Tag Archives: community service

Requirements to volunteer are getting out of hand

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersThere are requirements in some school districts for students to perform a certain number of volunteering hours with nonprofit organizations. And courts across the USA often sentence law breakers to work unpaid – to volunteer – a certain number of hours with nonprofit organizations.

I’ve not been opposed to these requirements, though I do feel that schools and courts need to sit down with nonprofits and talk about the costs of such volunteer engagement for nonprofits. Organizations are not sitting around saying, “Gee, we’ve got all this work to do, I wish some people would come do it for free.” Volunteers are not free: they must be screened, supervised and supported. Tasks must be created for volunteers, and nonprofits have NO obligation to accept every person that says they want to volunteer. If you want nonprofits to involve more high school students or court-assigned volunteers, you are going to have to fund these nonprofits so that they have the resources to do that.

Now, I’m reading about governors and state legislators in the USA wanting to require even more people to volunteer.

For instance, as of January 2016, more than 17,000 food stamp recipients in eight Kentucky counties had to begin part-time work, education or volunteer activities to keep their benefits. Childcare is not provided for these food stamp recipients for their part-time work, education activities or volunteering time.

In addition, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin wants to require unemployed Medicaid members to volunteer in order to receive those benefits.

Danielle Clore, executive director of the Kentucky Nonprofit Network, had a lot to say to Bevin’s office when it asked the group to support his proposal:

The bottom line is this will cost nonprofits money – money and resources we don’t have to spare. It takes professionals to effectively manage volunteers. For the experience to be valuable for both the agency and the individual, volunteer efforts have to be managed. Is it worth the limited and precious resources of a nonprofit to manage a volunteer that is there because ‘they have to be,’ not because they want to be? Nonprofit employees are spread so thin as it is and I feel like a volunteer requirement for anyone not truly committed to the mission of the agency isn’t an effective use of anyone’s time.

I do not typically take people who are ‘required’ to volunteer, because they don’t make good volunteers. Also, 20 hours is A LOT OF TIME. We don’t allow people to volunteer that many hours because at that point they could be considered a part time employee employee, and you have potential legal issues to consider.

Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, told Kentucky Health News in an interview, “We need to provide them with the support services that they need, but forcing people to volunteer in order to get health care doesn’t make anybody healthier. We know this. There are data to suggest that. In fact, sometimes these stringent requirements put people in a position where they are unable to get care and then they get sick, and they are unable to work.”

I have nothing to add to Ms. Clore and Ms. Beauregard’s comments – they are RIGHT ON.
Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina also now have these requirements people receiving food stamps must volunteer with a community service provider for a certain number of hours.

Here’s another example, and it may be even worse: in the proposed budget by Ohio Governor John Kasich, House Bill 49, he stealthily includes a line item requiring all licensed educators in Ohio to complete an unpaid internship with a local business or chamber of commerce as a condition of license renewal. As written, this requirement would extend to all educators — including teachers, principals, superintendents, and other school administrators — licensed by the Ohio Department of Education. This shameful proposal is wonderfully skewered in this editorial by Sue Grodek. Kasich is insulting teachers, who must already complete vast numbers of hours of classroom time and teacher training, by requiring them to be free labor for business-focused organizations, implying that teachers lack “real world” experience. It’s absolutely outrageous!

There’s no question that these requirement for volunteering from certain groups is now out-of-control. If you want to require any group to volunteer, you had better sit down, face-to-face, with leaders of organizations that involve volunteers, and work really hard to get their buy-in. You had better be able to say why it is to the organizations’ benefit to involve these people – and you had better not say it will save them money, because it will NOT. In fact, you had better have money to offer to cover the substantial costs of asking them to increase the number of volunteers they involve. And most of all, you better have data showing that this type of required volunteering is needed by the volunteers themselves. 

Nonprofits: if you aren’t worried about this now, then wake up. You have every right to write your state and national legislators, as well as local media, and tell them NO. It’s never been more important for your organization to create a mission statement just for your volunteer involvement. Otherwise, you can expect not only increased expenses as you take on more volunteers you didn’t recruit yourself, but also an even bigger backlash against all volunteering.

Will the various associations of directors of volunteers in agencies (DOVIAs) and associations of managers of volunteers and what not take a public stand on this issue? I’m not holding my breath. But kudos to the Kentucky Nonprofit Network and the Nonprofit Association of Oregon and others for taking a strong public stand against political moves that will damage nonprofits and their clients.

Also see:

Courts getting tougher re: online community service

justiceFor years, I’ve railed against companies that, for a fee, provide a letter claiming that someone has completed community service as part of a court order or probation requirement. The person that pays for that letter has NOT done any community service – that person may or may not have watched some videos – but there’s been no actual volunteering done.

My blog from November 9, 2011 about one of the biggest fraudsters promoting pay-for-a-community-service-letter remains my most popular blog ever. It often gets more hits in a day – yesterday, for instance – than a blog I’ve just published. The comments on my first blog about these companies earlier that same year has statements from both people who feel this fraud is just fine (and who have participated in it themselves), managers of volunteers who are outraged about the practice and even from someone from a court who knew immediately this was a scam when it came to his attention through someone assigned community service.

I’m so proud that the web site of the company Community Service Help, one of the biggest perpetrators of this racket, went away sometime in January 2016, and all posts to its Facebook page are now GONE. I hope I played a role in that company’s demise, which seemed to be at the hands of a court in Washington State, per this Consumer Protection Division civil complaint and subsequent consent decree. I was also thrilled to learn in July 2016 that selling community service letters lead to an arrest and a conviction in New York state of another “nonprofit”.

I remain angry, however, that there are still companies out there selling community service letters. These companies are giving people a way out of actually doing court-ordered community service – you can easily find them on any city’s Craigslist volunteer section, or by just searching Bing or Google for pay for community service, and there are people that are proud to fool courts regarding their community service.

I’m just as angry that these companies are giving virtual volunteering a bad reputation. Virtual volunteering – editing documents, translating text, designing graphics, managing social media, researching and gathering data for a report, mentoring someone, training someone, and on and on – is real volunteering. But because of these companies selling letters that claim someone did online service when they really didn’t, many courts are looking at virtual volunteering with skepticism, and more than 20 years of virtual volunteering examples and a book and a United Nations program aren’t enough to change their minds.

I’m thrilled that the Kirkland Municipal Court in Washington State has a community service verification form that is trying to prevent people from paying for a letter that says they have completed community service when, in fact, they have not. I’m thrilled because it means that at least some courts in the USA are on to these fraudsters and are actively trying to deny them customers. Here is the wording from Kirkland’s form:

The Court will not accept community service performed for a prior or current employer, family member or an agency for which you have management responsibility. This court does not accept community service hours from online agencies or from agencies in which you must pay a fee to get credit for your hours (some examples of this include, but are not limited to: Terra Research, Community Service Help, Fast Community Service, American Angel Works, Caffeine Awareness Association).

Readers of my blog will recognize those names of companies selling community service – many have been mentioned by me on my blogs.

But I really hope Kirkland Municipal Court will change the wording on their form to:

This court will accept online volunteering only if it is with an established, verifiable, credible nonprofit organization, and only with prior permission from the court before volunteering begins. This court does not accept community service hours from agencies in which you must pay…

vvbooklittleI also wish that this court, and all others, realized that it is possible to supervise online volunteers in court-ordered settingsI want court-ordered folks to have the option to volunteer online. I’ve said it before: I’ve had great experiences involving court-ordered community service folks as volunteers, onsite and online. True, I have a rather tough screening process for any volunteer engagement program I manage, and it’s probably screened out people I would have NOT liked as volunteers. But those that have made it through my screening process have been terrific (and you can create your own screening process for online volunteers using The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook.

I also wish states’ attorney generals would get busy shutting down these pay-for-a-community-service-letter companies!

Finally, if you are looking for legitimate virtual volunteering opportunities, see this page. It features a long list – the longest you will find anywhere – of nonprofit organizations that have opportunities for online volunteers. But always – ALWAYS – let the organization know first that you need community service hours and what documentation you will need from them to show your service hours, because they may say no. And once you get their agreement, you may also need approval from the court or your probation officer.

assigning law breakers to community service: worthwhile?

justiceAs I’ve mentioned before, I regularly get hate email for my ongoing campaign against companies selling letters saying someone did court-ordered community service, claiming it is virtual volunteering when, in fact, no volunteering is actually done. None of the haters have changed my mind: I think these companies are unethical and, at times, illegal and harmful to all volunteering and I dream of them all being shut down. But a recent exchange in the comments section of one of the blogs has made me finally address something on my blog I’ve been meaning to for a while: the appropriateness of assigning law breakers to community service.

According to volunteerism expert Susan Ellis, courts in the USA have given some criminal offenders the option of completing a set number of hours of unpaid work in a nonprofit organization or government community initiative in lieu of a fine or spending time in prison, or as an adjunct to probation or parole, for at least three decades. Here’s an example here in Washington County, Oregon.

Reviewing various literature online and hearing about programs over the years through my work, I’ve surmised that governments like alternative sentencing, in the form of community service, for five reasons:

  • it can greatly reduce the costs of incarceration and supervision of nonviolent offenders.
  • governments see community service as restitution or restorative justice – through service, people are “repaying” the community for the societal costs of their crimes.
  • governments envision nonprofit employees lamenting, “We have all this work to do – if only lots of people willing to work for free would show up and offer to do it.” In other words, these people assigned community service are free labor that nonprofits need.
  • governments think it might teach the offender about ethical behavior and, at least indirectly, how their criminal/negative/illegal behavior affects the community overall, and how it would be better if they would eschew such behavior and be a positive, trusted part of the community instead.
  • it could be an opportunity for an offender the opportunity to learn a new skill, explore a career, and perhaps improve their employment prospects

Courts can order a person to do community service, but they cannot order a nonprofit to accept an offender as a volunteer, and that means many people struggle to find community service. Per all of the frustration about this on various online community fora, like Quora, I created  a resource to help people assigned community service by the courts. It’s packed with advice, more than you will find anywhere else, on how to get into community service quickly. The advice is realistic and it’s free.

I’ve never before questioned the appropriateness of involving court-ordered volunteers, from my perspective as a host of volunteers, because I’ve been lucky enough to write my own mission statements regarding volunteer engagement at whatever program I’m working in, I have always made volunteer involvement about creating evangelists for my program rather than getting people to work for free, and I have always made part of that mission to involve a diversity of volunteers and for all volunteering to have a primary goal of teaching volunteers about the cause at hand, not of getting lots of work done. It has been a luxury to have that kind management freedom, and it’s a luxury that most managers of volunteers do not have. I think a diversity of volunteers, from different backgrounds, made the programs I was involved with stronger, for a variety of reasons I explore on my web site. So, yes, I have been able to involve people who have been assigned community service as volunteers, onsite and online, and my experience with them has been quite good. I’ve never been opposed to involving someone as a volunteer who is doing the work because the court demands it, so long as that person meets the requirements of the task. That means I don’t take every person who applies to volunteer – I have a high bar for participation, to screen out people who won’t take the commitment seriously, who don’t communicate well online, or really don’t understand what they are applying for. I have never had the time to take on absolutely anyone who applies to volunteer and hope it works out. That said, volunteers that have been assigned community service kept volunteering with me even after the required number of hours were completed, which I’ve heard from other managers of volunteers is not unusual.

So, I’m not opposed to the idea of involving people compelled by a court to volunteer. But I do think it’s overdue to have a conversation about the value of this community service for the offender, for the nonprofit, and for the community. It’s overdue to ask some tough questions about it, because there are assumptions about the benefits that I think are unproven.

Looking at the reasons governments like alternative service, let’s consider if the reasons are valid:

  • it can greatly reduce the costs of incarceration and supervision of nonviolent offenders.

I don’t have any stats that say this is true, but I can’t imagine it’s not. It is very expensive to put someone in jail. By contrast, governments don’t pay anything for offenders to do community service with nonprofits – most or all of the costs are shouldered entirely by the nonprofit. As volunteers are NOT free, these costs can be substantial – but not for the government. Even programs run entirely by the government specifically for offenders to do community service (work crews to pick up trash, clean up parks, restore a playground, etc.) are far cheaper than jail.

  • governments see community service as restitution or restorative justice – through service, people are repaying the community for their crimes.

I am not sure I really know what this means. In this sense, it’s a purely symbolic act. And I get that symbolic acts can be powerful, but is there any way at all to measure this benefit?

  • governments envision nonprofit employees lamenting, “We have all this work to do – if only lots of people willing to work for free would show up and offer to do it.”

Anyone who works with nonprofits knows this isn’t the case. Nonprofits are NOT saying this. Again, volunteers are not free; it costs a lot of time and resources to involve and support volunteers. Most organizations that are struggling to find volunteers need people that will make at least a year-long commitment and give a few hours every week – that’s not something court-ordered community service seekers want at all. Most organizations also want particularly-skilled volunteers, even if they don’t require commitments of several months – rarely can an organization take absolutely anyone as a volunteer, regardless of their skill level. Plus, I can’t find any studies where nonprofits say, “Yes, because we involve court-ordered community service people among our volunteers, we are a better organization, we’ve had greater impact, we’ve saved money, etc. And here’s the data that shows it…” So the government is not fulfilling a need of MOST nonprofits by requiring offenders to give a certain number of hours of community service.

Even more than that, here are the two reasons given for community service for people that commit crimes that I really, really question:

  • governments think it might teach the offender about ethical behavior and, at least indirectly, how their crime affects the community overall, and how it would be better if they would eschew such behavior and be a positive part of the community instead.
  • it could be an opportunity for an offender the opportunity to learn a new skill, explore a career, and perhaps improve their employment prospects

Yes, sure, community service COULD teach these things. But does it, usually? And what does it take on the part of the nonprofit in terms of knowledge, resources and activities for court-assigned community service to have this kind of transformation for the volunteer?

In Giving Back: Introducing Community Service Learning, Improving Mandated Community Service for Juvenile Offenders, An Action Guide for Youth Court Programs and the Juvenile-Justice System, published by the Constitutional Rights Foundation, is this assertion:

“Community service, as mandated by the courts, plays a prominent role in our juvenile-justice system as well. Today, many juvenile-justice professionals regard it as an opportunity for rehabilitation. They believe that mandated community service can help juvenile-justice respondents understand the impact of their actions on others; give back to the communities they have harmed; learn critical-thinking, citizenship, and problem-solving skills; develop a personal stake in the well-being of their communities; and raise awareness of their own self worth.“

So, does it? I can’t find any resource saying it does. Apparently, neither can this guide, as it never cites any sources that affirm this. But what the guide DOES say about the transformational power of community service confirms just how much work it takes to make volunteering more than getting work done. And it takes a LOT in terms of resources, time and expertise – three things many managers of volunteers do NOT have. The exercises in the guide are meant to go along with youth performing community service, in order to take the service to a new level, something way beyond “let’s get work done.” And I believe the activities could really do that – but I also know that the vast majority of nonprofits do not have the time nor expertise to do these exercises with court-ordered community service folks.

  • Where are the studies that show that community service teaches offenders about ethical behavior or citizenship or community responsibilities and/or that it affects their future actions for the better?
  • Where are the studies that show community service reduces recidivism rates?
  • Where are the studies that show that offenders benefit from doing community service, in terms of learning a new skill, exploring a career, and even improving their employment prospects?

If you have names of or links to these studies, please note such in the comments below. I’m not looking for feelings about this, from the point of view of the court – I’m looking for hard data. 

If you are a nonprofit that can say that, as a result of involving court-ordered community service people, specifically, among your volunteers, your are a better organization, had greater impact on the community, saved money, etc., and have the data that shows it, let’s hear from you.  

I’m not looking for feelings about this, from the point of view of the court or government – I’m looking for hard data. 

If you have been assigned community service because of an offense and want to comment, please limit your comment to answers to these questions:

  • do you believe your community service taught you anything about ethical behavior, how your crime affects the community overall, how it would be better if would eschew such behavior and be a positive part of the community instead, citizenship, etc.? If yes, please say how. If no, please say if you think it is possible at all. 
  • do you see your community service as restitution or restorative justice – through service, you are symbolically repaying the community for your offense?
  • do you believe that, through your community service, you received the opportunity to learn a new skill, explore a career, and perhaps improve your employment prospects? If yes, please say how. If no, please say if you think it is possible at all. 

If you want to be anonymous in your comment, that’s fine – just fake your email address when you comment on the blog, and I won’t show your IP address online.

Please, no debates on whether or not you should have been arrested, if what you did was really a crime, etc. – that’s not a conversation this blog is seeking.

On a related note: I found a guide online, Community Service Restitution Programs for Alcohol Related Traffic Offenders, published by the US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 1985 or 1986. It was prepared by International Business Services (IBS) under a contract with NHTSA. Volume One is The 5 As of Community Service is a manual to aid state and local jurisdictions in the design and implementation of community service programs. Volume Two is Case Studies and Resource Materials. Volume one notes, on page 22: “A program representative from the Community Service Program in Boulder, Colorado, stressed the importance of carefully preparing agencies at the outset by precisely defining program expectations. Some programs provide agencies with written agreements clearly delineating the responsibilities inherent in participation.”  Is this a best practice in court-ordered community service? I don’t know about you, but I have NEVER gotten guidance from a court or a probation officer about working with a court-ordered community service person. NEVER.

On page 31, is this: “The underlying premise of community service, that offenders are more valuable to the community when engaged in voluntary service than when incarcerated, rests upon the assumption that those offenders will be responsibly monitored.” I admit I laughed out loud at this. It’s a nice assumption, but given how many people are getting away with paying for a letter saying they did community service when they really didn’t, I think it’s a misplaced assumption.

One final note: the publication Giving Back: Introducing Community Service Learning, Improving Mandated Community Service for Juvenile Offenders, An Action Guide for Youth Court Programs and the Juvenile-Justice System is OUTSTANDING. I think any manager of volunteers should read it, regardless of the volunteers’ ages, particularly the parts about how to make the community service transformative. It’s a great way to make volunteering at your organization more than just getting lots of volunteer hours to brag about.

Also see:

  • Requiring jobless to volunteer – reality check
  • Kentucky politicians think volunteers are free

    Yes, I love court-ordered community service folks

    Supervising online volunteers in court-ordered settings

    Proud to fool courts re: community service

    Selling community service leads to arrest, conviction

    Haters gonna hate, November 2014 update on Community Service Help and other similar, unethical companies

    Community Service Help Cons Another Person – a first-person account by someone who paid for online community service and had it rejected by the court.

    Online community service company tries to seem legit, a November 2013 update about efforts these companies are making to seem legitimate

    Update on a virtual volunteering scam, from November 2012.

    What online community service is – and is not – the very first blog I wrote exposing this company, back in January 2011, that resulted in the founder of the company calling me at home to beg me to take the blog down

    Online volunteer scam goes global, a July 2011 update with links to TV stories trying to expose these scam companies

    Courts being fooled by online community service scams, an update from November 2011 that is the most popular blog I’ve ever published

    Proud to fool courts re: community service

    justice“Jay” of this IP address: 68.37.81.189 (he didn’t give a real email address) commented on the most popular blog I’ve ever written, one where I exposed a company called Community Service Help, Inc. and its affiliated nonprofit, Terra Research Foundation:

    I completed approx. 300 hours of community service online with some site and it was affiliated with the Terra Research Foundation back in about 2013. I work full-time and have far better things to do than complete community service and jump through the endless hoops the court system makes you go through in their attempt to “fix” me over a minor violation. I presented the hours sheet to my Probation Officer and he never asked what I was doing for community service exactly, and guess what, I never felt the need to tell him either. That’s his job to find out if it’s legit or not, not mine. He approved it once I completed all the hours and that was the end of it, I haven’t felt a single ounce of remorse for it either. We all moved on with our lives. So, kudos to anyone who has “fooled” the court system by completing online community service by watching videos. You made the right decision.

    I’m so glad Jay wrote. Like others who regularly write to insult me regarding this blog, Jay really wanted to mock me for my hardline advocacy over the years against Community Service Help and Terra Research Foundation – both of which have taken down their websites and, apparently, have gone out of business (hurrah!). But instead, he provided a perfect comment that shows exactly why these organizations are unethical and even illegal: here’s a person admitting that it wasn’t really community service. He’s admitting it was a lie. He got away with it but, of course not everyone does. And, thankfully, at least some companies are getting targetted by law enforcement and paying a steep price for what the courts are seeing as not just inappropriate activities, but illegal activities.

    The other downside of organizations selling letters affirming community service when, really, none has been done, is that this will make courts and probation officers all the more suspicious of virtual volunteering. As I’ve blogged before, I’ve worked with some people as online volunteers who needed community service hours for the courts, and they’ve all been terrific volunteers. Virtual volunteering is real volunteering. Organizations selling community service harm that message.

    So, thanks Jay, for the great comment!

    My other blogs on these companies that sell virtual volunteering and other community service in order to fool probation officers and courts, which include links to the various media articles about these companies:

    Selling community service leads to arrest, conviction, July 2016 update on how Community Service Help has gone away, and the owner of the notorious the Caffeine Awareness Association pled guilty to a false-filing felony.

    Haters gonna hate, November 2014 update on Community Service Help and other similar, unethical companies

    Community Service Help Cons Another Person – a first-person account by someone who paid for online community service and had it rejected by the court.

    Online community service company tries to seem legit, a November 2013 update about efforts these companies are making to seem legitimate

    Update on a virtual volunteering scam, from November 2012.

    What online community service is – and is not – the very first blog I wrote exposing this company, back in January 2011, that resulted in the founder of the company calling me at home to beg me to take the blog down

    Online volunteer scam goes global, a July 2011 update with links to TV stories trying to expose these scam companies

    Courts being fooled by online community service scams, an update from November 2011 that is the most popular blog I’ve ever published

    Wikipedia needs improvement re: volunteerism-related topics

    wikipediaI’ve been updating Wikipedia again. I do that from time-to-time. This time, specifically, I’ve been updating information regarding days, weeks and months that have been designated for volunteers or about volunteerism by a major organization, a country or the United Nations, as well as updating information about organizations and associations for those that manage volunteers. You can see all my updates on Wikipedia, ever, here.

    It’s unfortunate that there is no program or organization – not one – that sees what I’m doing on my own, when I have time, as an independent, lonely volunteer, as part of its own mission. The result of this lack of an official champion to mobilize contributors is that Wikipedia is severely lacking in accurate information related to volunteerism, and the volunteerism field is losing a lot of its history. For instance, many major events related to volunteerism aren’t mentioned on Wikipedia or are barely mentioned, like the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future, a major event in 1997 in Philadelphia headed by then President Bill Clinton and former President George H. Bush.

    But I’m getting tired. Cleaning up Wikipedia and making it an accurate, content-rich resource regarding volunteerism should be a group effort – it shouldn’t just be me. Because I don’t have time and I don’t have all the knowledge! And it shouldn’t be ad hoc, because what’s happening is that people are going on to Wikipedia and changing content on pages related on volunteerism based on how they feel, not based on facts and cited sources, and they know that no one is going to find their edits, because no one is really watching.

    There should be an official edit-a-thon to make Wikipedia an accurate, content-rich resource regarding volunteerism. And I just do not have the resources, on my own, to organize an edit-a-thon. I would love to be a part of such an effort – and with funding, I would be happy to organize it, to ensure a range of people and organizations are involved. An edit-a-thon would get a lot of pages created, updated, and linked together, as appropriate, in a two days. It would be a concentration of forces to get the bulk of the work done quickly. It would help people after the hack-a-thon keep contributing accurate, appropriate information. It would create benefits long after the edit-a-thon ended.

    Oh, well… in the meantime, hbelow is what I’ve outlined as needing to be done on Wikipedia regarding volunteerism, in case anyone out there wants to help.

    Pages that need to be created on Wikipedia:

    Pages related to volunteering that need updating, preferable from people intensely familiar with the organizations that are in charge of them (I created some of these pages, FYI, hence why they lack full info – much of what I wrote I had to track down on old web sites on archive.org because the associated web sites aren’t up-to-date for 2016):

    Aug. 3, 2016 update: There is now an International Year of Volunteers – there is a Wikipedia page for IVY+10, and I’ve put on its “talk” page that it should be deleted, and remain a subsection of this main IYV page. I also note this on the IYV talk page. The IYV page needs much more information about national conferences that were held, publications that were made, and big events and activities that were organized in conjunction with IYV all over the world. It’s going to be a challenge, because all IYV web sites are long gone; if you remember the URL for an IYV-related initiative, you can type it into archive.org and review the old information. But do NOT cut and paste information from those sources onto the IYV page! You have to rewrite things and cite every source for every sentence or paragraph! Otherwise, the page will get deleted. end of update

    The entry for EU Aid Volunteers is a subsection on the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations page. It should have its own page!

    Pages that I consider a hot mess and in dire need of content improvement:

    Three pages that I’m not allowed to update anymore because other Wikipedia volunteers feel that my expertise gives me too much of a bias (oh, yeah, you read that right), but really need a cleanup:

    There are Wikipedia pages regarding human resources management, but nothing on that page regarding how the management of volunteers is different, and there’s no page on the management of volunteers. There’s a page on virtual management but, again, no page on the management of volunteers. What I’m trying to say is that there needs to be a page about the management of volunteers!

    One page that is decent, but needs to be reviewed to make sure it’s up-to-date: list of volunteer awards. Maybe there needs to be one page of days, weeks and years regarding volunteerism, like there is for this page for volunteer awards.

    And then all of these pages need to be linked together appropriately, and then be linked to and from other pages I haven’t mentioned here.

    And all of that is just a START. My outline above isn’t comprehensive, and it is quite USA-centric. Volunteerism is a global phenomenon, yet you might not suspect such reading the aforementioned pages. And what are the Wikipedia pages like on these subjects in Spanish, German, French, Polish, Russian, and on and on?

    Will anyone out there take up the call to host an edit-a-thon? Or will others with expertise in volunteerism join me in trying to improve these pages, without waiting for an edit-a-thon?

    (Update July 21, 2016): If you decide to start helping with this effort, some advice:

    • Make sure the page you want to create doesn’t already exist under a different name.
    • Read carefully this official Wikipedia page: Wikipedia is not here to tell the world about your noble cause.
    • Make sure you keep information neutral. Write for an encyclopedia, not a brochure.
    • Use LOTS of citations for what you write, and don’t just use the official web site as your source material.
    • Look at similar pages as a template for the page you want to create or improve. For instance, I used existing pages regarding designated volunteering pages as a template to create new ones. A page on volunteer management should follow the style of the existing pages for human resources management and virtual management.
    • Once you create a page, make sure every Wikipedia page that mentions that organization or phrase links to it. For instance, whoever creates the United We Serve page needs to do a search on United We Serve on Wikipedia and make those phrases on other pages link back to the new page. Also, create links to the page under “See Also” on other pages, as appropriate. If you create a new page and don’t immediately create lots of links to it, it will be deleted.

    If you decide to have an edit-a-thon to address these many problems on Wikipedia regarding its lack of accurate, complete information related to volunteering and national service, please carefully read these official Wikipedia guidelines on how to hold such.

    Wikipedia has a guideline on conflict of interest that states, “You are discouraged from writing articles about yourself or organizations (including their campaigns, clients, products and services) in which you hold a vested interest.” If you represent the organization being talked about on a Wikipedia page, you are supposed to make any editing suggestions on the article’s talk page, using the template {{Request edit}}; supposedly, this will help draw attention to your request and some Wikipedian somewhere will make the edit. The reality is that this rarely happens, and your edit request may languish forever (mine do on the pages Wikipedia has decided I can’t edit anymore). By all means, use the Talk pages as recommended by Wikipedia, but once you do that, it’s best to mobilize your own volunteers that are familiar with Wikipedia and your organization to actually get these edits done.  Make sure those volunteers have user talk pages that provides full details on who they are, and their entirely volunteer, unpaid status with your organization.

    Selling community service leads to arrest, conviction

    justiceThe most popular blog I’ve ever published, by far, is an exposé of a for-profit company based in Florida, called Community Service Help, Inc., that claimed it could match people have been assigned court-ordered community service “with a charity that is currently accepting online volunteers” – for a fee, payable by the person in need of community service. But the community service was watching videos. The company was selling paperwork saying people have completed virtual volunteering, that those people then turn into probation officers and the courts. The practice is at least unethical, and, according to at least one state, illegal.

    While I have no issue with a nonprofit organization, or even a government agency, charging a volunteer to cover expenses (materials, training, staff time to supervise and support the volunteer, criminal background check, etc.), I have a real problem with companies charging people to fake community service. And as a promoter of virtual volunteering since 1994, before I even knew it was called virtual volunteering, I also have a real problem with someone claiming watching videos is online volunteering. And, for those that might not know, here’s what real, legitimate virtual volunteering looks like. And here’s a wiki about virtual volunteering with even more detailed information.

    Community Service Help isn’t the only company selling paperwork to people that need community service hours for the courts, and I’ve mentioned some of the other companies that are pulling off this scam in several blogs (all linked from the end of this one). Actually, I should it wasn’t the only company – its web site went offline in January 2016 and is now for sale. Hurrah!

    Companies like Community Service Help post frequently to Craigslist, and I try to keep up on these folks, especially news stories about them, but somehow, I missed this story from 2014!

    Caffeine group admits community-service scam

    By JENNIFER PELTZ – Associated Press – Thursday, August 7, 2014

    NEW YORK (AP) – An anti-caffeine activist pleaded guilty Thursday in a scheme to make court-ordered community service as easy as taking an online quiz.

    Marina Kushner and the Caffeine Awareness Association, a group she founded, each pleaded guilty to a false-filing felony. Kushner’s promised sentence includes a $5,000 fine – and 300 hours of legitimate community service.

    “A community service sentence is a public and personal responsibility,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said last week in unveiling the case. Kushner’s lawyer, Peter Schaffer, declined to comment Thursday.

    Kushner, 47, was arrested recently in Delray Beach, Florida. While Manhattan prosecutors became suspicious after a local defendant filed a letter from the caffeine association to satisfy a community service sentence, questions also had arisen in Washington state and Oregon about a “fast community service” website linked to the group.

    The association still exists, offering debunked claims about caffeine, but there’s no page anymore on its web site, at least that I can find, called “quick community service.”

    I’ve written and sent a letter to Mr. Vance, thanking him for his pursuit of this company. I’m hoping other prosecutors all over the USA  will take similar action. These companies damage nonprofits, damage courts, damage the idea of community service.

    Is it possible, or even appropriate, for people that have been assigned community service hours by the court to do some or all of those hours online? Are they eligible for virtual volunteering? Yes, they are. Here’s detailed advice on supervising online volunteers in court-ordered settings, which I hope nonprofits, probation officers and court representatives will read. And note that Community Service Help and other similar companies would not hold up to the scrutiny recommended in this blog.

    My other blogs on these companies that sell virtual volunteering and other community service in order to fool probation officers and courts, which include links to the various media articles about these companies:

    Haters gonna hate, November 2014 update on Community Service Help and other similar, unethical companies

    Community Service Help Cons Another Person – a first-person account by someone who paid for online community service and had it rejected by the court.

    Online community service company tries to seem legit, a November 2013 update about efforts these companies are making to seem legitimate

    Update on a virtual volunteering scam, from November 2012.

    What online community service is – and is not – the very first blog I wrote exposing this company, back in January 2011, that resulted in the founder of the company calling me at home to beg me to take the blog down

    Online volunteer scam goes global, a July 2011 update with links to TV stories trying to expose these scam companies

    Courts being fooled by online community service scams, an update from November 2011 that is the most popular blog I’ve ever published

    Make volunteering transformative, not about # of hours

    Online Q & A sites, like Quora and Yahoo Answers, are packed with young people asking “how many volunteering hours should I have to get into a great university?”

    It’s a question that makes me want to cry. In my answer to these questions, I try to explain that number of volunteering hours means nothing to university admission boards or scholarship committees, that, instead, such volunteering should be about engaging in activities that demonstrate your skills in problem-solving, research, networking, persuasive speaking and consensus-building, and that in talking about such, you should emphasize what you learned, challenges you faced, what it was like to work with people different from yourself, etc. – not number of hours completed. I say so as best I can on my web page about Ideas for Leadership Volunteering Activities.

    But Richard Weissbourd on the PBS News Hour this week said it better than I can. Weissbourd is a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the lead author of a new report that calls on colleges to lower the pressure on students to impress admissions committees by racking up achievements and accolades. On the PBS News Hour, he said the goal of volunteering by young people should be “meaningful ethical engagement. It’s being involved in your community, concern for others, concern for the greater good, for the public good… it’s not about doing a brief stint overseas. It is about doing something meaningful, doing something in a diverse group, doing it for a year, nine months to a year, doing it for a sustained period of time. And the chances are greater that you’re going to get something out of that kind of experience, and you’re going to be able to describe in the application in a way that’s meaningful and expresses what was meaningful about it to you.”

    Video and full transcript here.

    I cheered and clapped. And my dog got scared and ran into her crate. Ooops.

    Now, if I could just get the Corporation for National Service, the Points of Light Foundation, the Independent Sector, and others to stop valuing volunteers by number of hours given and a dollar value for those hours…

    Also see:

    Supervising online volunteers in court-ordered settings

    graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersA comment was submitted on one of the most popular blogs I’ve ever written, What online community service is and is not. That blog called out a company that is selling what it calls online community service hours, but which is, in fact, a ruse: customers pay a fee and receive access to videos, which they are supposed to watch, and in return for claiming to watch them, the company gives the “volunteers” a letter from a nonprofit saying they performed online community service. As someone that has been promoting virtual volunteering since the 1990s – and quality standards in all kinds of volunteer engagement – it continues to have me outraged.

    I no longer approve comments on that blog, which has more than two dozen, because, for the last three years, most of the comments I get about this blog are from trolls affiliated with the company, ranting about how I hate hard-working people that don’t have time to do traditional onsite service (a rant that can come only from someone who has not actually read the blog) or name-calling such as this:

    fanmail

    Yes, really. Welcome to my world.

    But a recent comment from Mark Waterson wasn’t either of those. I didn’t want his comment, and my response, to get buried in the sea of comments on that blog, so the blog entry you are reading now is devoted to this comment.

    Mark says in his blog comment:

    “This article points out online community service options that are legitimate, but really misses the point of why those other organizations exist. If you are doing community service for court, you need an official signed letter of someone in the nonprofit organization who “supervised” you saying you have completed X hours of community service. Your alternatives, while more legitimate, do not offer this, even at a price, and so no one doing court ordered community service can even consider your suggestions as possible alternatives for their purposes.”

    Mark is incorrect, however, on this issue. Many of the online volunteering options I recommend on this page DO provide an official signed letter by the nonprofit organization who was assisted by the volunteer, stating how many hours the person gave as an online volunteer. And I have been one of those nonprofit representatives that wrote and signed such a letter for someone doing court-ordered community service through virtual volunteering. As I state on many of my pages for volunteers, a person needs to ask the nonprofit he or she wants to help – whether that nonprofit is down the street or across the country – BEFORE volunteering if staff would be willing to write and sign such a letter. Indeed, many will say no – even for onsite, face-to-face volunteers – but you will find some that will say yes if you keep looking, as I suggest on my pages.

    As volunteerism expert Susan Ellis frequently points out, there are very few onsite, traditional volunteering activities where a volunteer is supervised the entire time he or she is performing service. Instead, the volunteers is trained, then given a desk, or a work space and materials, or a phone, or a garbage bag and some gloves, and then they do MOST of their volunteering largely unsupervised. As someone who has been fooled more than a few times by a volunteer sitting at a desk, looking at a computer screen for hours, and pretending to work – and after a day or two, I find out nothing is getting done – I’ve realized that volunteer supervision is much more than eyes-on-the-volunteer, or sign-in sheets at the door.

    vvbooklittleAs Susan and I discuss in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, there are many ways to supervise online volunteers, to ensure the work is getting done, that the quality of the work is up-to-snuff, and that the volunteer is getting the support he or she needs, such as regular Skype calls, regular emails back and forth, shared work spaces, regular reviews of work to date, etc. In taking those steps, you are going to know very quickly if you are talking to the person actually doing the work.

    Could someone fake online volunteering service? Sure, just as people can fake onsite service: hand the volunteer the plastic bag and the gloves, send them down the road to pick up trash, and when they are out-of-sight, a friend brings them a full bag of trash to return to you. Ta da! Or put three volunteers at your information booth, walk away for five hours, and return, not knowing that one of the volunteers paid the others to lie about her time at the table.

    Let’s imagine a volunteering scenario: a father gets a DUI and has to do a certain number of hours of community service. He finds a nonprofit that needs 400 photos on Flickr that each need to be tagged with a unique set of keywords, and because each set of keywords is different, it has to be done manually. He signs up to do the work, is accepted to do the work, but his son actually does the work. But here’s the thing: he could also do that as an onsite volunteer: he could go onsite, sit at a desk, and play Tetris until someone passes by, then switch to the Flickr screen and pretend to work until they are gone; meanwhile, his son back at home is actually doing all the work. Here’s a similar scenario: a mom gets assigned court-ordered community service and she signs up to help a nonprofit translate brochures and speeches into Spanish from English. She comes into the nonprofit, sits at a desk, but she plays Scrabble whilst her daughter back home does all the translating.

    I think that any volunteer manager of quality would sniff out these scams quickly, through their discussions with the volunteer, review of work, etc. And that would be true of onsite or online volunteers.  TMZ implied that Lindsay Lohan faked her virtual volunteering to fulfill court-ordered community service (be sure to scroll down to the comments – yes, I commented) – it would have been so easy for the nonprofit to know if she did the work or not, through basic volunteer management 101 principles.

    Does the tiny possibility that a volunteer can fake work done on a computer mean volunteers fulfilling online community service shouldn’t be allowed to do any online work even if it’s supposed to be done onsite at the organization, rather than via their own computer? No more volunteer web site designers, database data inputters, app designers, translators, editors, podcast producers, photo taggers, and on and on, if they are assigned service by the courts? Of course not. Whether this kind of work is being done onsite or online from the volunteers’ home or a nearby library, the likelihood that a volunteer is pretending to do the work while it’s actually a relative or roommate is so tiny, and so easy to sniff out. Fear of what might happen, in this case, isn’t at all justification of not allowing people assigned court-ordered community service to engage in virtual volunteering.

    The biggest challenge to court-ordered folks finding virtual volunteering isn’t fear that they will fake their service by having someone else do it; rather, it’s finding virtual volunteering at all. And many nonprofits refuse to work with court-ordered community service folks period, onsite or online. They just don’t love ’em like I love ’em.

    Even though I disagree with Mark, I thank him for writing – I’ve been wanting to expand on this issue for a while now.

    Also see:

    July 6, 2016 update: the web site of the company Community Service Help went away sometime in January 2016, and all posts to its Facebook page are now GONE. More info at this July 2016 blog: Selling community service leads to arrest, conviction

    What online community service is – and is not – the very first blog I wrote exposing this company, back in January 2011, that resulted in the founder of the company calling me at home to beg me to take the blog down.

    Haters gonna hate, the latest update on Community Service Help and other similar, unethical companies

    Community Service Help Cons Another Person, a first-person account by someone who paid for online community service and had it rejected by the court.

    Update on a virtual volunteering scam, from November 2012.

    Courts being fooled by online community service scams

    Online community service company tries to seem legit.

    Online volunteer scam goes global

    Yes, I love court-ordered community service folks

    graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersThe Oregon Volunteers Commission for Voluntary Action and Service recently hosted meetings all over the state of Oregon with representatives from nonprofits, religious organizations and government agencies that involve volunteers, and volunteers themselves, to gather information to use in the 2016-18 Oregon State Service Plan and prepare a report for the Oregon Legislature on how to strengthen volunteerism and engagement.

    I attended the Washington County meeting. Not many people attended, unfortunately, but the attendees that were there were enthusiastic and ready to work. The second best part of the meeting, for me, was watching one of the commission board members begin to realize just what a pain in the neck requests to nonprofits from corporations for group volunteering activities can be.

    The best part of the meeting, for me, was when Sarah Delphine of Hillsboro Parks & Recreation said she loved working with court-ordered community service folks, and I immediately demanded a high-five. Because, for the most part, I love them too. I’ve had good experiences with them as online volunteers.

    Oh how that point of view puts me on the outs with so many managers of volunteers! There are regularly rants on various online groups from people that hate working with court-ordered community service folks – or anyone being required to provide community service, including students volunteering as part of a class assignment. “They aren’t really volunteers! I shouldn’t have to work with them!” Gnashing of teeth, pulling of hair…

    I approach management of volunteers as community engagement. I’m not just trying to get work done; I’m trying to build relationships and engage with the community, however I might define the community. Organizations I work for often want to engage a diversity of community members – and if they don’t, it’s something I push very hard for. And that includes engaging with community members who are far from perfect.

    Let me be clear: I’m not going to involve anyone as a volunteer, online or onsite, that I don’t think is appropriate for the organization, court-ordered or not. I’m not going to create a volunteering assignment just to involve a particular kind of person or a particular group if I don’t think that assignment has real value to the organization where I’m working. I will tell a volunteer – or a group of volunteers, even from a very well-known Fortune 500 corporation – “No, I don’t think we can accommodate you as a volunteer. You might try looking on VolunteerMatch for something else.” My goal is to serve the mission of the organization, and that often means saying no to someone who wants to volunteer. I won’t lower the standards of the organization for anyone.

    That said, I’ve worked with about half a dozen online volunteers that were ordered to perform community service by the court, and all have been terrific. And all were VOLUNTEERS, and I treated them as such.

    Not everyone who has contacted me to volunteer online to fulfill a court order has ended up volunteering with me. Most disappear after I write them back – just as most people that inquire about volunteering in general disappear. Why do most folks disappear? Because it’s so easy to say “I want to volunteer with you!” So easy to send that email, send that text, make that call. But it’s much harder to actually do it, court-ordered or not – it dawns on folks that, oh, volunteering, online or onsite, really does take time and effort, and they fade away, off to look at some other shiny something they read about online.

    My first communication with every person that wants to volunteer notes, among other things, that they have to get permission from the court or their probation officer BEFORE they start volunteering with me if they are wanting to volunteer to fulfill such an obligation. Many times, they don’t get the permission – the court or probation officer says no. So that’s another factor that’s kept the numbers of court-ordered folks I’ve worked with quite low. But for the half a dozen folks who did get permission to volunteer online with me: they were terrific volunteers. They got the assignment done, they did the assignment correctly, they did it on time, they stayed in touch – and, in addition, they volunteered more hours than they had to by the court. One guy stuck around for a few months doing small online assignments for me, going far beyond anything the court had asked for. And I thanked them, just like I did with any volunteer: they got listed on a web page that named them and what they did, along with all other volunteers, they got an email thank you from me, they got invited to focus groups, and on and on.

    I really want to help people doing court-ordered service to volunteer. That’s why I created a web page specifically to help guide them. And that’s why I created a web page of where to find virtual volunteering & home-based volunteering with established nonprofits – because there are so many companies out there claiming to give court-ordered community service folks the hours they need for a small fee (please do NOT pay a company for online community service!).

    You can involve court-ordered community service volunteers without lowering your standards for volunteers. But don’t say no to someone who needs volunteering time for a court or probation just because its mandatory service, because it’s not pure volunteering – whatever that is. Put the person through all the same screening and orienting you do for any volunteer candidate. If they make the cut, bring them on board. If you see volunteer management as community engagement, as something so much more than just getting work done, there’s no reason not to.

    vvbooklittleWant to know more about the realities of engaging volunteers online? Hey, there’s a book for that! The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook is available for purchase, as a hardback book or an e-book. You will not find a more detailed guide for using the Internet to support and involve volunteers! It includes extensive information on safety and confidentiality, for those wanting to use such as an excuse for not involving online volunteers, court-ordered or not – and has specific advice regarding working with court-ordered volunteers.

    Court-Ordered Community Service Gone Bad – featured on “Judge Judy”

    I’m not much for reality TV. Except for one show. Judge Judy. It’s my late afternoon indulgence, working from home. It has less calories than anything in my all-too-close fridge.

    Recently, on a rerun, an episode from 2012 was shown. A woman sentenced to community service for a DUI said a pastor had swindled her into free labor. In Judge Judy’s own words:

    “You had to do a certain number of hours for community service (320). Your claim alleges that Miss Stewart, who you knew, scammed you into working for her at a shelter that she runs. And you thought you were doing work that would go towards your community service. And it turns out that she did not have the right paperwork. So you want her to pay you for the 143 hours that you spent working for free at her rescue. That’s what your case is about. Unusual. Miss Stewart says it was your idea to come to work and to do whatever you did around the shelter.”

    So, how did Judge Judy rule?

    She said that the woman who was suing for payment should have confirmed with the court that assigned her the community service that this shelter – which actually turned out to be not a nonprofit, but a woman who was inviting women in need to her house to pray with her – would be acceptable for her community service, and she should have gotten that confirmation in writing.

    That’s the legal ruling. The ethical ruling is, of course, that the pastor should have had a written agreement with this woman, saying exactly what they were, or were not, agreeing to.

    I realize a lot of managers of volunteers refuse to work with people assigned community service by a court or by a class, and they don’t see this as any kind of issue they have to care about. I think differently: people work unpaid at nonprofits and unofficial community organizations for a variety of reasons, and I’m okay with that. I’m concerned with just how often people undertake community service as directed by a court or class and find out the hours they’ve worked won’t meet their commitment. I wish more managers of volunteers were as well.

    Also see: