Tag Archives: apps

Using a Cell Phone or Feature Phone as a Smart Phone

Millions still use a cell phone or feature phone, not a smart phone. For them, text messaging remains powerful, even essential.

I just updated this list of tips for Using a Cell Phone or Feature Phone as a Smart Phone. You might be surprised on just how much people all over the world – and right here in the USA – are doing with a cell phone!

More resources would be welcomed.

Tracking distributed volunteers (& their distributed managers)

In the last two months, I’ve gotten the same request from two different organizations. I know how I would advise them entirely on my own, but I wanted to open this up to crowdsourcing.

Each of these organizations is based on just one region (they aren’t national), but have different work sites across the city/county. These work sites are sometimes offices, sometimes a garden, sometimes a farmer’s market, sometimes an airplane hanger… diverse! Each is well-established and growing, attracting lots of volunteers, from very diverse demographics. Their work is exciting, and their work cultures feel dynamic and fun, so they don’t have problems recruiting, nor retaining, volunteers – people REALLY want to be associated with these orgs because of the nature of their work (which could not be more different).

Each has distributed managers of volunteers – people in charge of various programs at these organizations and that, in addition to their program work, also recruit and work with volunteers – and that’s been a BIG part of their success at working with and involving volunteers. Volunteers don’t feel like they are working with an HR manager – they are working with people in charge of programs central to the missions of these organizations (that’s not a slam against HR managers, FYI). But that blessing has become a challenge and a potential for problems: the official, overall manager of volunteers is supposed to track all of these different volunteers working in different programs, ensuring each is trained properly, supported properly, etc., and that volunteers contributions are being properly recognized and tracked. But it’s not happening. Those that are working directly with these volunteers hate bureaucracy, and each have their own way of tracking and supporting volunteers. There’s no central database of information – every attempt to do so as failed.

I think the very first step to take is for the overall manager of volunteers at each organization is to make it clear that the goal of her effort is to create an on-going strategy to implement policies and practice that will create a system where every volunteer involved is properly screened and tracked, but a system that DOESN’T add a huge layer of bureaucracy such that it kills the incredible success these organizations have had in recruiting and involving volunteers, and the current very positive feeling volunteers have. It has to be emphasized again and again that the goal is to better support volunteers, and to better protect clients, volunteers themselves and staff as a result of whatever system is development – not just to create burdensome procedures.

I also think each organization needs to get executive director buy-in for this goal and development of a strategy, that the directive to staff to explore and implement a strategy has to come from the ED, loud and clear and more than once. I think the executive director needs to communicate to all staff that a system is going to be put in place because, while volunteer recruitment and retainment are, indeed, wildly successful at both organizations, there are some very negative scenarios that could arise because of the lack of accurate volunteer tracking – and then name some of those scenarios.

Then I think the overall manager of volunteers has to sit down, face-to-face, with each person involving volunteers, talk to them directly, and create a map, literally or figuratively, of how different volunteers in different programs are currently recruited, tracked and supported.

And after all of the above is done, only then is it time to start developing the actual strategy, and that’s where I would love your crowdsourcing in particular:

— Having every volunteer meet with the overall manager of volunteers is unrealistic, IMO – Habitat for Humanity doesn’t do that, SOLVE here in Oregon, which recruits huge numbers of volunteers to clean up beaches and trails and parks, doesn’t do that, etc. Each of the organizations I’m working with needs to identify exactly what kind of volunteer can have minimal screening and tracking, and exactly what kind needs to be strictly screened and supervised, and everything in between – and this needs to be clearly communicated, in writing, and enforced – meaning there are consequences for managers that don’t do it. What do you think enforcement/consequences would look like? If you had to do this – how did you get buy-in?
(I know how to advise them re: what volunteers need what level of screening).

— Do any of you have similar scenarios regarding distributed management of volunteers, and therefore have a central database where every volunteer registers himself or herself? Do they register by an onsite computer? Their smartphone? What software do you use? Do volunteers also use the database to report their hours, or only to register as volunteers? How do you ensure all volunteers are in the database? (I have my own ideas regarding all this, but would really like to hear yours!)

— What other advice would you have for this organization to get all those working with volunteers to buy-in to a more formal system of tracking volunteers? and what other advice do you have regarding tools they can use?

I will compile all answers, including my own, and share them with the organizations – and via my web site or this blog, if the comments section gets too unwieldy.

vvbooklittleOf course, there are also tips in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. about managing remote staff – both online volunteers, who do most of their service online, and remote volunteers, who do their service in a physical onsite location remote to the organization and who provide updates and interact with HQ staff primiarily online.

Internet tools needing improvement

There are a lot of software applications – apps – I use regularly – and some that I’m using less-regularly, because of “improvements” by developers. So many apps are becoming so poorly-designed that they are becoming unusable, yet I read about many of these companies whining about how many users they’ve been losing.

So let me do you a favor, designers: here’s more than a dozen ways that the apps I use regularly – and millions of others use regularly – really, truly could be improved:

  • Flickr – Bring back the narrative slide show view. Yes, most people just look at photos, and look at them on their smart phones. But there are a lot of us who want to see the narrative too – not every photo is self-explanatory.
  • Facebook – So many changes needed:
    • Make adding and removing people from lists as easy as adding and removing people from circles on GooglePlus. Right now, it is SO hard to do. And there’s no “at a glance” way to see who is one which list. I would use Facebook oh-so-much more if the lists were easier to use.
    • Make it possible to put Facebook pages into lists. I would love to be able to put causes I really love, and want to follow, on a list, so I could look just at that list sometimes.
    • Make it possible to delete smart lists from a person’s view of lists – I have a company listed on my account that I have NEVER worked for. I have no idea how it got there, but there’s no way for me to remove it! It looks like I worked there – but I never did.
    • Create a blog space for users the way MySpace used to have. I could create a blog that someone could view WITHOUT being a member of MySpace – but the only way for someone to comment it on it unless they were signed in. You would end up taking market share from Tumblr and Medium and so many blog spaces if you did that.
  • Twitter:
    • Make it possible to view lists I create, as well as the list of accounts I follow and the list of those that follow me, viewable however I want (alphabetical, oldest to newest, etc.)
    • Keep it simple! That’s the beauty of Twitter! Please stop trying to be like Facebook. I connect with people and organizations I really need to know, even get job leads, from Twitter – that NEVER happens on Facebook. You are going to ruin Twitter if you keep “adding” Facebook features.
  • YahooGroups, formerly my favorite app:
    • Please, please, please go back to non-threaded discussions. You’re threaded way of doing things have killed discussions on most of the groups I’m on.
    • Create a fee-based service for users who don’t want ads on their groups, including no ads in emails generated by messages on the group. I will HAPPILY pay that fee! So would many, many thousands of other users!
  • Google
    • regarding GoogleGroups: go look at YahooGroups from 2002 or so – if your interface looked more like that, you’d still massive numbers of users from not only Yahoo, but from various online collaboration web sites as well.
    • GoogleCalendar: Please reconsider your decision to stop sending calendar updates via SMS! I don’t always have great Internet access. And there are LOTS of people that still use feature phones that don’t have apps. We need our SMS reminders!
  • iTunes – STOP BEING STUPID. Instead, start beta-testing your interface with non-software developers, as well as people over 25. I am not a stupid person, and yet, it takes me way too long to figure out how to add a song to a playlist, how to remove one, how to play just one album, and on and on.

Those are my ideas. Get right on that, ‘kay?

mobile apps in nonprofit program & management work

Whenever I read about mobile apps (software applications to be used on smartphones or tablets) for nonprofits, the articles are almost always be about fundraising – about how to allow people to easily donate to an organization.

What I’m hungry for is information on how nonprofits are already using mobile apps in their program or management work.

I’ve blogged about this quest before, just last month, and posted about it on the TechSoup community forum, and the silence has been deafening. The impression I get is that there are far more ideas about how apps might help nonprofits, beyond allowing people to make donations from their smart phone, than there are actual app uses.

If you have information on employees, consultants or volunteers using mobile apps as a part of their work for nonprofits, NGOs, libraries, government agencies, or any mission-based organizations, pick your place to share your story over on the TechSoup community:

Also see this

The quest continues!

What mobile apps do you promote to clients, volunteers, supporters, staff?

The Center’s Internet & American Life Project tweeted out a link to a list of health-related mobile apps people have on their phones


It prompts me to ask this question: what mobile apps does your nonprofit, NGO, library, school or other mission-based organization encourage clients, volunteers, supporters, and/or staff to use? Or just simply recommend – and do you recommend it as a part of the goals of your mission or as a way to improve productivity/better communication with volunteers and staff?


For instance,

  • A nonprofit that promotes healthy habits/change of lifestyle to improve health might encourage use of the apps from the Pew list to its clients.
  • A nonprofit promoting alternatives to car travel might encourage the use of apps related to bus schedules or bike routes.
  • A homeless shelter might encourage use of apps related to bus schedules or health as well (a lot of people in the USA living on the streets have feature phones – such a phone from Tracfone costs just $20)
  • An agricultural-related initiative, such as a community garden or grow-your-own food program, promoting weather-related apps that might be particularly helpful to its constituents
  • A nonprofit live theatre might use or promote the use of the kinds of apps listed here:

What mobile apps might an organization with hundreds or thousands of volunteers, an organization that works with wildlife, an initiative promoting positive activities for girls, an animal shelter, a library, or any other nonprofit, NGO, library, school or government initiative want to promote to volunteers, staff, clients, or supporters?


You can answer here, but I’d really love it if you would answer over on TechSoup, where I originally asked this question: