Monthly Archives: July 2014

When volunteers compete

Have you had problems with mission-competition among volunteers: an environment where volunteers compete in terms of more-devoted-to-the-cause-than-thou, or have mission-purity-tests for their fellow volunteers?

Some examples:

Several years ago, an animal shelter in a large city asked me for advice. They were working towards becoming a no-kill shelter. That means they wanted to create the conditions that would allow them to never have to kill adoptable dogs and cats – where they could have the resources to house every adoptable dog and cat, at the shelter or in foster homes, and get those animals adopted permanently as quickly as possible. That’s a massive undertaking. It requires vast amounts of money, facilities, messaging and volunteers.

The shelter was quite successful in recruiting a lot of volunteers to the cause, but a problem had appeared, and was growing: volunteers who were against hunting wanted to exclude people that were hunters from volunteering at the shelter. Arguments were erupting among volunteers with different viewpoints about hunting. A lot of volunteers were threatening to leave, either because they did not want to work with hunters or because they felt such hostility from other volunteers.

A few years before that, I was volunteering with a pro-choice coalition, made up of members representing a variety of groups working to ensure women’s access to safe, legal abortion services. Some of the groups were focused primarily on improving legislation and helping law enforcement to understand their responsibilities, while other groups were focused on defending health clinics from protesters on a day-to-date basis. Some groups members were anti-religious, while others felt their religious faith was the basis for the pro-choice work. While everyone was on the same page regarding reproductive choice, feelings about abortion varied HUGELY. Volunteers from both groups clashed often over which was the best approach for protecting women’s health decisions.

I thought about these two situations when I read this comment from a friend’s Facebook page:

This…..this whole “Lemme tell ya somethin’ ” attitude….. is THE reason I am getting out of dealing with non-profits. I will not be volunteering to do anything for a non-profits ever again. I can not tell you how many times I’ve gone into a situation full well knowing that I will put my prejudices aside ( organic food) to work for the larger picture ( sustainability or local farmers…etc…..) only to realize that *I* am the only person in the room who has checked their own personal agenda at the door.

Preventing this kind of mission competition among volunteers is far easier than trying to solve a problem that has festered too long. Some ideas:

  • Screening volunteers for attitude
  • Explaining to volunteers at their orientation, at other meetings and in your online group for volunteers what the mission of the organization is, and that the mission is ALWAYS the primary objective – that it can usurp how long someone has volunteered with the organization, a long-practiced tradition at the organization, etc. Be explicit about what mission competition among volunteers might look like, and why you want to discourage it.
  • Explaining to volunteers at their orientation, at other meetings and in your online group for volunteers your written rules regarding respect among volunteers. Very easy to find statements regarding workplace respect on or
  • Explaining to volunteers at their orientation, at other meetings and in your online group for volunteers your acknowledgement of different points-of-view among volunteers regarding why they support your organization’s mission.
  • Talking with volunteers directly that may be creating this mission-competition among volunteers.


How do you know if you are facing this problem? ASK! Ask volunteers why they are leaving, and ask volunteers what stresses them at your organization. Don’t just ask once: ask in informal meetings, ask at formal, official meetings, ask in feedback surveys, and ask on your online community.

Latest reviews of The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook

vvbooklittleHere are some of the latest reviews of The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook:

“We are engaging volunteers with smart phones to review public venues for accessibility. I must say the full review does take more like 45 minutes instead of 10. This information is then available on a website to anyone who might need it. We have found we are making people more aware of the needs of those with different abilities and the volunteers are loving this virtual opportunity. The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook was invaluable!”

— Marty O’Dell, CVA, Volunteer Program Manager, Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley, Dayton Ohio, USA, via the comments section for Susan Ellis’ July 2014 Hot Topic.

“I highly recommend the Guidebook to all association leaders, directors of volunteers in agencies, NGO directors and faith based organizational leaders. Guidebook is a must read and resource guide that should be on the desk of any serious leader of volunteers.”

From his review of The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, July 24, 2014 by Thomas McKee (also posted to our page on Amazon).

If you read the book, I would so appreciate it if you could write and post a review of it on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble web sites (you can write the same review on both sites).

Jayne in Kiev, Ukraine for all August & Sept.

For all of August and September, I will be the SURGE Communications Officer in Kiev, Ukraine, and assist UNDP Ukraine and other UN country teams with the development and day-to-day implementation of communications and publication strategies. I’ll also monitor progress of the UN country teams response to the crises in Ukraine “with a view to influence the development agenda,” by helping with public and media outreach, to help people to understand the work and accomplishments of  UNDP in Ukraine. I’ll be helping to build the capacities of the staff to continue these communications activities long after I’ve gone.

Supposedly, I’ll get to work with various communications managers, staff of other UN Agencies, government officials, international and local media, multi-lateral and bi-lateral donors and civil society. According to the job description, I’ll be:

  • Planning and designing internal and external strategies for communications and outreach
  • Supervising the design and maintenance of the UNDP web site and intranets (and I hope other online activities as well)
  • Facilitating knowledge building and knowledge sharing
  • Etc.

That’s a tall order in two months, but I’m ready! I love getting to work in my first love: communications in development programs. I love designing and carrying out communications plans, but I also love building the capacity of people to communicate, to deliver effective messages, to anticipate issues, to be responsive, etc. My favorite work in Afghanistan, the last time I worked for the UN, was building public sector staff communications capacities in Afghanistan, something I squeezed in amid my primary responsibilities of writing and editing reports for various institutions, and I continue to do that capacity-building work with Afghan colleagues to this day, as an online volunteer. I’m so looking forward to getting to do this kind of work again!

I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m thrilled, I’m scared – not of the political situation in Ukraine but of meeting the expectations of this job!

Of course, this has come at a cost: I was to present in Austin, Texas in September, to do a volunteer management training for AmeriCorps members in Portland, Oregon, to do a training back in my hometown of Henderson, Kentucky, and lots of personal plans. There were people I haven’t seen in many, many years, and people I was to meet onsite, face-to-face, that I’ve known only online, all lined up for August and September. That’s the cost of doing this type of short-term work overseas – it never happens at a convenient time. And, of course, I’m missing the very best time to be in Oregon – and will be missing my husband terribly.

The worst part, though, is Delta Airlines: I already have a roundtrip ticket booked with them for Germany, for a vacation with my husband. My Ukraine contract ends just three days before I was to arrive in Germany from the USA. You would think Delta would simply let me keep that ticket – already paid for – and then just not use the USA to Germany part, allowing me to simply buy a flight from Kiev to Frankfurt, and then using just the return ticket – again, it’s all already paid for. And you would be WRONG. Unless I fly out from the USA to Germany, I would pay almost $5000 for the flight back from Germany to the USA! If I don’t show up for the outbound flight, they will cancel my return ticket! So I have to fly all the way back to the USA from Ukraine, stay TWO days, and get right back on a plane for Europe. Can you believe it?!? There is no logic for this. None. None whatsoever.

Anyway, I’ll post updates about my work here and via my various online social network channels.

If you are or have been in Kiev, Ukraine, do drop me a line with any advice you have!

global survey on volunteer management software – revisited

In 2012, Rob Jackson ( and Jayne Cravens ( — ME — drafted and circulated a survey regarding software used to manage volunteer information. The purpose of the survey was to gather some basic data that might help organizations that involve volunteers to make better-informed decisions when choosing software, and to help software designers to understand the needs of those organizations. We also wanted to get a sense of what organizations were thinking about volunteer management software.

We promoted the survey every way we knew how – emailing our contacts directly, posting to various online discussion groups, posting repeatedly to our social networks, and asking others to share the survey with their readers and networks. Then we published the results of the survey here (in PDF); it includes an executive summary of our findings, as well as the complete responses to questions and our analysis of such.

It’s the two-year anniversary of this survey, and we think the results are still quite useful. Software companies and designers: you can learn a LOT from this report to improve your products and your communications with customers!

What we learned:

We learned how much managers of volunteers love spreadsheets, even those that have specialized software for managing volunteers.

We also learned a lot from this report that has nothing to do with software. In the survey, we asked a lot of questions that didn’t relate directly to software, like about how many volunteers these organizations managed, as well as what volunteers did. And the answers about what volunteers do at various organizations were surprising.

Rob and I did not have time to analyze all of the comments made in answer to some questions; for all questions, we listed the comments made, but we did not always offer any observations about such, or group the responses into categories. We welcome the efforts of other researchers to offer their own analysis of the data provided.

The thing I have learned since then: I’m not sure volunteer management software is what every organization needs to track and schedule volunteers. The more I talk to people working with volunteers, the more I think that seeking function-based software (scheduling, performance, etc.) rather than volunteer-management software is the answer for a lot of organizations. I’ll write more about that soon.

Perspectives on Volunteering: Voices from the South

A new book on volunteer activity is in the making for the ISTR Book Series: Perspectives on Volunteering: Voices from the South. The aim of this volume is to articulate and examine theories, and perspectives on volunteering in the “South”, meaning presenting various angles of volunteer activity in countries considered developing countries and countries in transition. Comparative issues of all countries are welcome as well as examples of volunteering in  North/South or South/South experiences.

There is a group authors already involved in this publication. “We are interested in would be authors that are working on these issues. To researchers with an interest in this topic, this is an open invitation  to attend a meeting at the ISTR conference in Muenster [Germany]. For those who cannot attend and are interested, please contact the editor.”

Place: University of Muenster (Germany). Room Vom Stein Haus  VS-17
Time : Friday, July 25.   12:30 PM.
parallel to the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR) International Conference

Editor:  Jacqueline Butcher, Ph. D

More info:

The chapters in this book approach volunteering through a series of essays and case studies that present recent academic research, thinking and practice on volunteering. Working from the premise that volunteering is “universal” this collection draws on experiences from Latin America, Africa including Egypt and selected parts of Asia. There is a focus on developing countries and countries in transition documents a fresh set of experiences and perspectives on volunteering. These accounts complement the conventional focus in the literature on ‘the developed’ world – largely northern or western experiences from Europe and North America. While developing countries and countries in transition are in the spotlight for this volume, the developed country experience is not ignored. Rather it is used in this anthology, as a critical reference point for comparisons, allowing points of convergence, disconnect and intersection to emerge.

The primary aim and contribution of this anthology will be to articulate and examine the opinions and perspectives on volunteering in the South. The second objective is to provide a counter point to the dominant conceptual and empirical account of volunteering. Consequently, in identifying chapters the proposed editor did not discount evidence from northern and western countries and rather included this where possible in survey and quantitative studies as a useful reference point and basis for comparison. Finally, the tertiary objective promotes the fuller complexity and texture on volunteering, highlighting its promotion through an appreciation of its potential and promise for expression and impact in different cultures and contexts.

Authors and suggested chapters to date:

Section 1: Volunteering: An introduction and theoretical framework

Chapter 1: Volunteering: a complex social phenomenon
Jacqueline BUTCHER

Section 2: Patterns of Volunteering

Chapter 2: The economic value of volunteering: Comparative estimates among developing, transitional, and developed countries.
Lester SALAMON and Megan HADDOCK

Chapter 3: The effects of volunteering on poverty and development in China, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal and the Philippines
Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO) and the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex University.

Chapter 4: Youth, service and volunteering: A comparative perspective in developing nations.
National Youth Service (NYS)

Chapter 5: The global perspective in corporate volunteering: a focus on the South.

Section 3: Empirical approaches

Chapter 6: Organic/ indigenous practices of volunteering in Uruguay: The influence on Public Policy.
Analía BETTONI and Javier PEREIRA

Chapter 7: Solidarity and Volunteering: a Mexican Study.
Jacqueline BUTCHER and Gustavo VERDUZCO

Chapter 8: Individual volunteering and giving: How and why ordinary individuals give in the context of South Africa: a case study of Gauteng Province.

Chapter 9: Promising practices from national programs across the African continent: Preparing youth for citizenship , employment and sustainable livelihoods.
Helene PEROLD and Karena CRONIN

Chapter 10: A typology of local and International volunteering experiences from Tanzania and Mozambique.

Chapter 11: Volunteering at the grassroots: Celebrating the Joy of Volunteering in India

Chapter 12: Beyond images and perceptions: How important is voluntary action in Buenos Aires?

Chapter 13: Employee volunteering in South Africa.
Fiona BUDD

Chapter 14: Models, developments and effects of trans-border youth volunteer exchange programmes in eastern and southern Africa.

Chapter 15 : Volunteerism and the state: understanding the development of volunteering in China
Ying XU and Ngai PUN

Chapter 16: NGO management of volunteers: the case of Egypt.

Section 4 Conclusions -Volunteer participation.

Chapter 17: Conclusions about experiences and perspectives that come from the South.
Jacqueline BUTCHER

More information about the editor:
Dra. Jacqueline Butcher García-Colín
Directora, Centro de Investigación y Estudios sobre Sociedad Civil, A.C.
conocimiento  para la acción social
Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Ciudad de México
Escuela de Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales

Growing backlash against volunteerism?

I first learned of people being against volunteerism back in 1997, when a three-day bipartisan presidential summit aimed at boosting volunteerism and community service efforts across the USA kicked off in Philadelphia.  I was directing the Virtual Volunteering Project at the time. There were arguments from both the far-right and the far-left, and I did my best to compile them. When I would bring up these arguments at various volunteerism conferences or on online groups, my colleagues usually just scoffed – it’s just extremists, it’s not something we need to worry about. 

Since then, I’ve kept an eye on these arguments against volunteerism, because I feel strongly that the arguments must be addressed. Organizations recruiting volunteers need to have these arguments in mind when they are crafting recruitment messages and when they are talking about the value of volunteers. When organizations ignore these arguments against volunteerism, or deny them, they end up with dysfunctional volunteer engagement programs, lack of support for volunteer engagement and, sometimes, very pad PR.

This came to mind over the weekend when I saw this comment in a friend’s Facebook feed:

I’d rather find the means of capitalization and pay people to do the work at hand than to bother with the volunteer work ethic or ability. I was never more personally insulted than as the president of the board of my church.

If you are talking about volunteer involvement as a way to save money, and volunteer contributions in terms of monetary value, then you are part of the problem – you are creating the fuel for these political arguments against volunteerism. And if you are not asking volunteers why they are leaving your organization, and addressing those reasons, you are creating ex-volunteers who are sharing their views with friends and colleagues and further creating a bad image not just for your organization, but for volunteering as a whole.

My other blogs and web pages on this controversy:

Note that the links within some blogs may not work, as I moved all of my blogs from Posterous to WordPress a few months ago, and it broke all of the internal links. Also, some web pages on other organization’s sites have moved since I linked to such, and I either don’t know or haven’t been able to find a new location for the material.

Who Takes the Lead on Exploration of Tech at a Mission-Based Org?

IT managers and IT consultants play an essential role in helping mission-based organizations – nonprofits, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies, community groups, etc. – to use technology to meet the goals of the organization.

That said, however, an IT manager is not always the best person to lead at a mission-based organization regarding what Internet, computer and smart phone tools an organization or department should be using.

When I first began encouraging organizations to explore the possibilities of virtual volunteering back in the mid 1990s, many of the outspoken critics of virtual volunteering were IT managers at nonprofit and government agencies. Many IT managers were not supporters – they were OBSTACLES. The same was true when I began promoting accessibility as a fundamental element of web site design a little while later. In both cases, IT managers threw up a variety of arguments as to why neither of these strategies were worthwhile for mission-based organizations, almost all relating to cost or security and they expressed great fear at the “vast” amounts of work that pursuing either of these activities would cause them and the organization. Some IT managers even went so far as to tell managers of volunteers they were not allowed to involve volunteers via the Internet.

Thank goodness so many managers at mission-based organizations explored technology issues on their own, and became experts in their own right regarding how virtual volunteering, web accessibility, and other tech-related practices could be used in their organizations and could benefit their clients, employees and volunteers. I worked with many nonprofit managers, particularly managers of volunteer, helping them to develop counter arguments to IT managers reluctance to let them explore the use of various ICT tools in their jobs. The drive to use the Internet and computers to work with volunteers, as well as to make nonprofit web sites to be accessible for people with disabilities, has been lead by NON IT staff!

That isn’t to say that all ICT consultants and managers try to block the exploration and use of ICTs in nonprofit activities. Many have been quite supportive of mission-based staff’s exploration and use of ICTs – and, indeed, of virtual volunteering and accessibility. But the reality is that ICT consultants and managers need to work directly with nonprofit staff that are managing client programs, managing HR, managing volunteers, and so forth in making tech-related decisions TOGETHER. They need to listen to the organization’s volunteers as well. IT managers need to listen and to support these employees and volunteers in exploring tech that could help them in their work with the organization.

Many publications have tackled the subject of how to address non-IT staff resistance at mission-based organizations to using Internet and computer technologies. Let’s explore the other side of this issue: how have you, as a non-IT staff person at a mission-based organization, overcome IT staff or consultant resistance to things like:

  • installing and supporting your use of a database program or other software that you feel that you need in your job
  • involving volunteers via the Internet, including having interactive features on your web site for volunteers
  • making your web site accessible for people with disabilities or others using assistive technology
  • exploring the use of Linux or Open Source technologies at your organization

A version of this article first appeared in Tech4Impact, my email newsletter, in January 2003. 


Fans of celebrities & virtual volunteering

Back in the 1990s, I created a section on the Virtual Volunteering Project web site that was focused on how fans of TV shows, movies, singers, sports clubs and celebrities were using the Internet to coordinate philanthropic acts. This was everything from asking people attending a group viewing of a show to bring canned food for a local food bank to organizing an online auction to raise money for a celebrity’s favorite charity. These fans were engaging in philanthropy with no coordination from any charity or the celebrity – they self-organized and off they went, with the Internet playing a central role in their activities.

This kind of virtual volunteering is continuing today! While the volunteering or other philanthropy might happen onsite, the coordination and connection among volunteers is happening mostly online.

One of the most recent examples I found is by fans of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who call themselves the Cumbercollective. They are organizing an event to coincide with the actor’s birthday, July 19:

While it’s wonderful that many are able to donate to charity fundraisers in honor of Benedict’s birthday… some fans might find ourselves unable to do so. So, Batch of Kindness was born. What better way to celebrate the birthday of this extraordinary man than to perform acts that show generosity of spirit?

Let’s see how many lives we can impact, even in the smallest of ways, as we fulfill his request to “throw love” to those that need it. The Cumbercollective can give a Batch of Kindness to the world by giving of ourselves in honor of Benedict, who inspires us by his example.

Batch of Kindness organizers have offered these ideas for fans to undertake, and are encouraging participants to tweet about their activities with the tag #batchofkindness on  July 19.

I hope the group will also explore virtual volunteering for their members, online micro volunteering, and group activities so that members can do something together.

Other recent examples:

The Harry Potter Alliance: “We are an army of fans, activists, nerdfighters, teenagers, wizards and muggles dedicated to fighting for social justice with the greatest weapon we have– love. Join us!”

The 501st Legion (Star Wars) “While our organization was founded to simply provide a collective identity for costuming fans with similar interests, the 501st is proud to put its resources to good use through fundraising, charity work, and volunteerism.”

Examples cited in my original article include fans of The X-Files Fans, Xena and Barry Manilow. I also have an archived list from the 1990s that lists fans of Star Trek, Elvis, Christian Bale and more.

I’m sad that I didn’t find a group of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fans that promote volunteering and donations to support nonprofits that work for the empowerment of women and girls. Is it out there and I just didn’t find it? Do I need to start it? (ha)

You have an obligation to be truthful online

Because of the Internet and text messaging, it has never been easier to share information – or misinformation.

Also because of the Internet and text messaging, we’ve all become mass communicators. This isn’t the same as passing around a Christmas letter to the family, sending cards to friends or showing a video of the company picnic at a gathering of co-workers. Posting a blog is publishing. Posting a Facebook status update is publishing. Posting a video on YouTube is broadcasting. Yes, it is. You may have set your privacy settings so that only your friends can see what you have published or broadcast, but they have the ability to cut and paste your ideas into their own publications or broadcasts.

And because of all of the aforementioned, you have an obligation in all of your publishing and broadcasting to be truthful – that includes what you forward. I’m not talking about jokes or satire. I’m talking about “Here’s an article from The New York Times” you are sharing because you saw it on someone else’s page – did you make sure it really is from The New York Times? Did you take 15 seconds or less to cut one sentence from the article and paste it into Google or Bing and to see what comes up – a NYT link or a Snopes article debunking the story? (I timed it – it really does take just 15 seconds or less).

You don’t have to be a journalist to have ethics. And you still get to post all sorts of opinions and thoughts and dreams and hopes and fears and jokes and pretty pictures wherever you like, however you like, to whomever you like. But take just 15 seconds or less before you post that amazing story about a boy with cancer or a heroic dog or some outrageous action or comment by someone you don’t like, to make sure it’s true.

What are the consequences of NOT being a responsible citizen of cyberspace? These:

  • You cast doubt on everything you say, once people start to figure out they can’t trust something you post online.
  • You can be seen as careless, once people start to realize you didn’t verify an article before you posted it, an article they initially believed.
  • It’s disrespectful to your network – shouldn’t friends, family and colleagues expect you to respect them enough to verify the information you share with them?
  • You cast doubt on news that IS true. What if there really is a kid with cancer who needs donations, but people don’t believe it because they know that a story you posted about a kid with cancer wasn’t true?

Do you really want the to be associated with untrustworthiness and carelessness? Don’t your friends and family deserve more?

What to do when you find out something you posted is not true? Take it down and replace it with correct information, along with an apology.

I’ve posted information a few times that I thought was true and that turned out not to be. As a trained journalist, I was mortified by my carelessness. I try to use each of those experiences to be a more responsible publisher and broadcaster. Because that’s what my friends, family and colleagues deserve from me.

Related subjects:

Folklore / text messaging interfering with development, aid/relief & public health initiatives

Rampant misinformation online re: Mumbai (from the archives)

Myths aren’t just annoying – they promote hatred

Citizen journalism/crowd-sourcing gone wrong?

Social media: cutting both ways since the 1990s

Reaching women in socially-conservative areas

This was originally posted on my blog in October 2009

While I was in Afghanistan, I was notorious for kicking-back field reports that stated “the community was consulted” about this or that project, but that never said if the decision-making included any women. Sadly, the report writers often came back to me with a scowl and lots of excuses about why women weren’t included when “the community was consulted.”

When you work in humanitarian and development efforts, you must always be aware that talking to the official leadership of a community, a region, whatever, does not mean you are hearing about the needs of all citizens, such as minority populations or even majority populations — women. There are ways to seek out and include women in even socially-conservative areas so that they can be a part of decision-making.

A good example of this is an intervention in Egypt which used Egyptian women to reach other women regarding eye care, highlighted in a brief article by the Community Eye Health Journal. The successful strategy they employed was this:

  • The team undertaking the intervention held various meetings and presentations to establish a trusting relationship with local policy makers, local health authorities, local community leaders, local non-government organizations (NGOs), etc.
  • The team used this network to explain that women weren’t receiving eye care at the same rate as men, and that saving or restoring women’s sight benefits the whole family.
  • The team used this network to identify local women with previous experience in community development projects who could be trained to reach female community members in the intervention villages, as they would be able to enter homes and meet with women without coming into conflict with local cultural practices.
  • 42 women were trained over three days, and 30 were selected as “health visitors,”
  • The health visitors then visited 90 per cent of the population in the two intervention villages from March to December 2007.
  • During each visit, health visitors explained to women that saving or restoring their own sight would benefit the whole family. Each family received a variety of educational materials, including a calendar with illustrations relating to eye care and information on the importance of seeking eye care for the women in the household.

The result of training local women to do the outreach to other local women was a huge surge in the number of women receiving eye care as part of this intervention. And maybe something more: a change in the way the community viewed the value of its women? That wasn’t measured, unfortunately.

Of course, Egypt isn’t Afghanistan. Every country presents special challenges when it comes to reaching women regarding development interventions. But there’s always a way! Regardless of your role in humanitarian or development efforts, always make reaching women a priority.

What’s your advice?

See also:
Folklore, Rumors (or Rumours) and Urban Myths Interfering with Development and Aid/Relief Efforts, and Government Initiatives (and how these are overcome)
Building Staff Capacities to Communicate and Present (materials developed for Afghanistan).