OPEN YOUR EYES:ONLINE VOLUNTEERING MAY BE RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU
Jayne Cravens and I are enjoying a variety of feedback about our new book, The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. But we admit frustration at one too-common reaction: “That seems interesting, but I don’t see how our organization would possibly involve online volunteers.” So this month’s Tip is: Open your eyes!
If virtual volunteering is still hard for you to accept comfortably, consider some of the points we raise in the book. For example, it is rare to find an organization where onsite volunteers are constantly under observation; most volunteers provide service out of sight of their manager, whether in a different cubicle, a different room, a different area of the facility, or away from the organization’s headquarters altogether. Volunteers who are youth group leaders, home visitors, coaches, mentors, and tutors generally provide their service out in the field (for some, literally out ina field). Obviously, organizations have long ago resolved their concerns about allowing certain volunteers the freedom to do their work, make judgment calls, and act responsibly without constant staff surveillance, even when those volunteers are working with children.
It is hard to imagine any volunteering effort where at least some integration of the Internet would not be appropriate or in which some Internet use with volunteers is not already happening.
Invisible Virtual Volunteering? There is a very good possibility that online service has evolved naturally at your agency already. You need to identify it. See what you can discover by asking some key questions:
- If your organization asks volunteers to visit clients in their homes, or to mentor or tutor people one-on-one at an offsite location or via the phone, or to do any sort of outreach into the community on your behalf, ask: Do volunteers ever interact with these clients/community members online as well, such as with e-mail, instant messaging or calls via Skype? How and how often?
- If there are volunteers helping with your organization’s Web site or with any computer or Internet tech-related issue, is all service being performed onsite, or are some activities being done via a volunteer’s home, work, or school computer? Ask this of both the employees who work with these volunteers and the volunteers themselves.
- If any volunteer assignments involve writing of any sort – editing a newsletter, doing research (probably, these days, online!), producing reports, etc. – don’t you expect to receive the materials in electronic form, via e-mail or posted to a cloud platform such as Dropbox or Google Docs?
- Are there any pro bono consultants at your organization? If so, are they interacting with employees online sometimes, in addition to onsite meetings, or doing their work (such as producing a report) offsite from your organization and submitting it via e-mail?
- Does the board of directors ever “discuss” issues via e-mail exchanges or live chat before a formal face-to-face meeting? What about various committees and advisory groups?
Chances are great that you will answer one or more of these questions affirmatively. So if you discover people are already doing virtual volunteering, call it what it is and do more! Maybe The LastVirtual Volunteering Guidebook really can help you.