and posted photos of me, my husband and our dog at a beach. One of my Facebook friends got upset, affirming that just because you can go to the beach, you aren’t privileged, that lots of people of various ethnicities go to the beach, etc.

In my computer’s dictionary, the word privilege is defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. And, therefore, being able to go to the beach amid green cards getting canceled, families and children living in terror for fear of some members being deported, millions of people realizing they won’t have health insurance after 2017, women’s health care choices being restricted, people’s water supplies threatened by pipelines and dangerous amounts of lead and an upswing in racially-charged language, is, indeed, a privilege.

wizardMy colleague and friend, Erin Barnhart, was one of the people organizing the Oregon members of the January 21 March for Women in Washington, DC.  I’ve no doubt her fellow organizers were so thankful for her extensive volunteer management knowledge and highly sensitive nature, especially her incredible sensitivity to difference. I also know that she’s exhausted and needs a break! She wrote the following on her Facebook page and, with her permission, I’m sharing it here:

There’s a concept in volunteer management that I and others like to call “stepping forward, stepping back.” Here’s how it works: volunteers collaborate as a team and, as life obligations interfere or energy is depleted, people are able to step back from the work for a time while others step forward to carry the load. When they return to the team, they then make it easier for others to temporarily step back from the circle. It’s a great way to keep projects going while also making appropriate space for people’s needs. This model is on my mind today.

Specifically, I’m aware of my privilege as I post photos of a sunny vacation while, around the country, people are still protesting, filing legal briefs, fighting for their and other’s civil rights with everything they’ve got. While I enjoyed a walk by the beach, camps were being cleared at Standing Rock. The fight continues and the work hasn’t stopped. Indeed, in many ways, it’s only just begun.

My goal this week is to enjoy time with my mom and to engage in some much needed self care. There’s a long battle ahead and I intend to be in it. That said, as I step back knowing that others have stepped forward, I will also do my best to stay aware and engaged, bearing witness and signal boosting where and when I can.

The takeaway from this self-aware post is, I hope, this: Step back as needed, folks. Take care of yourselves if and how you can. You are needed and valued and we will step forward to cover you. Thank you to everyone doing the hard work this week so that I can step back myself.

Remember that your volunteers and activists need to step back and take care of themselves sometimes. They may need a break. And you, the lead volunteer or lead manager of volunteers, may need to tell them that, explicitly. And you may need a break yourself! Don’t feel guilty; refresh, reboot, recharge.

You also need to help re-inspire your volunteers and activists. Don’t just focus in your messages to them on things they need to be doing to support a cause – give them reasons to celebrate sometimes. You might need volunteers who are focused specifically on identifying the impact of activists’ efforts.

See you out there – or at the beach.

Also see:

Facebook use to organize Women’s Marches: lessons learned

Being emotionally ready to volunteer – or to continue volunteering