Monthly Archives: December 2017

My most popular blogs of 2017

logoEach year, I review which of my blogs have attracted the most traffic. Sometimes, a spike in traffic is because several people tweeted about the blog, or shared it on their own blog. Sometimes, I just have no idea why a blog starts seeing a lot of traffic. I also look at blogs that didn’t go anywhere, that have been seen by just one or two people – that does happen, and I need to figure out why.

I draw my material from my consulting work, from updating the Virtual Volunteering Wiki, from conversations with colleagues, from my own volunteering – even from things I’ve seen on TV or overhead somewhere. I never know what’s going to be popular. I’m frequently surprised what attracts so many readers – and what never catches on.

This list of my most viewed blogs probably isn’t of interest to anyone except me… but it’s something I like to do every year, to look for trends.

My top 20 most viewed blogs that I published in 2017:

I won’t help you recruit a receptionist/volunteer coordinator

Welcoming immigrants as volunteers at your organization

The harm of orphanage voluntourism (& wildlife voluntourism as well)

Anti-volunteerism campaigns

for volunteers: how to complain

Treat volunteers like employees? Great idea, awful idea

Mike Bright, Microvolunteering’s #1 Fan, Has Passed Away

Sympathy for one group – but not the other?

A plea to USA nonprofits for the next four years (& beyond):

Want to work internationally? Get involved locally.

J.K. Rowling speaks out against orphan tourism

Why Girls Want to Join the Boy Scouts

Creating a Speak-up Culture in the Workplace

When mission statements, ideologies & human rights collide

Volunteering, by itself, isn’t enough to save the world

What effective short-term international volunteering looks like

Resources re: labor laws and volunteering

Short-term deployments with Peace Corps & UNV

Medical Voluntourism Can Cause Serious Harm

Measuring social media success? You’re probably doing it wrong

If humans can do it, so can volunteers (who are, BTW, also humans)

That said… these weren’t my most visited blogs in 2017 – 17 of my 20 most read blogs in 2017 are from previous years, five of them having to do companies that sell letters saying someone has done community service for the courts and also claiming that the service is virtual volunteering (it’s not).

Also see:

My top blogs of 2016

My top blogs of 2014 (didn’t track it for 2015)

If humans can do it, so can volunteers (who are, BTW, also humans)

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersWhen should you involve humans in the care and support of vulnerable populations, like children, people with disabilities, women who have been victims of domestic violence, etc., or in high-risk situations, like working with wildlife or fighting fires?

Most people would say humans are essential to all of those scenarios – that care and support cannot be provided in those situations without humans, that emergency response cannot be provided by humans, that addressing the needs of wildlife adversely affected by humans cannot be done without humans. And I would agree. I bet you would too. What’s the alternative – robots? Not yet, robots… not yet…

But what do humans need in order to be able to provide appropriate care and support in those high-responsibility, even high-risk, situations, and to stay safe themselves? Humans need:

  • to be appropriately screened and vetted, with inappropriate humans turned away and appropriate humans brought into the program
  • specific training for these situations – and, perhaps, ongoing training
  • regular, appropriate supervision
  • regular, quality support

You would agree with all of that, right?

Now change the word humans in the aforementioned text the word volunteers. Suddenly, the conversation changes.

Volunteers aren’t appropriate!

Volunteers could endanger the clients!

Volunteers will harm the wildlife!

What’s different? Just one thing: when we were talking about humans before, you were immediately thinking of paid staff. Now that I change the word to volunteers, we’re talking about unpaid staff, and many automatically assume that means untrained, unsupervised people who work whenever they might maybe find some time.

Volunteers mean just one thing: people who aren’t paid a wage, that aren’t given financial compensation for their service hours. That’s it! Volunteers do NOT have to mean untrained, unvetted people, just anyone off the street who says, “I have a good heart! I want to help!”

No one who has not been appropriately vetted, no one who lacks the necessary training, no one who cannot be appropriately supervised and no one who is not regularly supported should be doing any work with vulnerable populations or with wildlife, paid or not. A paycheck has nothing to do with a person’s appropriateness to undertake a role at a nonprofit, NGO, charity, etc.

So, with that said, when should a nonprofit, NGO, charity, school or other mission-based organization involve a paid person instead of an unpaid person? Susan Ellis of Energize says it best, in her book, From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Volunteer Program Success:

Offering a salary gives the agency a pre-determined number of work hours per week, the right to dictate the employee’s work schedule, a certain amount of control over the nature and priorities of the work to be done, and continuity. When you pay a salary, you can require that the person give your organization forty hours a week or whatever number is necessary. Because most people need to earn a living, people can rarely give one agency that much volunteer time per week… (pages 12 – 13).

And, to be fair, people DESERVE to earn a living. I’m looking at you, United Nations agencies that have six-month unpaid internships – volunteer gigs that only well-off young people can undertake…

Volunteers can do high-responsibility, even high-risk activities, and they can fill expert roles. In fact, they actually DO all of these things already, all over the USA and all over the world. What the vast majority volunteers usually cannot do is provide 40 hours a week of service, even 20 hours a week, to an organization, week-after-week – they can’t afford it! Many roles at a nonprofit, non-governmental organization or charity require a person to staff a role full-time, or even part-time, 20 hours a week, week after week – and that means, to keep that role staffed at all times, the agency must pay someone. Many roles at nonprofits, NGOs, charities, schools, etc., require someone to have a great deal of training and experience in order to do the role that needs to be done, and most people that have the training and experience necessary for such roles have such because it is related to their career, their paid work, and they got the certification or degree(s) necessary for such for their paid work.

I don’t believe in involving volunteers to save money – I believe an organization should create volunteering opportunities primarily because they believe a volunteer would be the best person for that particular role, just as an organization reserves certain roles specifically for paid staff, and you make those decisions based on a myriad of criteria. I also believe that one needs to tread carefully when asking an economically challenged community, one with a very high unemployment rate and people struggling to pay for the basic necessities of life, to donate their time to keep a nonprofit afloat.

So, how much time and responsibility may you ask of a volunteer? What’s reasonable?

That is a question that is frequently asked. And there are no easy answers. It can vary from organization to organization, from community to community.

There are communities that are well-served by entirely volunteer fire stations, with enough well-trained, constantly trained volunteers always on-call to respond to any fire or other emergency. But in those same communities there might be a cold-weather shelter for the homeless and the nonprofit running such is struggling to find over-night volunteers to manage the facility for 6-8 hours at a time. Why does one group have a waiting list of people that want to volunteer while another in the same community, with less requirements for training and less of a time commitment each month, struggle?

There can be all sorts of reasons why one organization can easily attract volunteers to high-intensity, high-responsibility, high-commitment roles, and another cannot:

  • One role may look fun, exciting, interesting and even heroic, while another may look difficult, scary, even depressing.
  • One role may look like it could help the volunteer in his or her career or university studies, while another may just look like a lot of work for no pay.
  • One role may look like the challenges would be uplifting, while another may look like it would be disheartening.
  • One role may seem like you get a lot of community recognition, that you are frequently thanked, while another may be rather thankless.
  • One role may look like it would be fun, at least some of the time, while another may look daunting and soul-draining.
  • One organization may be targeting a particular social or economic group that has the financial safety net and family structure (child care) to be able to afford to volunteer, while another organization may be targeting a group that can’t afford to do unpaid work (they are already caregivers, they have child care needs, etc.).

If you are having trouble attracting volunteers, you need to look at a lot of things:

  • Is it easy to know just from looking at your web site what volunteers do, the different roles, the time commitment, the training requirements, and how to sign up?
  • When someone calls or emails about volunteering, or submits an application, do they get an immediate reply regarding next steps? In fact, do they get info at all, or does someone take their name and say someone will get back to them and then, most of the time, no one ever does?
  • Are your next steps for volunteering with your organization something that the volunteer can get started on in a few days? In several weeks? In a few months? The further away the next step, the more likely the volunteer candidate won’t follow through.
  • Do you need to alter the volunteer role so that a volunteer would get more out of it, in terms of training, career-development, university class credit, or personal fulfillment? Is there anything you can do to make the role more fun?
  • Can the people you are trying to recruit as volunteers afford to volunteer – to work for free? Do they have child care responsibilities that are preventing them from helping?
  • Could you make the time commitment less for volunteers? Could you try to recruit more volunteers for shorter shifts, for instance, instead of fewer volunteers for longer shifts?
  • Does the task seem especially intimidating or daunting? Could you make it less so, by reducing the time commitment the volunteer would have to make, or by guaranteeing that there is a seasoned volunteer or employee always with the new volunteer? Or by taking away the tasks in the role that are the most intimidating and giving them to paid staff? Or by better assuring candidates that they will be fully trained before they are put into potentially challenging situations?
  • Are you asking too much from volunteers in terms of a time commitment, training and the responsibilities they will undertake as unpaid staff? Do you need to convert such roles into paid positions, in order to better attract the people that can make the time and emotional commitment to the role?

This is yet another blog that was inspired by my own real-life moments – two, in fact: one from a nonprofit that felt I was being inappropriate for disagreeing with them that their work is too high-risk for volunteers, and another from a situation that is happening in my own community regarding volunteer recruitment. It was supposed to be two blogs – but they seem so closely related, I put them together.

Also see:

Why Should the Poor Volunteer? It’s Time To Re-Think the Answer

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersIn 2006, I was invited by Mary Merrill to write a column about the ethics around asking poor people and chronically unemployed people – those desperate for funds – to volunteer. It was in response to an article on the United Nations World Volunteer Web.

Below is an archived version of my 2006 article for Mary:

Why Should the Poor Volunteer? It’s Time To Re-Think the Answer

In an article on the World Volunteer Web in December 2005, a university student in Yemen asked, “How can you volunteer if you have no income, no money and are concerned about the means to provide your kids with something on their plates every night? With all due respect to those calling for Yemenis to volunteer, I say, ‘Please be serious!'”

In an article from the BBC, reposted on the same web site, Tom Geoghegan said, “the prospect of unwaged employment might not be so appealing if you’re a cash-strapped school leaver who wants to help mum put food on the table.”

When volunteering is so often presented just one way — as a state-sanctioned free labor activity — these responses are completely justified.

Current promotions of volunteerism, whether in rich or poor countries, are focused primarily on government-endorsed or state-driven activities: the state or large corporations, through their sponsorship of such campaigns, encourage people to work without pay to address community and social needs, the gain being a better community, improved self-esteem for the volunteer, and less money needed to pay for such action, as volunteers aren’t paid. It’s an appallingly-limited view of what volunteering is and its true importance and power, and it’s no wonder that the unemployed and the disenfranchised scoff at such campaigns.

The world and its history are rife with examples of volunteering by the unemployed and disenfranchised to positively affect people and the environment in confrontation to or outside of the state or other power structures. These activities have sometimes empowered the volunteers as full citizens for the first time. Those who organized in the Southern USA in the 1950s and 60s to register voters, to shine a blinding light on social injustice and to stop Jim Crow, the American version of apartheid? They were volunteers, often socially-excluded themselves, working against local power structures, in order to improve American society and to change their own destinies for the better. Local people engaging in campaigns to counter the practice of female genital mutilation or to improve women’s rights, often in direct opposition to community leaders or long-held traditions? Again, volunteers and, often, people who do not enjoy full employment and perhaps, in the case of women, who do not enjoy full rights as citizens. Yet, most volunteerism campaigns and conferences ignore these passionate volunteer campaigners working outside “the system,” whom Mary Merrill calls both “vigilantes” and “entrepreneurs.” Talking about volunteering as a way to challenge the state or other power structures, or to empower people and communities, would probably be quite appealing to that earlier-mentioned Yemeni student, or others who are unemployed and disenfranchised. However, mainstream campaigns continue to promote volunteerism as just a feel-good activity and a way for the state or others to not have to pay people for work — a message that just does not resonate with so many.

There’s also a tendency by such campaigns to equate all community service with volunteerism. However, if a person is paid to provide a service to the community, he or she is no longer a volunteer. That isn’t to say he or she, because of the receipt of money, has less dedication than a volunteer; I’ve certainly encountered UNDP and NGO paid staff members who are every bit as committed and heartfelt in their work as people providing unpaid service. But “volunteer” should mean the person is unpaid, or at least, giving up his or her employment for a significant period of time in order to provide full-time community service. In certain situations, volunteers may be the most appropriate to staff an initiative, while other situations may call for paid staff — and these situations often have nothing to do with whether or not there’s a budget to pay people.

If governments and donors want volunteerism campaigns in poor communities to actually lead to more volunteering, they must radically update their message. They must be prepared to show why volunteers, rather than paid staff, are best for a particular task, beyond that there’s no budget to pay such people. They must show how those whom they are trying to entice to volunteer will benefit directly in terms of potential employment or an improved life and a greater voice. They need to point out that volunteering can give a person a first-hand view of the work of the government or others, and a fact-based perspective and voice to endorse or oppose it. They need to explain that volunteers can also have their own agendas for their service, just as those promoting volunteerism do. They need to say, point blank, that one of the primary benefits of volunteering is that it can create the platform for “ordinary people” to become decision-makers, even leaders, regarding their communities and the environment, and that it can allow a diversity of voices to be heard regarding a diversity of issues. And governments and donors need to put the individuals in charge of defining their own volunteerism goals and activities, and to be prepared for those activities, at least sometimes, to be counter to the volunteerism campaigner’s agendas.

NGOs need to talk about and to volunteers as investors. They need to think of volunteer involvement as a way to build trust among community members and those whose support they need. They must learn how to translate volunteer involvement into long-term and consistent support. Volunteerism should be viewed as a way for local people, including youth, to influence policy-making. And NGOs must be explicit in their message to youth regarding how volunteering can help young people, if they so choose, to pursue their future educational and career endeavors.

VENRO, the Association of German development non-governmental organizations (NGOs), says on its web site that “NGOs are described as the core of democratic civil society. NGOs protest and interfere, they are dedicated to dialogue and cooperation. NGOs reflect the will of socially and politically responsible and committed citizens who, to a large degree, work on a voluntary basis.” It’s a much more powerful view of volunteering that what is being promoted by so many mainstream organizations, and one that would certainly appeal to that university student from Yemen.

It’s a challenging proposition for the mainstream promoters of volunteerism to think and speak so differently. But without meeting this challenge, we will turn generations and groups all over the world off to volunteering. What a tragedy that would be.

Note: Mary Merrill was a consultant regarding volunteer engagement, a dynamic, provocative speaker, a skilled facilitator, and a frequently-cited source by other consultants and volunteerism researchers, including me. Her company was called Merrill Associates, and her web site, merrillassociates.com, is archived at archive.org. Mary served as a consultant to numerous nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations, charities and professional associations in the United States, Canada, Russia, Armenia, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil and the United Kingdom, and consulted with the United Nations Volunteers programme based in Germany. She taught the Institute for Community Leadership and Volunteer Administration at Ohio State University. She coordinated international study abroad projects for Ohio State University Leadership Center and North Carolina State University 4-H. She was editor of the Journal of Volunteer Administration. She was a featured speaker at three World Volunteer Conferences. She was also a licensed social worker. She received the Distinguished Service Award from the International Association for Volunteer Administration, a Lifetime Achievement Award for dedication to Volunteerism in the profession of Volunteer Administration from Volunteer Ohio, and an Award for Excellence from the Volunteer Administrators’ Network of Central Ohio, she was named Peacemaker of the Year by the Interfaith Center for Peace, and received the Walter and Marion English Award from the United Way of Franklin County. She was a graduate of Ohio State University. Mary died in February 19, 2006. She was my dear friend and colleague and mentor, and the resources on her web site, merrillassociates.com, archived at archive.org, are worth your time to read.

Also see:

Your initiative should exploit UN days

International days, weeks, years and decades, as designated by the United Nations General Assembly, offer excellent outreach opportunities for nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations, charities, government initiatives and other agencies focused on improving and enriching communities and individuals, as well as protecting the environment. There is a commemorative day, as designated by the United Nations general assembly, for just about any subject you can think of. Here’s just a sample:

Cancer
Female Genital Mutilation
Women and Girls in Science
the power of radio 
Social Justice 
Wildlife
Women
Racial Discrimination
Poetry
Down Syndrome
Forests
Water
Meteorology
Tuberculosis
Autism
Mine Awareness
Sport for Development and Peace
Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda
Health
Human Space Flight
Malaria
Tourism
Mountains
Migrants

and on and on and on. Now is a great time to look through the list and think about how you are going to exploit these days throughout 2018 for your initiative’s mission.

You can use these designations to tie in your organization’s events and programs, through

  • issuing press releases about your work and how it relates to the day, week or year
  • posting social media messages that relate to the day, week or year’s theme
  • writing op-ed pieces for local media
  • blogging on a related topic, posting social
  • offering yourself for interviews to radio and TV
  • holding a special event that ties in with the day, week or year

If you mention these days, weeks, years, etc. on your blog and web site, and use the official Twitter tags for the events, you increase the chance of your organization coming to the attention of anyone doing a search online for information about these days, weeks, etc. and reaching an even wider audience.

For a list of these UN days, weeks, years and decades, see either this part of the UNESCO web site or this page by the UN Association of Canada. HOWEVER, note that, as of the start of December 2017, these calendars have not been updated with the 2018 designation. It’s not known of the UN will designate 2018 with any theme. The General Assembly has declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

The UN Decade of Action on Nutrition is 2016 to 2025, which means it’s still happening in 2018. The designation aims to trigger intensified action to end hunger and eradicate malnutrition worldwide, and ensure universal access to healthier and more sustainable diets for all people.

The International Decade for People of African Descent is 2015–2024, which means it’s also still being celebrated in 2018, as is the United Nations Decade of Sustainable Energy for All, which is 2014–2024.

The decade of 2011–2020, also all still being celebrated, has four designations:

There’s also the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022), which is designated by UNESCO, a UN initiative, but not the General Assembly. Rapprochement means reconciliation, increased understanding, restoration of harmony, agreement, cooperation or harmonization. The decade is meant to promote mutual understanding and reciprocal knowledge of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity, and to foster dialogue for sustainable development and its ethical, social and cultural dimensions. The initiative offers a number of free resources you can use to promote the themes of the decade.

Also see:

Getting More Viewers for Your Organization’s Online Videos

Videos are a great way to represent your organization’s work, to show you make a difference, to promote a message or action that relates to your mission, etc. But just uploading a video isn’t enough to attract an audience. Also, your time is precious – it takes a lot of work to produce and upload a video, so shouldn’t that work get a payoff with a lot of views with potential supporters, current clients, and others you want to reach?

Getting More Viewers for Your Organization’s Online Videos is a new page on my site that offers specific steps that will get more views for a nonprofit, NGO, charity, school or government agency’s videos on YouTube. Note that many of these tasks would be great for an online volunteer to undertake, with guidance from an appropriate staff member.

Also… have a look at my YouTube channel. There are dog videos!

Also see:

Web designers: your chance to be a super hero!

 The nonprofit organization Knowbility now has 27 nonprofits and artists that have signed up to participate in OpenAIR2018 and get new web sites via its acclaimed hackathon, which takes place in February and March 2018. There is room for a few more nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists – but now, Knowbility is turning its attention to recruiting web design teams.

OpenAIR web design teams are volunteers-turned-superheroes. They receive training and mentoring from some of the nation’s most prominent web design accessibility experts as they design new web sites for participating client organizations and artists. Design teams have about five weeks after the start date on February 8, 2018 to create these web sites that comply with ADA and Section 508 standards. The training and mentoring that design teams receive is valued at over $4,000 – but participating web design teams pay just $150.

Web sites are judged by Knowbility’s judging panel over a six week period (the nonprofits and artists get access to the designs to use on their own sites as soon as the design period is over, but team original designs are preserved for judging). Awards will be announced in May during Knowbility’s AccessU accessibility conference.

OpenAIR web design teams can be professional web designers, university faculty, university students – anyone who has designed web sites but wants to take their skills to the next level.

This is a great opportunity not only to get top-notch training in web design accessibility; it’s also a fantastic opportunity to:

  • enhance your virtual team skills and brag about being involved in virtual volunteering
  • be a part of an internationally-recognized event
  • help nonprofits that are addressing a variety of causes – fair housing, help for seniors, children’s education and more
  • gain recognition for your individual or your company’s corporate social responsibility focus / philanthropy
  • compete with other web designers

Your team could be the IT staff from a government agency. Or the entire IT department at a large corporation. Or staff from a savy hot tech startup. Or university students. Or university faculty. If you are an individual web designer, you can register as an individual and you will be matched with a team that has room for you or with other individuals who want to participate and join a team. Teams must have at least 4 members and no more than 6.

After the competition, Knowbility also asks design teams to guide their client organization’s through the process of replacing their current web site with the one the design team has developed, and to provide some initial guidance to the nonprofit in case they have any difficulties with their new site. This is not a requirement, but the guidance is greatly appreciated by the nonprofit clients (otherwise, the guidance will be provided by Knowbility).

A fee of $150 per team is due at registration. If you are an individual, note in your registration that you want to be a part of a team; you can work out how to pay your registration once your team is finalized.

Teams may register with a nonprofit or artist they already have a relationship with (however, there is also a $100 nonprofit registration fee – and if the nonprofit client or artist has to register ASAP, because the window for those registrations is FAST closing!).

Register ASAP! I suggest a deadline of January 12, 2018 to register! 

The Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) has been happening since the 1990s. It used to be an onsite hackathon, mostly in Austin, Texas, and the designs happened in ONE DAY – back then, the nonprofits didn’t have web sites at all. I was a part of it back then – I’m thrilled to be a part of it again.

Also see:

Letting Fear Prevent Volunteer Involvement is Too Risky

I was honored to guest blog the Energize, Inc. Hot Topic for December. The topic I chose to write about: “Letting Fear Prevent Volunteer Involvement is Too Risky.” If you can’t tell from the title, it’s about how the risks around involving volunteers often aren’t as great as NOT involving them – to NOT involve volunteers puts your organization at risks that I consider far greater than by involving them.

There is a podcast version, in case you would prefer to hear me blabble.

 

 

Updated: list of research on virtual volunteering

I don’t have funding to research virtual volunteering, but in my spare, unpaid time, I try to track academic studies and evaluation reports on virtual volunteering by others. At least twice a year, I search for published research regarding online volunteering / virtual volunteering, including studies on the various different activities that are a part of online volunteering such as online activism, online civic engagement, online mentoring, micro volunteering, remote citizen scientists, remote volunteers, crowd-sourcing, etc. I’m not looking for newsletter articles, press releases or no newspaper articles; rather, I’m looking for scholarly reports providing qualitative and quantitative data, case studies, comparisons, etc.

I have just uploaded the list of such research articles on the Virtual Volunteering Wiki, a free online resource I maintain with Susan Ellis. I was surprised at how many I found published in 2017. Note that sometimes research articles do not call the unpaid contributors “volunteers.” Included on this list are also research articles on virtual teams, which often involved paid staff; that’s because these research studies are especially applicable to virtual volunteering scenarios. These mostly go in reverse publishing or research date order.

If you are interested in researching virtual volunteering, this blog can give you guidance before you get started.

I also maintain a list of the latest news about virtual volunteering. You will find a long list, in reverse date order, of news articles and blogs about virtual volunteering, focusing on especially innovative or news-worthy pieces. I also have a list of articles from 1996 to 2011, including the oldest article I can find about virtual volunteering.

vvbooklittleResearch about virtual volunteering and related subject played a major role in writing find The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. This book, which I co-wrote with Susan J. Ellis, is our attempt to document all of the best practices for using the Internet to support and involve volunteers from the more than three decades that this has been happening. Want to know more about how to create assignments for online volunteers, how to support online volunteers, how to recruit, screen and and train online volunteers, and how to ensure quality in their contributions? This book is for you. In fact, whether the volunteers are working in groups onsite, in traditional face-to-face roles, in remote locations, or any other way, anyone working with volunteers will find The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook helpful. The book is available both in traditional print form and in a digital version.

 

If you read the book, or have already read it, 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). If you could also review it on GoodReads as well, that would be terrific!