hey, corporations: time to put your money where your mouth is re: nonprofits & innovation

logoI started talking about virtual volunteering – without knowing it was called that – as early as 1994, more than 30 years ago. Soon after I started babbling about it, I directed The Virtual Volunteering Project, based at the University of Texas, back in the late 1990s. Back then, I thought that, by now, well into the 21st century, there would be corporations clamoring to sponsor virtual volunteering activities and events. I could see back in the 1990s that this wasn’t just a fun idea – it was an effective one for nonprofits, NGOs, and volunteers themselves – and that it would become a widespread practice. I just knew corporations would want to be seen as leaders in the movement and, therefore, fund it.

Yet, 30 years later, while thousands of nonprofits all over the world have embraced using the Internet to support and involve volunteers, corporations remain largely silent in their involvement and support. I am frequently contacted by nonprofits and NGOs looking to expand their involvement of online volunteers, or that want to do something particularly interesting or innovative regarding virtual volunteering, but they need funding, and they want to know if I can help. And I can’t. Because corporations clamoring to be a part of virtual volunteering just hasn’t happened.

It’s not true of all corporations: the international telecommunications company Orange seems to get it, to a degree: Fundacja Orange (the Polish branch) partially funds the ground-breaking Discover E-Volunteering competition, the best showcase of new virtual volunteering initiatives on the planet. But, sadly, the UK branch of Orange seems to have already discontinued its Do Some Good smart phone app to help people volunteer through their mobile phone, launched in 2012 – less than three years ago. Hewlett-Packard used to have a pioneering e-mentoring program, bringing together their employees, as mentors, with high school students, and the program is frequently referenced in academic literature 20 years ago about the promise of e-mentoring – but that program is long gone, and I can’t find any association between HP and virtual volunteering anymore. Rolex seemed somewhat interested in microvolunteering, a version of virtual volunteering that engages online volunteers in micro tasks, but that initial interest seems to have quickly, completely waned. Cisco was a key financial and in-kind supporter of NetAid, a part of which became the UN’s Online Volunteering service, but that support ended in 2001.1

You’ve heard it and read it so many times: corporate folks chastising nonprofits and NGOs, saying those mission-based initiatives need to be more innovative, saying they need to embrace the latest network technologies and revolutionary management styles and on and on. Yet these same corporations demanding nonprofit innovation aren’t funding virtual volunteering-related initiatives.

Time to put your money where your mouth is, corporations: there are some terrific virtual volunteering activities out there. There are outstanding innovations happening at nonprofits and NGOs all over the world. You say you want more risk-taking, more innovations, more tech-use by mission-based organizations – okay, they stand ready to do it. All they need is the investment. Are YOU ready to put your money where your mouth is?

vvbooklittleAnd also… why haven’t you bought The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook?


1: The last sentence of this paragraph, regarding Cisco and NetAid, was added on July 24, 2015

Nov. 11, 2015 update:  Nonprofit leaders are not focusing enough attention on innovation, measuring the impact of their efforts, and creating funding structures that encourage risk-taking, according to a new report from Independent Sector. Great – who is going to FUND THOSE ACTIVITIES?!

7 thoughts on “hey, corporations: time to put your money where your mouth is re: nonprofits & innovation

  1. Jared Chung

    Interesting to read this perspective. I feel that we’re actually at the beginning of a second renaissance (arguably first renaissance) in virtual volunteering, driven by the recent advances in social tech. We’ve gone 100% on virtual volunteering, cutting any in-person volunteering out of our program completely, and so far corporations have been quite receptive. I’m optimistic that in 12 months you’ll have far more examples to get excited about (ours among them).

  2. jcravens Post author

    “and so far corporations have been quite receptive.” You don’t have to name the corporations that have been receptive – but how much money (cash – not in-kind) have they given you? Lots of corporations say they support virtual volunteering – but I just don’t see the cash.

  3. Scott Geller

    This is great — I’m going to buy the book now! I would love to talk with you more about virtual volunteering! please contact me so we can start on conversation.

  4. Shauna McGee Kinney


    What type of people have you seen succeed as role models in micro-volunteering?

    I believe that micro-volunteering is great for many types of volunteers – and for people in many stages of life. I recently read a great observation on the types of volunteers on this Canadian volunteering org’s page.


    Great statement, ” … You say you want more risk-taking, more innovations, more tech-use by mission-based organizations …”

    I feel your frustration. I recently tried to start an online Rotary Club, and struggled with founding members who were more concerned about traditional in-person Rotary activities, than online, self-directed volunteering. Many of the founding members became confrontational and critical of the members with micro-volunteering ideas. I feel your conflict inside the organised non-profits too.

    Needless to say, I continue to be a rogue-volunteer. I help groups on my own with no formal affiliation with any established group.

    How do you see online, micro-volunteering becoming the expected norm?

  5. jcravens Post author

    “How do you see online, micro-volunteering becoming the expected norm?”

    Virtual volunteering *is* the norm for thousands of nonprofits/NGOs and volunteers. I see those organizations not accepting it as the exception rather than the norm, as now it’s hard to find an organization that’s *not* engaged in virtual volunteering – even if they don’t know it. The fact that I had to abandon trying to identify every organization involving online volunteers back in 1998 because there were already SO MANY speaks volumes.

    The difficulty that online microvolunteering – which is one facet of virtual volunteering – faces doesn’t have to do with technology but, rather, with how difficult it is for nonprofits to identify tiny projects that volunteers can just drop in and do – online or onsite. The reality is that most nonprofits do not have the time or resources to break up much-needed tasks into the tiniest components possible and recruit the largest number of volunteers possible – they have things that need to be done, and they need it done the most efficient way possible that is best in line with their mission, and for many nonprofits, microvolunteering – online or onsite – just isn’t going to fit the bill (and that’s true of group volunteering as well).

    That said, microvolunteering, online and offsite, as well as group volunteering, are types of engagement nonprofits should always be thinking about. It would be a shame to miss an opportunity to employ these kinds of engagement.

    You wrote in a separate comment: “PS You are speaking to a topic that I am passionate about. And, I realised I wasn’t properly logged in when I sent you the previous comment. I am an American living in Perth. I recently have exchanged ideas with colleagues at iiNet (Australia). iiNet is an internet provider that helps their employees give skilled volunteering to community groups. The company also provides some of the devices, and internet connectivity to run the projects. (SMART idea!)

    Nice – but I’m still waiting to see the CASH. And it’s just not there.

  6. Shauna McGee Kinney


    Too true. The cash is usually too little and the beneficiary has to complete (pay for) the work before the cash arrives. (That is barely feasible, and often requires members to front money and wait for acquittal before getting paid back.)

    I am a serial volunteer. I spent 1.5 years from start to finish helping my sailing club get life jackets, a radio, binoculars and first aid training. It took over 6 months to get through the application process for $5000 AUD.

    BUT our sailing club didn’t actually get $5000 up front. We had to attend a grant induction, hang banners, advertise in local papers that we had opened a safety program, buy the items, and wait until the 12 month grant period ended to document how the funds were spent and receive the money. That was 18 months for $5000 loaned by my sailling club for the purchases, and many, many volunteer hours.

    Needless to say – the increase in the number of participants at our club triggered an audit of our sailing program by our managing body. I was unaware that years prior our renewal had not been filed, so the publicity from receiving the grant, and our PR around booking our youth sailing programs solid was enough to get our club noticed.

    In all of this type of volunteer work on a grant there was no energy or interest in breaking out a micro-volunteering project. I think projects are either all micro-volunteering, or full-time volunteer, but not both.

  7. jcravens Post author

    What a WONDERFUL illustration of just how much work has to go into raising just $5,000 – far more than $5,000 worth of labor! Also, I completely hear you re: microvolunteering – for so many organizations, it’s just not worth the vast amounts of time and energy to break volunteering tasks into microvolunteering tasks. It’s great if you have time – but not everyone does.

    Disappointed that the earlier poster who claimed corporations *are* giving money to fund virtual volunteering still hasn’t responded to my followup questions…


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