If you ignore women in Afghanistan, development efforts there will fail

I just read yet another list of the absolutely MOST important, key things that MUST be addressed for Afghanistan to become stable and peaceful. And, once again, negotiating with the Taliban is there, but improving the condition of women in Afghanistan, improving their access to education, healthcare and revenue-generation, is not.

Let’s be real: if a peace process or development strategy in Afghanistan does not make addressing women’s issues CENTRAL to its plan, does not make such a TOP priority, it will fail.

It. Will. Fail.

Addressing the condition of women in Afghanistan is not an afterthought, it’s not a supplement, it’s not just something nice to do after the “more critical” things have been addressed. Rather, it is imperative, it is fundamental, for any success in the country, and it must be baked into strategies. Equal rights for women is enshrined in the Afghan constitution. The Internet is rife with examples of how to leverage Islamic theology to promote the full participation of women in society. Humanitarian agencies hold the purse strings. In short: there is NO excuse for ignoring the condition of 50% of the population of Afghanistan.

I’m not alone in feeling this way:

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: The risk of denying women a voice in determining Afghanistan‟s future, a report from OxFam

Afghanistan women: Give us a seat at the peace table

United Nations Calls for Women’s Role in Peace Process

I’ve said all this before:

When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children (United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990). When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man (Phil Borges, with a foreword by Madeleine Albright, Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World [New York: Rizzoli, 2007], 13.). Empowering women in places in Afghanistan — giving them safe, easy access to primary and secondary education, to vocational training and to basic health services — improves the lives of everyone in the country. And, in addition, giving women a voice in defining and evaluating development goals is the ONLY way to ensure development activities meet the needs of women and children.

I rarely see Afghan women on TV news reports – and don’t tell me the reporters can’t find them. I rarely hear women mentioned in news analysis on network TV, in newspapers, in political debates about Afghanistan, in US Government briefings… That’s like not mentioning black Africans or apartheid when discussing South Africa in the 1980s. If the 50% of the population in Afghanistan being oppressed, tortured, killed, denied even basic human rights, were an ethnic group or a religious group, the outrage would be oh-so-loud and constant. But women? Suddenly oppression is a cultural thing we have to respect and not interfere with and just stand back and hope things evolve “organically” and “naturally.”

Balderdash. Bunkum. Nonsense.

Whether you are an aid worker or a policy maker, you have to be committed to women’s involvement in Afghanistan, no matter what the focus of your work is, whether it’s engineering or conflict resolution or arms agreements or WHATEVER. If you don’t, your work will FAIL. Your policies will FAIL. I’ve made many a male aid worker colleague angry for kicking back a field report that never mentioned women… Whether it’s a water and sanitation project, an infrastructure project, a weapons return program, an agricultural project, a governance project, whatever, it must talk about women. If your talk is going to be about how they aren’t involved at all, so be it. But you can’t pretend their non-involvement is normal, appropriate, and something your work cannot address.

Harumph.

Also see:

Empower women, empower a nation

The Wrong Way to Celebrate International Women’s Day

How to be active & anonymous online – a guide for women in religiously-conservative countries

UNDP and Religious Leaders Promote Women in Sport and Education in Afghanistan

papers on cyberactivism by women in Iran & Azerbaijan

women-only hours at community Internet centers? why?

Reaching women in socially-conservative areas

Enhancing Inclusion of Women & Girls In Information Society

Re-creating offline excitement & a human touch online

Back in 1998, an effort that became the nonprofit Knowbility started a hackathon competition before such events were called hackathons. It was called the Accessibility Internet Rally, or AIR, and in one day, professional web designers and web design students volunteered their time to build web sites for nonprofits in Austin, Texas – web sites that are fully accessible to people with disabilities and people using assistive technologies. Designers were divided into teams, and each team had a nonprofit to build for. The teams were all on one floor of a training center that donated its space and computers for the event.

It was crazy, fun, exciting and, at times, silly. I was at that first competition, and at the events in 1999 and 2000, representing a partner organization, via the Virtual Volunteering Project. I helped greet and register every participant as they came in. I also ran through the hallways, into the training rooms, shouting deadlines, like “Two more hours! Just two more hours!”  We got donated food from a local Subway shop and various grocery stores, and teams wouldn’t take a lunch break, despite our pleas for them to do so – they’d run into the room, scarf, then run back to their computers, ready for more designing. Austin-area corporations donated their branded swag that they had leftover from conferences in the past, or that had old logos on them, and we were able to put together goodie bags of memo pads, pens, frisbees and more to hand out to all participants. The second year, several corporate teams returned – this time with custom t-shirts they had made for their team especially for the competition! The event was so energizing and fun that teams came back year after year.

I still use the crockpot that we used to provide nacho cheese for teams…

The AIR competition has continued, and is still awesome, but a few years ago, it became an entirely online competition. It’s now called OpenAIR. The event is not limited to Austin, Texas – it’s global! Instead of one day, teams now have five weeks to develop new accessible web sites for participating nonprofits – and the web sites are far more sophisticated than they were back in the 1990s. A team’s members are all onsite together, at the same company or in the same web design class, for the most part, but they aren’t in the same room with the other teams, nor the nonprofits they are supporting – all interaction among teams and clients is via phone, online conferencing, email and shared online spaces. Another big difference from those early years is that, now, most of the participating nonprofits already have web sites, so their material is already digitized – we don’t need to scan logos or photos anymore, because it’s already done.

It’s almost 20 years after that first AIR competition, and I’m back with Knowbility, this time as a consultant, in charge of recruiting nonprofits to participate and supporting them through the entire process. And I have a goal: to find ways to recreate that craziness and fun and excitement and personal touch from the offsite, in-person events of the past online.

I’m supposed to be the virtual volunteering expert. So this should be a piece of cake for me, right? Afterall, I have ideas for creating a personal experience for working with online volunteers in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. I’m using those recommendations, as well as looking through research I’ve curated about organizations working with online volunteers, information about virtual teams, remote teams, ework, telecommuting, etc., to come up with ideas… but I need more!

Here are my ideas so far:

  • Talk one-on-one with the nonprofits as much as possible live via phone or web conference. There could be as many as 45 nonprofits participating, and while there are plenty of tools to communicate en masse with the nonprofits, and I will use many such tools, I’m also committed to talking, in real time, with EACH nonprofit, one-on-one, both right after they sign up and as they need it through the process. If I’ve been clear in those mass communications – on the web site, on the intranet, in email, etc. – then we’re talking about a few minutes at time in real-time communications, not hours and hours. But those one-on-one meetings are, IMO, essential to restore that personal touch and personality to participation.
  • I’ll be asking each nonprofit to take a group photo of their staff holding a small 8 1/2 X 11” sign I will send them electronically, and that they will print out, that says something like “We’re in for #OpenAIR2018,” and then share via their various social media channels tagged with #OpenAir2018. And then Knowbility will share those photos as well via their social media channels, like Twitter and Facebook. That allows us to again see happy faces as a part of this event, and energize participants.
  • I’m going to do some short, private videos for nonprofit participants – maybe 5 minutes – very informal, just giving them updates about what’s going on or something they need to keep in mind, and with each one, having a joke of the week, or some theme (Star Wars, Halloween, nature, pets, basketball, whatever) – hoping that both the key message and the silliness will guarantee viewers and energize participants.
  • I’m going to have at least one live webinar, an “ask me anything” session, allowing nonprofits that have signed up to ask anything, “live”, and everyone in the webinars hearing my answers in real time. This is something PeaceCorps does periodically, and I really love how approachable it feels for participants.
  • I’m hoping the design teams and nonprofits, after they are matched together, will do some screen captures of their meetings together and share them with me, so we can share them with other teams to show each other what they look like when they are working together. Silly hats could be encouraged.
  • I’m going to ask the nonprofits to send something via postal mail to their design team. It can be a postcard of encouragement, a t-shirt from a previous event, a pen with their logo on it – just SOMETHING the web design team members can hold in a hand, something that represents the nonprofit in a personal way, something tangible, and something that didn’t have to be purchased or, if it did, was less than $2 and has something personal written on it by the nonprofit’s executive director or key contact (postcard!). If the NGO is, say, in Afghanistan, and has no way to send postal mail to the design team, I might ask them to send, via email, a recipe for a traditional Afghan dish, and ask the design team to share a photo of them enjoying the dish together.
  • I’m going to ask the design teams to send something via postal mail to their nonprofits. Same rules: it can be a postcard of encouragement, a t-shirt from a previous event, a pen with their logo on it – just SOMETHING the nonprofit staff can hold in their hands, something that represents the design team in a personal way, something tangible.

Those are my ideas for getting more fun and a human touch back into this competition. The challenge is to come up with things that are free, simple, worthwhile to spend the time on, that teams won’t see as a burden, and that nonprofits won’t see as a waste of time. If something can’t be all of those things, it’s not going to work!

So, there’s my challenge. What are YOUR ideas? Remember those restrictions:

  • free
  • simple
  • worthwhile
  • not burdensome
  • not a waste of time

Please put your fabulous ideas in the comments section!

And if you represent a nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO), charity, public school, or any other not-for-profit, mission-based organization anywhere in the world, I hope you will consider participating in OpenAIR. Your organization gets a new web site that is accessible for people with disabilities, people who want to donate to your organization, volunteer for it, support it or otherwise participate it in some way. Imagine how being a more welcoming organization online will look to your current supporters and to potential donors! The sooner you sign up, the sooner you can start preparing for the competition, and the more support you will get. Although the deadline for signing up isn’t until the end of this year, if you wait that long, you miss out on more than three months of support and preparation for the event!

Also see:

Related blogs:

Afghanistan meets Kentucky: WKU honors Lotfullah Najafizada of TOLONews

I lived in Kentucky for the first 22 years of my life, and I am a 1988 graduate of Western Kentucky University (WKU), with a BA in Journalism.

I worked in Afghanistan in 2007 for the United Nations Development Programme, seconded to a program at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development as a communications and reporting officer.

What a thrill it was to see my two worlds come together and as Lotfullah Najafizada from TOLONews in Afghanistan was honored with the second annual Fleischaker/Greene Award for Courageous International Reporting by WKU’s School of Journalism & Broadcasting. The award is given by WKU’s Fleischaker/Greene Fund for Excellence in First Amendment Issues.

Although I don’t know Mr. Najafizada personally, I am very familiar with TOLO, and enjoyed interacting with the channel’s staff in my time in Kabul 10 years ago. I still have many friends and associates in Afghanistan, and I’ve let them all know about this huge honor.

The spread of private media has been one of the few clear successes in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led international coalition invaded in 2001 and a myriad of development agencies and donors have worked to lift the country out of poverty and insecurity. Tolo, which airs a mix of news coverage and original entertainment, has dominated the market since its launch in 2003. TOLONews is Afghanistan’s first and largest 24/7 news and current events channel. The more than 100 media professionals that work for TOLONews, in Kabul and news bureaus throughout the country, regularly receive threats from the Taliban and other criminal and terrorist elements for their news coverage of what is happening in Afghanistan. A January 20, 2016 Taliban bombing killed seven Tolo employees.

Najafizada started out in journalism as a page designer at a local newspaper in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. He later began writing and reporting, which led to a job in the online department at Kabul-based media group MOBY. When the idea came at MOBY to start a 24-hour news station, Najafizada was chosen to lead it. Among Najafizada’s many honors is being named a Press Freedom Hero by Reporters Without Borders for his fight for free press in Afghanistan.

You can follow Mr. Najafizada on Twitter: @LNajafizada

I hope he got to visit the Corvette Museum (& sink hole)… I wonder if there’s a photo of him with Big Red?

Here’s a photo after the presentation, from the WKU School of Journalism and Broadcasting Facebook page.

Here’s the official press release/announcement from WKU.

Here is coverage from the College Heights Herald, the university newspaper.

Here’s coverage by the Bowling Green newspaper of the event.

I will forever be grateful for finding the KFC in Kabul – um, I mean Kabul Fried Chicken. Okay, actually, it was Afghanistan Fried Chicken.

And, btw, Kentucky is nowhere near the size of Afghanistan. According to this web site, this is their size relation to each other:

 

Conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research

CALLS FOR CONTRIBUTIONS:
Thirteenth International Conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR)
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
10 July  – 13 July 2018

Conference Theme:
Democracy and Legitimacy:  The Role of the Third Sector in a Globalizing World

DEADLINE FOR CONFERENCE ABSTRACT SUBMISSIONS:   27 OCTOBER 2017

Conference organizers are keenly interested in a wide range of submissions, especially on topics related to democracy and legitimacy. In addition, ISTR is also interested in research which advances our understanding of theory, policy, and practice of third sector organizations. Conference themes include:

  • Democracy and Civil Society Organizations
  • Challenges and Opportunities of Advocacy by NGOs and Nonprofits
  • Governance, Management, Adaptation and Sustainability of Third Sector Organizations
  • Hybridity, Legitimacy and the Third Sector
  • New Models of Philanthropy and Voluntarism
  • Active Citizenship and Activism
  • The Third Sector and Development
  • Social Innovation and the Third Sector
  • Research on Teaching Third Sector Studies
  • Emerging Areas of Theory and Practice

Abstract Submissions
Contributions may take the form of a paper, a panel, a roundtable, or a poster.  The abstract must be less than 400 words in length.

Full details regarding submission specifications are found in the Call for Contributions.

Submissions for Panels, Papers and Posters
All panel, papers and poster proposals for the Conference must be submitted using ISTR’s online submission service. To submit your paper or poster abstract using this service, go to the ISTR website – www.istr.org/Amsterdam – and follow the link for ‘Submit a Proposal.’

World Tourism Day 2017

September 27 is World Tourism Day, as designated by the United Nations. In fact, 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. World Tourism Day is meant to foster awareness of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value. The celebration also seeks to highlight tourism’s potential to contribute to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The theme of World Tourism Day this year, 2017, is Sustainable Tourism – a Tool for Development. And for my friends in the USA who may not understand: by “development”, they mean community development, economic development, preservation of historical sites while opening them up to tourism, etc.

I’m joining the celebration online by writing this blog that you are reading now, by taking the pledge to #TravelEnjoyRespect and by using the various images and other tools available for free from the United Nations World Tourism Organization in my social media messages today. The images are provided in multiple languages.

I love to travel. I have been privileged enough to travel internationally a great deal, both through my work and for entirely personal reasons. Travel gives me hope in humanity, because of the incredible kindness I experience. Travel gives me a sense of wonder, because of the incredible natural beauty and human-made marvels I see. Travel gives me a sense of brotherhood with all humans, because of the various representations of history I encounter. I want all people to get to experience this, particularly women. And the economic benefits to local communities regarding tourism are real and something I very much want to support.

I created a web page called transire benefaciendo: “to travel along while doing good.” I believe that every traveler has the power to do good on their journey. Here are 14 easy ideas for transire benefaciendo: eating in local restaurants, buying locally-produced products as much as possible (local beer and wine can be AWESOME), being as polite as possible, being quiet in sacred spaces, learning to say “thank you” in the local language as soon as possible, talking with local people about their lives and their work, taking the tour of something truly local (like a local history or local art museum), never paying for something that is endangered or leads to endangered animals (like ivory), never paying to touch a wild animal, refusing to ride elephants, never taking photos of children no matter how cute they are without their parents’ permission, paying appropriate prices for things and not trying to bargain in inappropriate situations/areas with extreme poverty, insisting on throwing away my trash possibly no matter how much a guide says it’s okay to throw it down on the ground, and never defacing anything with graffiti.

Showing respect and interest is appreciated worldwide. It creates a positive image of others from your country and ALL travelers from abroad. Talking with local people can lead to beautiful moments. One of my favorite travel memories is returning to my hotel room in Afghanistan after being away for a week and having the cleaning lady take my hand in the hallway and lead me to my room, so she could show me it had been painted, and have her rub my hands over and over saying, “Welcome! Welcome!”, the only English phrase she knew besides “Good morning.” Refusing to pay to touch wild animals, including riding elephants, encourages people making their living from forcing these animals into such horrible lives to seek other ways of employment. Buying locally-produced items, including food, helps the local economy. It doesn’t seem like much, but it DOES make a difference!

I have some resources for people in developing countries that want to expand their tourism offerings:

Adventure tourism as a tool for economic & community development by me! This is a resource for those that like to explore developing countries / low infrastructure environments, as well as offering more about why I make travel a priority in my life.

Hosting International Volunteers. I’m not crazy about voluntourism, but if you want to host volunteers from other countries, here are things you need to do.

Advice for Budget Hotels, Hostels & Campgrounds in Transitional & Developing Countries: The Qualities of Great, Cheap Accommodations. I love small hotels when I travel. I wish more locals knew how to create a great site.

You can also help promote the day by using these tags in your tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram posts, and other social media posts using these tags:

#WTD2017

#IY2017

#TravelEnjoyRespect

#SDGs

Related blogs:

Toolkit for Working with Rural Volunteers

There is a partnership between the US Office of Surface Mining (OSM), AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), and community/watershed improvement organizations that coordinates and trains OSM/VISTAs who live and work in host communities throughout seven states in the Appalachian coalfields and the hardrock mining belt of Colorado and New Mexico. These VISTAs, in their role as national service volunteers, work on projects that promote economic redevelopment, community engagement and environmental stewardship in rural areas that have been hit hard by economic downturns and environmental degradation. “The OSM/VISTA Teams believe that restoring local environments is an opportunity for long-term solutions to severe poverty in mining regions, and the foundation for community mobilization and economic redevelopment in communities. OSM/VISTAs work side-by-side with volunteers in local community/watershed improvement organizations to support community revitalization and engagement efforts.”

The OSM/VISTA Teams completed a three-year research project on rural volunteerism throughout Appalachia and the Rocky Mountain West with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. After engaging in place-based research in 34 rural communities, the partnership created the Toolkit for Working with Rural Volunteers to share approaches to volunteer recruitment, management and retention that are successful in rural settings. It’s USA-centric, but the recommendations are great for places outside the USA as well.

One part of the toolkit, Rural Volunteer Management Practices – Case Studies, summarizes 25 different volunteer practices that work for this partnership. “We know they work because we first identified practices that were working well in a rural community, transplanted those practices to 50 other places and then watched them for a year to see how they worked in a different context.”  I love that, in this section, they talk about partnering with off-road and 4×4 groups, with mandatory service volunteers, and with student-athlete volunteers. When do you EVER hear any volunteer management consultant talk about how to partner with these three groups? I think outdoor groups in particular, like motorcycle riding groups, hiking organizations and others are amazing targets for volunteer recruitment campaigns – and largely under-utilized.

There is also a section of worksheets, templates and checklists that any organization working in rural areas (or, frankly, ANYWHERE) will find useful as they begin a project or as they carry that project out to success.

You can also download the complete pdf workbook: oolkit for Working with Rural Volunteers. (Select “File” > “Download” under document title).

Well done Appalachian Coal Country Team (ACCT) and the Western Hardrock Watershed Team (WHWT) for this AWESOME resource. It represents what I love so much about AmeriCorps VISTA: it’s not only about helping local people, it’s not only about giving the volunteers an amazing experience they will take into their post-national service work, it’s also about learning and sharing what works and what doesn’t with everyone. I am such an AmeriCorps VISTA fan girl!

Thank you, Energize, Inc. for bringing this to my attention via Facebook!

I have worked with AmeriCorps members many times. I helped put together a handbook for AmeriCorpsVISTAs in charge of managing school-based volunteers for Sanchez Elementary School in Austin, Texas, written by various AmeriCorps members over the years in the program. I also have frequently trained AmeriCorps members on volunteer management 101, and I have a page especially for AmeriCorps members that curates the volunteer management resources I reference in my workshops.

Also see:

AmeriCorps, VISTA, other CNCS programs could soon be gone

Corporation for National and Community Service needs a makeover?

Ideas for Leadership Volunteering Activities

Screening Volunteers for Attitude

My resources re: volunteer support / engagement / management

No app can substitute for actually talking with people

Back in 2001, when I started directing the United Nation’s Online Volunteering Service , then a part of NetAid, one of the first things I did was ask to spend a week answering emails from users. Before I arrived, the junior associates had recruited volunteers – unpaid interns – to do this, because they themselves hated doing it. They could not understand why I wanted to spend time doing such low-level administrative work myself. Neither could my new boss, who tried to give me a lecture about the appropriate work for someone directing an entire program.

I insisted, and I did it. Why? Because there was no better way for me to learn, in just a week, what the users of the service were asking and saying, what they understood, what they didn’t, and what they wanted. It took about two hours a day, total, and what I learned in that week, as well as other days when I filled in for sick staff and interns, was invaluable to creating effective strategies for the program. It also helped me better direct staff in how to support users of the service – our customers. Staff had never thought of those people on the other end of those emails, trying to use the OV service, as customers or clients, and I worked hard to change staff perceptions of the site’s users.

I worked at a professional theater back in the late 1980s. I had graduated from university less than four months before. I remember the executive director saying that he would cut any position in a time of budgetary crisis except the box office staff. He said that most of our audience would never interact personally with anyone other than the box office staff at the theater. Sure, many would get a call from the fundraising staff if they didn’t respond to the postal mailing about donating, but most – MOST – would interact personally only with someone in the box office. For most of our audience, the box office staff was their personal connection to the theater – not the actors on stage. That box office experience, therefore, should be STELLAR and have all the resources it needed to be such. That executive director made sure the box office staff was well-trained (and often re-trained), well-supported, actively supervised and well paid. And the box office staff, in turn, gave the marketing staff and fundraising staff invaluable information regularly on what our audiences were saying, information that was far more regular and reliable than any research consultant could provide.

I bring up these experiences which have shaped my approaches to communications and management of staff to this day because I am stunned at how, at most nonprofit organizations, NGOs, international agencies, government programs and more, many senior staff members are not aware of what staff on the front lines are dealing with, nor what clients or the public are saying. Yes, you should do a variety of surveys and focus groups and formal pulse-taking, and ask your staff to produce reports on what they are hearing via their interactions with your clients, customers, the public, etc., but there’s no substitute for interacting with customers yourself. That includes on social media. Why are you having inexperienced young people or a short-term intern manage your social media? Social media is about interacting, about engaging – not just one-way communication. If you had an onsite event for a large number of clients or the general public or donors, who would you have to facilitate that event – a short-term intern new to your organization, or a senior staff member? Who would your clients or the general public or major donors expect to work with them? What you would do offline, onsite at your organization with clients you should also do online.

And that brings me to apps and chatbots. I regularly see nonprofit staff post questions to online groups, trying to find a magical app or chatbot that will replace a staff member from having to actually engage with users, or replace a staff member actually having to read social media messages. TechSoup recently did a series of breathless blogs about how wonderful artificial intelligence and chatbots are for nonprofits. Yes, chatbots might reduce overhead administrative costs, but at what cost to the organization in other wasy?

  • Chatbots take away an opportunity for real people to interact with current and potential clients, donors, volunteers and others at a nonprofit organization, which denies an organization critical information that can help staff know whatcurrent and potential clients, donors, volunteers and others are saying, how they are feeling, etc.
  • They also frustrate people – many people will end their interactions with a chatbot once they realize it isn’t an actual human being and their questions aren’t being answered properly, and have a negative viewpoint of the company that uses that chatbot.

This response to the TechSoup blogs really sums it up well:

I have not ever had a satisfying experience with a chatbot. far too often there are unique situations and circumstances that cannot be anticipated or made a part of the program. It is immensely frustrating to be stuck talking to a chatbot that is only able to respond to things that are part of its program. I would rather have a little slower response and talk to a real person who listens and cares.

For-profit companies can get away with not having a reputation of listening and caring – they can still be profitable, despite such a perception. Nonprofits, however, cannot.

Not only do you need actual humans to interact with clients, donors, volunteers and the general public – you need senior staff to be doing so, at least occasionally. If these human interactions aren’t integrated into your organization’s practices and culture, and central to your strategies regarding public relations, they should be.

Also see:

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

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersRecently, I got asked if I would share a job opening at a PDX (Portland, Oregon)-area nonprofit. It was for a receptionist / volunteer coordinator. I responded:

I actually have a policy not to promote receptionist/volunteer coordinator jobs. Sorry. It’s a matter of my perspective about the importance of both positions.

It wasn’t the first time I had to tell someone this.

I will not promote receptionist / volunteer coordinator jobs. I will not promote receptionist / donor manager jobs, receptionist / marketing manager jobs, nor receptionist / legal council jobs. Not that I have ever seen those last three jobs advertised. Because such a combination of jobs would be preposterous. Just as preposterous as combining receptionist and volunteer coordinator, or volunteer manager, or director of volunteer services into one position.

I could write a long blog about why but, honestly, if you don’t get it, I just don’t have the time…

See also:

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

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteers

Like so many communities across the USA, the town where I live has many, many homeless people: people, including children, who are couch surfing, living in cars, sleeping in public spaces or sleeping in shelters, because they have no space of their own. There is a patchwork of organizations trying to help them with basic, immediate needs, and I attended a presentation by one of the organizations trying to offer temporary shelter – and by temporary, I mean both temporary for people that will stay there and temporary in their own existence. One of the slides in her presentation had a list of all of the many things different agencies were doing to assist the homeless. But there was also this warning on the slide: None of which will go to preventing or ending homelessness. And that included the temporary shelter her organization was providing, and all of the volunteers helping in such.  

In Houston, we’ve seen all sorts of people volunteering to help people get to temporary shelters, to feed people in those shelters, to evacuate people from their flood ravaged homes and cars, to get animals to safety, and on and on. And that’s not just nice, that’s necessary, and I’m so grateful that I live in a country where people are so willing to donate their time. But volunteers could not do this alone, and eventually, disaster-response volunteers are going to go home, and there are going to be thousands of homeless people and animals who are going to need ongoing, continuing assistance, even as volunteers leave the area.

I love volunteerism, and I don’t trust nonprofits that don’t involve such. I think volunteers are critical for nonprofits, schools and government agencies – and not for saving money. I am passionate about the critical role volunteers can play in a range of issues and services. Again, they aren’t just nice – they are necessary.

However, I also believe we need more than only – solely – volunteers to keep schools open and of high quality, to keep water clean, to keep hike and bike trails safe, to help the homeless, to address drug abuse, to give children the safety nets they need to navigate their life into adulthood, to promote the arts, to address youth violence, to respond to disasters, and on and on. Full-time, fully funded experts are needed. Initiatives solely, completely dedicated to certain issues are needed – and these initiatives must have funding. I have been begging nonprofits and schools, for years, to tell government officials and corporate philanthropy folks explicitly that, while volunteers are great, money is ALSO needed, to meet the needs of the community. We cannot do all that needs to be done in our spare time, donating just a few hours a month. The last time I was fully on this soapbox on my blog was in 2011, regarding the UK’s “Big Society” movement.

I have often gotten a very cold reception because I don’t embrace the idea that serious community and environmental issues can be fully addressed by people giving a few hours whenever they might have some time to spare, as volunteers. I’ve even been accused of being anti-volunteer, which, given the amount of time and effort I give to promoting volunteer engagement and best practices for such, is ridiculous.

In July 2000, The New York Times published “The Vanity of Volunteerism,” by Sara Mosle. She taught public school for three years, and after she left that profession, mentored four of her former students for a few years. She writes about her experience in her Times’ piece and weaves into her account statistics and feedback about the growing expectation of the US government for volunteers to fill in the gaps in service left by the federal government withdrawing support for nonprofits, state governments and government social services. She quotes people and sources that note that the need for social services was increasing at the time, but donations and government financing didn’t increase, and volunteering wasn’t enough to fill the gaps. She also talks about the negative consequences for clients of nonprofits, schools and social service agencies of more and more people engaging in episodic volunteering – what we now call offline microvolunteering – instead of long-term, high-responsibility traditional volunteering.

The piece also references the Presidents’ Summit on America’s Future in Philadelphia, a three-day event that was aimed at boosting volunteerism and community service efforts across the USA. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, former Presidents George Bush, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and retired Gen. Colin Powell all participated. I blogged about the 20th anniversary of that summit earlier this year.

Below is an excerpt from the 2000 New York Times article. Sara Mosle was singing the same song as me back in 2000, and I think her article’s statements, and the circumstances of nonprofits, need to be revisited. Note: the piece refers to Impact Online, and that is the original name of what is now VolunteerMatch. Also, the bolded text is my emphasis, not the article’s:

Excerpt:  

For more than a decade, politicians and civic leaders have been looking to volunteers like me to take over the government’s role in providing vital services to the poor. Although the movement arguably began in 1988 with the candidate George Bush’s invocation of ”a thousand points of light” as a response to Reagan-era cutbacks in social spending, it has been embraced by the current Democratic administration, which has continued those cutbacks, and culminated in the 1997 President’s Summit for America’s Future in Philadelphia, where President Clinton and Gen. Colin Powell touted the power of volunteerism. Now George W. Bush has picked up his father’s theme of ”a kinder, gentler” America by pushing ”charitable choice” — the provision in the 1996 welfare reform bill that allows faith-based organizations to contract with government to provide social services to the poor. (Al Gore supports it, too, though less vigorously.)

”Compassionate conservatives” would probably claim that I am the kind of ”caring adult” who can transform the lives of disadvantaged kids more effectively than any government program. I’m all for volunteering, but I would disagree. While I don’t doubt that I have had some positive effects on my kids’ lives — studies show that mentoring can reduce dropout rates and drug use among teenagers — they have mostly been of the ”boosting self-esteem” variety that conservatives, in other contexts, usually disdain. Besides, I’m not a very good volunteer. To work, mentoring has to be performed consistently, over a sustained period of time and preferably one on one. For the first couple of years, I saw my kids as often as twice a week. But now I’m lucky if I see them once a month, and I almost never see them individually. In their lives, I’m less a caring adult than a random one. And my failure is representative.

Although 55 percent of Americans reported that they volunteered at some point in 1998 — a 7 percent rise over 1995 — this jump does little more than recover ground that was lost in the early 1990’s and represents just a 1 percent increase over 1989. Moreover, the total number of hours that people are giving has actually declined. ”It’s a new trend,” says Sara Melendez, the president of Independent Sector, which compiled this data. ”People are volunteering, but when they do, it’s more of a one-shot deal — half a day one Saturday, instead of once a week for x number of weeks.” Overall, Americans donated 400 million fewer hours in 1998 than they did in 1995.

Consequently, while Powell has made recruiting 100,000 new mentors a top priority of America’s Promise, his volunteer outfit, there is little evidence that people are sufficiently answering his call. In New York, for instance, Big Brothers/Big Sisters receives just 4,000 inquiries each year from potential mentors. Of these, two-thirds never follow up once they learn they have to commit to seeing their kids at least twice a month. Another 700 lose interest after the initial training session or are eliminated through the program’s rigorous screening process. Only 600 people ever become mentors — this in a city with more than one million schoolchildren — and nationally, the program has a waiting list of some 50,000 kids.

To help nonprofits cope with this new unreliable work force, groups like Impact Online and New York Cares have sprung up that act like temp agencies, matching the interests (and busy schedules) of what might be called the impulse volunteer — someone with an urge to give but only a few hours to kill — with openings, arranged by time slot and geographical location. But this Filofax approach to giving often robs volunteerism of the very thing that was supposed to recommend it over government in the first place — namely, the personal connection that develops when you regularly visit, say, the same homebound AIDS patient.

And in a volunteer’s market, not every need has a buyer. ”People will come in and do a project — a school painting, a school wiring — and think they’ve done a good service and go away,” says Paul Clolery, editor of The NonProfit Times. ”But it’s not the type of traditional, week-in and week-out volunteering that a lot of organizations really need.”…

The experience of Meals on Wheels in Dallas is typical. It can’t find enough volunteers to commit to even a few hours a month to help deliver meals to the city’s elderly shut-ins. ”People can’t get away during the middle of the day,” says Helen Bruant, the program’s director. ”So, they ask, ‘Why don’t you deliver in the evenings?’ Well, we looked at that. But for a lot of our clients, this is their only meal. They eat half at lunch and save the other half for dinner. Plus, it’s not good for the elderly to eat a big meal at the end of the day.” Therefore, the program must hire 30 percent of its drivers. Even paying people, Bruant cannot find enough help. ”We can’t compete with McDonald’s,” she says…” Yet, if anything, the need is increasing. ”The aged population has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade,” Bruant says, ”but giving and government financing haven’t increased.”

As a result, the heads of some of the most reputable nonprofits — the United Way, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities — have reported that they can’t keep up with rising demand for their services. ”We’re having to turn people away, or ration portions, to stretch supplies,” says Deborah Leff, the president of America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest network of soup kitchens. And while charitable giving is up sharply, the growth has not kept pace with reductions in government aid to the poor. ”People have replaced some of it with volunteering, some of it with cash, but not all of it,” says Richard Steinberg, a professor of economics at the joint campus of Indiana and Purdue Universities in Indianapolis…

end of excerpt

September 14, 2017 update: wow, someone must have been inspired by my blog:
Bill Gates: Don’t expect charities to pick up the bill for Trump’s sweeping aid cuts.

Also see:

USAID / VISP invitation for concept papers on volunteer engagement

Via a tweet from a USAID office, I found out about an invitation for concept papers from non-governmental and voluntary service organizations for assistance awards “that achieve development impact in USAID focus areas through the inclusion of volunteers.”

The official announcement via grants.gov regarding this invitation is really hard to understand, even if English is your first language. For a better understanding, go to the grant announcement site and click on the “related documents” tab, and download either the zip file or each of the four files (two PDFs, a Microsoft Excel document and a Microsoft Word document) separately. The PDF file VISP APS 2017.pdf, the annual program statement (APS) for this invitation for concept papers, is MUCH more understandable, and I’ve used that paper to write this summary. And I’ve written this summary because I really, really want some of the great NGOs I know working to support volunteer engagement in a variety of countries all over the world to consider submitting a concept paper.

In summary:

This Annual Program Statement (APS), entitled Volunteers for International Security and Prosperity (VISP), is “a mechanism through which USAID will maximize development impact and efficient resource use by mobilizing the creative capacity of volunteers globally.” Under the APS, USAID intends to support a variety of creative approaches towards the design and implementation of activities addressing USAID Operating Units’ (OU) development objectives. This APS is meant to offer USAID OUs (Mission, Bureau, or Independent Office) “an easy-to-use mechanism to facilitate access to volunteers across any sector,” while also upholding U.S. foreign policy objectives of promoting national security, advancing American values, and supporting global prosperity and self- reliance. If I’m reading the paper correctly, the paper means both local, in-country volunteers and highly-skilled U.S. volunteers that are deployed under VISP, which is also sometimes called the Volunteers for Prosperity program.

Concept papers should support a process through which organizations can work with USAID to achieve economic, human, environmental and/or humanitarian development impact via:

  1. Increasing the number of volunteer-sponsoring organizations collaborating with the Agency;
  2. Increasing the number of development sectors using volunteers;
  3. Increasing the quality of services provided by volunteers supporting Agency objectives; and,
  4. Increasing the understanding within the Agency of the positive role volunteers play in supporting Agency objectives.

Buried in the ASP is a note that says the proposed approach outlined in the concept paper should show how the activities will integrate issues of gender equality and female empowerment.

Note: This is NOT a Request for Applications or a Request for Proposals. “Based on those Concept Papers, USAID OUs will determine whether to co-create an activity or set of activities with any applicant and then request a full application.” In fact, if you are thinking of submitting a concept paper, you should FIRST research the priorities, objectives, and strategies of the OU from which you would like support for your concept – and the OU can be a USAID mission, a regional bureau, or an independent office – and then you should reach out to that OU and get their approval prior to submitting a concept paper.

“USAID welcomes concept papers from any type of organization that has the capability to carry out international development programs utilizing volunteers. While not an exhaustive list and provided for illustrative purposes only, the following types of organizations are encouraged to participate: U.S. and non-U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations, foundations, cooperatives, international organizations, U.S. and non-U.S. colleges and universities, civic groups, regional organizations, U.S. and non-U.S. private businesses, and business/trade associations. USAID encourages applications from potential new partners. All applicants must be legally recognized organizational entities under applicable law. An individual cannot apply.”

Please note that I am not a representative of USAID and I know no more about this initiative than what I’ve read in the support materials and I may very well have interpreted this entire thing incorrectly.

That said, here is my opinion on this:

  • If you are an NGO that serves as a volunteer center in a country with a USAID OU, and that volunteer center not only helps recruit volunteers and match them to NGOs and community groups, but also involves volunteers themselves in the delivery of their services, you should consider submitting a concept paper.
  • If you are an international nonprofit or NGO that recruits and involves a significant number of volunteers in the delivery of whatever services your agency provides, you should consider submitting a concept paper.
  • You should not invent an activity at your organization or initiative only for this concept paper invitation. Build on something you have already talked about or are already doing, something you would want to do even if this invitation for concept papers had not been announced.

Please do NOT take the blog you are reading now as your only guidance for submitting a concept paper; please read all of the materials at the official announcement via grants.gov carefully, and after that, write up a very rough draft of what you might like to do. Then, as noted above, research the priorities, objectives, and strategies of the OU from which you would like support for your concept, and then reach out to that OU and meet with them, talk to them, and get their approval FIRST, prior to submitting a concept paper.

And don’t rush. Concept papers are being accepted until 29 August, 2018 – a year from now. That means you have plenty of time to do the reading and research you need to do, and have the conversations you need to do, to prepare a great concept paper.

Good luck – and let me know if you submit a concept paper, just because I’m curious and would like to know.