Category Archives: Uncategorized

Magical paychecks

I’m on a lot of online communities, most focused on nonprofits in some way. And recently, on one of them, someone posted this:

I need to have some kind of porn blocker software on the computers at our office, since volunteers have access to the computers.

Sigh.

Yes, that’s right: while employees, because of their paychecks, aren’t at all inclined to do anything inappropriate on work computers, volunteers, who are unpaid, just can’t stay away from online pornography.

Sigh.

I’ve heard people at nonprofit organizations talk about extensive training and supervision for volunteers regarding confidentiality, working with children and working with money, who then balk when I suggest exactly the same training and supervision is needed for paid employees.

Paychecks are NOT magical! A paycheck doesn’t make someone more knowledgeable than a volunteer, more experienced, more trustworthy, more respectable nor safer.

I love a paycheck as much as anyone! But it doesn’t give me super powers.

More about working with volunteers.

Tourism as a tool for economic & community development

I’m an aid and development worker.

I’m also an avid traveler.

And in engaging in both of those activities, I’ve seen firsthand how tourism is a major driver of economic growth and sustainable development.

Tourism as a tool for economic and community development has been of interest to me for several years, and something I’ve researched on my own, as my time and resources allow. I’m particularly interested in

  • how local people and small businesses learn to attract both domestic and international tourists,
  • how they learn to attract and cater to non-luxury travelers: budget travelers, backpackers, motorcycle tourists, etc., and
  • how they learn to attract and cater to women. 

I’ve compiled a web page of both my own resources related to tourism for development and links to some of my favorite resources. Have a look and, if you would like to contribute info, by all means, do!

Also, I use social media as a traveler:

Jayne A Broad Facebook page
This Facebook fan page is where I follow USA state parks, national parks, national forests, and organizations focused on sustainable tourism, getting children, women and under-represented groups outdoors, and related international organizations and sites. My travel-related tweets from the my jayne_a_broad twitter feed (see below) get posted here automatically. It’s about learning and sharing regarding tourism as a tool for economic and community development – and the importance of travel for our personal and educational growth.

@jayne_a_broad Twitter feed
This Twitter feed is focused on my own experiences traveling, camping, riding my motorcycle or my bicycle, taking mass transit (buses and trains), commuting by walking or bicycling, and various other mostly-personal interests, including politics. If you are a woman motorcyclist, a non-spandex-wearing bicycle commuter or slow girlie-bike rider, an international adventure or budget traveler, a motorcycle traveler, a mass transit advocate, a writer or researcher regarding any of these subjects – or someone that wants to cater to such travelers – you might enjoy following this Twitter feed. Note that it’s completely separate from my professional Twitter feed.

What’s so fabulous about software tools for volunteer management?

Last week, Rob Jackson and I published the results of a survey (in PDF) regarding software used by nonprofits, NGOs, charities, schools, government agencies and others 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. 

Here’s a question I wished we’d ask on this survey:

What does software – whether on computers or your smart phone – allow you to do now regarding supporting and tracking volunteers, that is absolutely fabulous: how does it save your organization money, how does it help you be more responsive to volunteers, how does it free up your time to do other things (and what are those other things you do?), how does it help you show volunteer impact, and on and on.

So – why not answer that question now over on TechSoup?!

Be sure to say what software you use, whether it’s a specific volunteer management software or a spreadsheet (Excel, Google Docs, OpenOffice, whatever).

You have to register in order to be able to post to the TechSoup community, but registration is free, and it will allow you to

What did you learn today? Or this week?

Are you an employee, a consultant or a volunteer at/with a nonprofit, library, NGO, school, government agency, charity or other mission-based organization?

Then these questions are for you:

What did you learn today, or this week, or recently, about computer or Internet/networked tech while working with or for a that mission-based organization? Or some other thing you learned about tech that would be helpful to others? And per this learning, what else do you need to know?

It could be:

“I learned to do this cool thing with Outlook – I can now…”

or

“I learned that I really don’t like such-and-such feature on LinkedIn. Here’s why…”

or

“I learned that washing my LG 500 feature phone in the washing machine leads to it no longer working” (Yes, that’s me).

I would really love it if you would answer that question here on the TechSoup Community Forum.

Registration on TechSoup is required in order to respond, but registration is free. And by registering, you can participate in TechSoup community activities in the future! Come on, let’s hear from ya!

Results of survey re volunteer management software

At last! The results of the survey of volunteer management software launched by Rob Jackson (robjacksonconsulting.com) and Jayne Cravens (coyotecommunications.com) — ME — are compiled and ready for release!

In March and April 2012, Rob and I 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.

At long last, we’re publishing 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. 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.

Software companies and designers: you can learn a LOT from this report to improve your products and your communications with customers!

Have a comment about the survey? Offer it below, or via UKVPMs.

Thanks to everyone who responded to the survey!

 

Volunteer online with TechSoup

I’m doing some work with TechSoup, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, and I’m recruiting online volunteers to help in two roles:

Wiki Contributor/Editor – online opportunity
This is in support of a wiki regarding Online Community Engagement. The goal of the wiki is to provide essential information and links related to online community engagement, particularly regarding the cultivation of communities of practice / knowledge networks. Please visit the wiki to learn more. We’re looking for one – three online volunteers ready to help with proofreading (correction of spelling, checking links, etc.) and adding resources. Volunteers should have excellent writing skills, be an expert at finding resources online, and be ready to see a task through to its completion.

Online Community Forum Subject Expert
Offer advice to nonprofits via the TechSoup online community forum regarding software use, database choices, using tech tools to engage and support clients, remote staff and volunteers, FOSS options, accessibility, building staff capacities, community tech center management, IT security – whatever your area of tech expertise! Frequent community forum participants may be invited to become community moderators, committing for at least three months (with possibility of renewal) to ensuring various forum branches have fresh information every week. Volunteers should have excellent writing skills and an understanding of how nonprofits use at least some aspect of computer or Internet tools.

These are virtual opportunities, and it’s not just for two volunteers – multiple volunteers can help in each of these roles.

Want to apply? In addition to the requirements already stated, you should also have a good understanding of how people and organizations communicate online, have excellent, reliable Internet access, commit to at least two hours a week (10 hours a month), and commit to at least three months in this role.

To apply, click on the volunteer role title and express your interest (via VolunteerMatch).

I’m happy to sign off on any paperwork a volunteer might need for a class. And if you want to call it an internship, I’ll be happy to call it such.

So, why have these roles been reserved for volunteers? Why do I want volunteers to help in these tasks?

  • Fresh ideas from volunteers – there’s just nothing like them. They are unfettered ideas. And such ideas are needed!
  • More involvement of volunteers means more opportunities for people and organizations to participate in decision-making – and this can create more ownership by the community TechSoup seeks to serve.
  • It provides opportunities for professional development; many people are looking for activities that will look great on their résumés, or for a university-level class that requires a practicum. This is a way to help a few folks in that quest – just as many of us have been helped along the way.

Here’s more about justifications for involving volunteers – something I think any organization to do before recruiting volunteers.

Careful what you claim: the passions around identity

Racial and ethnic identity is complicated – and more powerful than you might think. Go to Spain and mistakenly call someone from the Basque region Spanish. Go to Wales or Scotland and mistakenly call someone English. Go to Afghanistan and make a statement that assumes everyone in the country is Pashtun. You will get a VERY passionate response that will show you just how powerful racial and ethnic identity can be.

I never really thought racial identify mattered to me, personally, until I realized what Caucasian meant – the term Caucasian race was created by a German philosopher, Christoph Meiners, in the late 1700s – he defined two racial divisions: Caucasians (“white and beautiful”) and Mongolians (“brown and ugly”).

And if that wasn’t enough to turn me off the term, then living in Europe was: no one there calls Europeans Caucasians. Not unless you are from the Caucasus Mountains.

So now, if I’m filling out the form, and instead of white or of European descent, the form says Caucasian, I choose other. ‘Cause I ain’t from the Caucasus Mountains. And no race is more beautiful than another.

I’ve wondered if, someday, choosing other in such situations is going to make someone think I’m trying to claim some ethnic minority status. I would never do that. In fact, if I ever raise the funds to do one of those DNA ethnic heritage tests, and anything other European shows up, I won’t claim it on any form – how could I claim a heritage when I was never raised in such, when it’s something I’ve no real knowledge of? THAT would be disingenuous, IMO.

In 1993, I worked with American Indians living in the San Francisco Bay area and Arizona, helping them to identify and develop projects they believed would help them economically. It was my first exposure to community development. A couple of people became lifelong friends. And one of the MANY things they taught me was this:

Never, ever claim American Indian heritage just because your family has always said a grandmother or great-grandmother or whatever was Cherokee.

If I heard this warning / complaint once, I heard it a dozen times.

(the groups I worked with also loathed the term Native American, hence my use of the term American Indian – always ask which is preferred)

I’ve never forgotten that lesson (and several others). And as a result, I’ve cautioned some friends who have made the I’m part Cherokee claim – don’t share it outside the family unless you can back it up, because eventually, you are going to get called on it.

All this has come to mind as I’ve watched Elizabeth Warren struggle over explaining the Cherokee heritage that her family claims. She believed the family stories were true, and she was proud of those stories. But she didn’t realize how common those claims are, and how, more often than not, they aren’t true – nor how much those false claims insult tribal members in the USA. 

Family history is something most of us never question, that we accept whole-heartedly: why wouldn’t we believe the long-told story that a great-great-grandmother was born on a ship coming from Europe to the USA in the 1800s, or that a great-great-grandfather escaped slavery with the help of Harriet Tubman? It never dawns on you to ask for some kind of documentation, to engage in activities to prove whatever the claims are. And it never dawns on you that casually claiming something in your family heritage could eventually turn out not to be true and could cause you a very significant problem, even some controversy.

I hope this becomes a teachable moment: as much fun as family stories are, it’s a good idea to do some digging and get at least a bit of documentation before you share them outside your family. And unless you have some kind of proof that great-grandma was Cherokee, keep that legend to yourself.

And if you want to know if you really do have any family connection to an American Indian tribe, get busy tracing and documenting your lineage: get accurate names and birth places of grandparents and great-grandparents, and on and on, as far back as you can. Use ancestry.com for accurate birth/death records. Names and birth places on reservations will be clues to American Indian ancestry. Census records may also note your ancestors’ ethnicity. You may be able to find a family member that is listed on the census as a member of a tribe – and that means you will be able to get the name of tribe, the enrollment number, and the census number to prove your lineage. You have to get a state certified birth and death certificates of your enrolled ancestor for an official Certificate of Degree of Indian or Alaskan Native Blood from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

what’s most important about software experience

Back in the mid 1990s, when I found myself jobless and was temping, my agency sent me to fill in for an executive administrative assistant that was going on vacation for two weeks. I read over the job description, and it said I needed to know Microsoft Powerpoint. I looked at the recruiter and said, “Oh, I haven’t used this much. I’ve used Aldus Persuasion for slide show presentations.” She shook her head and said, “Same thing. You know that, you’ll do fine with PowerPoint.” I went to the job terrified they’d boot me as soon as they figured out that I didn’t know Powerpoint. But the recruiter was right: it was most important that I knew how to lay out a slide show presentation properly; I figured out PowerPoint in just a few minutes, and put together slide show presentations for two weeks per the company’s specifications.

I’ve taken one software class in my life: it was for a new version of Aldus Pagemaker (oh, how I loved Aldus products back in the 1990s!). The class was all about how you did things differently in this version versus the last version – but it didn’t teach me anything about design. And during that hour-long class, I realized I could have figured everything out about the upgrade on my own – a book about the upgrade would have been cheaper, and always there, ready for reference.

I bring this up because of a discussion on an online community where someone said they were from a nonprofit that didn’t have the money to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft Office, a very old version of which they used to train their clients regarding how to prepare résumés, write formal correspondence, create simple business documents, etc. I responded that a great alternative for this nonprofit was OpenOffice or LibreOffice, both of which are free, both of which provide very powerful word processing, slide show/presentation, spreadsheet and database software, both of which are frequently updated, etc. I use OpenOffice myself.

Other people thought that the advice was outrageous, that if this nonprofit were to use anything but Microsoft, it would handicap their clients. But I stand by my advice: what’s important is not to teach someone how to use Microsoft Word or Microsoft anything. What’s important is for people to understand all that office software can do, such as in a document:

  • using fonts appropriately
  • setting tabs and margins
  • creating and editing tables
  • adding headers and footers
  • recording and showing, or hiding or accepting, edits by other people
  • creating mail merges
  • etc.

What’s MOST important is that you understand the capabilities of word processing software, spreadsheet software, presentation software, web page creation software, etc. – having that understanding means you will be able to learn to use future versions of the software or most any software produced by a different company that is designed to do what you want done, whether it’s to create a document or a web page or a database, whatever.

I bring this up not only because of that online community debate, but also because I see so many job postings asking just for advanced experience with Excel – rather than asking for experience with creating calculations on spreadsheets or producing a variety of graphs using statistical data. Or someone asking for experience with such-and-such database instead of asking for experience creating fields or customized reports in a database.

Another software skill that is just as important: ability to learn new functions on upgraded software or ability to learn new software quickly or ability to figure out new software/upgrades, because software changes. And changes and changes. It gets upgraded. The IT manager decides to use something different. The price gets too high and some board member can get a special deal on something different.

Give me a nimble learner over someone with 10 years of experience with ANY one software package! Give me a person who understands the basics of document design who has used a typesetter and hot wax for the past 20 years over someone who knows how to use Microsoft PowerPoint to create really ugly slide show presentations!

Also see:

Embrace FOSS and Open Source

When to NOT pay interns

A marketing director is defined by the scope of his or her responsibilities – not a pay rate. Paid or not, you call such a person a marketing director.

An executive director is defined by the scope of his or her responsibilities – not a pay rate. Paid or not, you call such a person an executive director.

A firefighter is defined by the scope of his or her responsibilities and training – not a pay rate. Volunteers can be – and often are – firefighters, despite what the union of professional firefighters wants you to believe.

Often, the term volunteer really is just a pay rate, not a job title. If someone has responsibilities on behalf of an organization, but isn’t paid, he or she is a volunteer. Yet a lot of people have a problem with that label as a classification, like these interns who are upset about not being paid. Call them volunteers, and they have a minor freak out. But that’s what they are – they are volunteers, because they aren’t paid.

The debate should be this: SHOULD interns be volunteers?

What these unpaid interns that are so upset about being labeled volunteers don’t seem to get is that I’m actually on their side: I think they should be paid. They should be employees or short-term consultants, no question. Why? Because

  • the organizations they work for do not have a mission statement for their involvement of unpaid staff (volunteers),
  • the organizations do not have, in writing, why they reserves certain positions and tasks and responsibilities specifically for volunteers rather than employees or paid consultants,
  • the organizations say they don’t pay volunteers because they “can’t afford to” – and as you know, those are fighting words when it comes to saying why you involve volunteers.

May internships be unpaid? Sure! But there must be a stated reason that is not “because we don’t have money to pay them.” That’s just pure exploitation, period.

I worked at a certain very large international NGO that shall remain nameless that was involving unpaid interns in large numbers – and I felt it was incredibly exploitative: nothing was in writing, and people held unpaid internships for months and months for no dicernable reason other than that they were free labor and so desperate for the experience that they made no demands. I didn’t have the power to change the intern policy throughout the organization, but I did for my own department. And here’s the parameters I established that all staff in our department had to adhere to regarding involving unpaid interns:

  • An internship had to have a primary focus on giving the intern a learning experience, not  getting tasks done. Therefore:
    • There had to be a written job description that reflected this primary purpose of the internship.
    • The intern was invited to all agency-wide staff meetings, all staff meetings for just our department, and encouraged to ask to attend staff meetings for other departments, to learn about work across the agency. Staff were encouraged to take interns with them to meetings or events whenever possible, as appropriate.
    • The intern also had one project that was uniquely his or hers, that he or she was responsible for and could put on his or her résumé (for instance, conducting a survey, or evaluating some process and making recommendations for improvement).
    • The intern received job coaching and job search help by other staff members.
  • A person chosen for the internship had to be able to say why they wanted to enter into a profession related to our agency’s work, and say what they had done up to that point, in terms of education, volunteer work and paid work, to pursue that career choice.
  • A person could hold an internship only for up to six months. They absolutely could not hold it beyond six months, no exceptions. An intern could NOT return to our department as an intern again, ever. That reduced the chance of a person being exploited as free labor; it forced rotation in what was supposed to be a role reserved for people learning about our work, not the opportunity for someone to have an unpaid assistant indefinitely.
  • Ideally, the intern that was leaving would overlap with the intern that was coming in by one week, so that the departing intern could get experience training someone, documenting his or her responsibilities, etc.
  • When the intern left, he or she was interviewed about his or her experience as an intern from the point of view of getting the learning and professional development he or she was looking for, and this was used to continually improve internship involvement and to show if interns were getting what our internship promised: a learning experience.

The primary task we reserved for interns was answering the many, many emails that came in regarding an online program by our agency. We found that interns really were the best people for this task: in contrast to giving this task to employees, interns brought freshness and enthusiasm to responses that really shown through. They quickly saw patterns in questions or comments that a burned out staff person might not see, leading to adjustments to web site information and other communications. Also, in my opinion, because the interns were volunteers, they assumed a much stronger customer-advocate point-of-view regarding the people emailing with questions or comments than employees did; the agency could have a real seige-mentality outlook when dealing with anyone outside the organization, while the interns had a mentality of being advocates for those outside the organization.

As I mentioned, I also came up with tasks specifically for an intern to own. It might be an internal staff survey, a customer/client survey, a research project, an evaluation/analysis project, production of a report or online resource, etc. Every intern walked away something that was his or hers, a project that he or her directed or managed or lead, and that employees and other interns contributed to. That gave interns the management experience so many were desperate for.

The problem with having these internships as unpaid: it meant that anyone who couldn’t afford to move to our geographic area and work at least 20 hours a week, unpaid, couldn’t be an intern. That excluded a lot of qualified people. It meant all of our interns were from the USA or Europe. It meant qualified people who couldn’t afford to volunteer (work unpaid) couldn’t be interns. I tried creating online internships specifically for these people, but sadly, we never got qualified candidates to apply for those – though I’ve wondered if there was just too much skepticism about an online internship being a real internship – perhaps it would be easier now.

One last note: yes, I’ve been an intern. I had a summer-long internship at a for-profit newspaper between my sophomore and junior year at university, and I was paid – and it met almost all of the parameters I think an internship should have, paid or not, that I’ve outlined above. I had a year-long internship during senior at my university, at a nonprofit arts center, and I was paid and, again, the role met almost all of the parameters I think an internship should have, paid or not, that I’ve outlined above. My last internship was a summer-long gig after I graduated, at a nonprofit theater, and I was not paid – but, indeed, the role met almost all of the parameters I think an internship should have, paid or not, that I’ve outlined above. None of those internships guaranteed me eventual employment, but they all did end up helping me get the experience and networks I needed for eventual full-time employment. All three organizations, including the for-profit company, looked at their intern involvement as a way of giving back, of cultivating young people into specific professions.

The newspaper paid me because it had to; as a for-profit business, it couldn’t involve unpaid staff. The nonprofit arts organization paid me because they could; they got a grant from the state to do so. The theater didn’t pay me because felt they were offering young people free education and a potential job connection network that aspiring actors, production staff and administration staff couldn’t buy if they had wanted to – not kidding! There was also this you-have-to-survive-this-trial-by-fire-to-work-in-theater attitude that those of us who did survive such wore like a badge of honor. I look back on that experience and, as much as I want to say I was exploited… I do feel like I got experience and connections I could never have gotten otherwise, that the organization really did do me a favor.

Also see:

This article in the New York Times about interns.

Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act (USA)
This PDF fact sheet provides general information to help determine whether interns must be paid the minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act in the USA

Social Inequity and the Unpaid Intern

The blog unfairinternships.wordpress.com

Don’t know Linda Graff? You’re in trouble!

Linda Graff is a volunteer management trainer, with a specialization regarding risk management in engaging volunteers.

Linda is retiring, and Andy Fryer has done an interview with her that talks about her incredible contributions to our knowledge about effective volunteer engagement. It’s worth your time to read the interview.

Readers are invited to comment, and my comment says, in part:

I can’t count how many times I have run to my risk management books by Linda to be able to make a point or even win an argument – and I pretty much dismiss any volunteer management expert who doesn’t have one of her books on the shelf or doesn’t seem to know who she is (blasphemy!).

Every nonprofit organization/mission-based organization needs at least one Linda Graff book on the bookshelf – and staff need to consult such regularly. My recommendation is Beyond Police Checks. It’s North America-specific, but the advice is applicable to any country.

It’s a loss for our sector that Linda is retiring, but I know that she now gets to spend much more time fishing, and that makes me happy.