Tag Archives: community

14 (was 13) things you do to annoy me on social media

handstopMore than a dozen things that annoy me regarding the use of social media by too many nonprofits, government initiatives and other mission-based programs:

1) You don’t post at least one item a week to your Facebook page.

2) You have created a gateway where everything you post to Facebook goes out on your Twitter feed. Never mind that every message ends up being truncated on Twitter, so that Twitter users see things like this: Join our staff, donors, participants, volunteers & allies as we march on Saturday to support the vital issue in our community regarding… with a link for more information. Most people will NOT click on that link to find out what in the heck you are talking about!

3) You don’t list every public event by your organization on the events function on Facebook, so that people can mark “interested” or “attending” and, therefore, receive automatic reminders of the event as the date approaches, or get an idea of who else is interested or who is attending. It also makes it easier for others to share those event details with others via Facebook.

4) You don’t have your organization’s full name in your Twitter profile. That means, if anyone wants to tag your organization in a tweet or wants to follow you, it will be difficult to find you, and they may even use the wrong Twitter handle, driving traffic to someone else instead of you.

5) You post only “one way” messages to Twitter and Facebook, rather than posts that encourage engagement, like questions, or posts that say “Tell us what you think about…”

6) On Twitter, you don’t participate in Tweetchats, you don’t respond to other organization’s tweets, you don’t retweet other organization’s messages – you don’t ENGAGE.

7) On Facebook, you don’t “like” or comment on the status updates of other organizations. You want them to do that for you, but you don’t do the same for them.

8) On Facebook, you don’t reply to or even “like” comments made on your status update. That means no one ever knows if you care that they’ve provided feedback on your activities.

9) You don’t thank people that share your Tweets or Facebook status updates.

10) On Twitter, you don’t spend any time reading tweets by others – you just tweet your own messages. That’s like going to a conference, shoving your brochure into people’s hands and walking away, never listening to them, never meeting anyone, never attending workshops.

11) You post far more messages encouraging donations than you post about accomplishments by your organization, things your volunteers have been up to,

12) You work with teens but don’t use Instagram.

13) You don’t experiment with GooglePlus or YouTube or Snap Chat, because you couldn’t figure out the value a year or two ago.

14) You have something awesome in your email newsletter and I want to share just that item via Facebook, but it’s not on your Facebook feed nor your Web site (except as maybe in a PDF version of your newsletter, which no one reads online) Feb. 22, 2017 addition

If you changed your ways regarding social media:

  • your donors and volunteers would feel more strongly about supporting you,
  • your donors would be more motivated to continue giving and volunteers would feel more motivated to complete assignments and take on more,
  • the media would be more inclined to contact you regarding a story or for your comment on current events,
  • you are more likely to attract new donors and volunteers,
  • your staff would become even better versed in talking about their work,
  • other organizations would be more inclined to refer others to you, to collaborate with you and to rely on you

Also see:

2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership

The Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) is going to host the first national conference in the USA in more than a decade for people in charge of supporting and involving volunteers. The 2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership will be
July 26 – 28, 2017 in St. Paul, Minnesota. If you want to present at the conference (presenters are NOT paid), your proposal is due November 30, 2016. Please review the Request for Proposal Instructions before submitting a proposal.

Registration to attend the conference will open February 1, 2017.

It’s great that someone is attempting to have a national conference for managers of volunteers – it hasn’t happened in the USA since 2005. Back in 2006, the Association for Volunteer Administration (AVA), the national association of managers of volunteers, went under, due to financial mismanagement. With it went the annual national conference, the largest event in the world focused on the people and systems needed to support and involve volunteers, and event that helped elevate conversations about volunteerism beyond people-that-work-for-free-are-so-nice. The loss of AVA and its annual conference hurt not just managers of volunteers, but all volunteerism – there was no one who was championing the people in charge of creating tasks for volunteers and supporting volunteers in those tasks, and there was no one advocating for the resources those people need to do those jobs. I believe it’s why it’s been so hard to refute claims that the best way to measure volunteer value is by giving a monetary value to service hours, and why, in this era where everything is about community engagement, managers of volunteers at nonprofits have been largely left out of the conversation.

I would love to attend but, unfortunately, I don’t have the funds. If you would like to sponsor part or all of my flight or accommodation costs, please contact me ASAP at jc@coyotecommunications.com (as the deadline for presentation proposals is Nov. 30, I need ot hear from you before then!).

And on a side note: if someone doesn’t update the Wikipedia page for the Association for Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (ALIVE) with citations OTHER than the ALIVE web site, the page is going to get deleted. I’ve donated a LOT of time to updating volunteering-associated pages on Wikipedia – it’s time for others to step in.

When “participatory” & “consultation” are just words

social cohesionWhen you work in humanitarian initiatives in other countries, whether your project concerns water or HIV/AIDS or maternal health or vaccines or bridge construction or government web sites or whatever, your nonprofit headquarters and your donors will emphasize over and over that you must employ ways for the local people to participate in decision-making.1,2

Yet, too often participatory decision-making doesn’t happen in developed countries, by the governments that fund overseas initiatives and demand details about how participatory decision-making was assured.

The backlash against the European Commission (the government of the European Union), manifested most recently by Brexit and the Belgian region of Wallonia rejecting a long-planned free trade pact between the EU and Canada3, are great examples of lack of participatory decision-making.

So is the anger in Portland, Oregon regarding the new contract with Portland Police Department4, 5

And so is the anger and protests regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline is being built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners and will transport as many as 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota to Illinois. The Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, a group that supports the pipeline, says 100% of the affected landowners in North Dakota, where part of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe lives, voluntarily signed easements to allow for construction, and the Army Corps of Engineers, the consulting agency for the project, has a list of dates it said it contacted the tribe, or tried to and never heard back.6, 7 In addition, government officials believe they have followed the consultation process promoted by the President’s office in 2010.8

But the Seattle Times says “Environmental documents filed by the company show that during its permit application the tribe was not even listed in the entities consulted during a piecemeal, fast-track review of the project by the Corps. Company contractors contacted the county weed board, the Audubon Society, county commissioners and more. But not the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, permitting documents show.” The company has not allowed the tribe’s archaeological experts to review the ground in the path of the pipeline as it comes toward Standing Rock. The tribe’s expert, Tim Mentz Sr., in a review at the invitation of a private landowner, discovered some important artifacts, including stone effigies, burial sites and rare depictions of celestial constellations. The Seattle Times says, “So confident was Energy Transfer Partners that its work would go smoothly, that it started building the pipeline last spring, long before it had all its last permits in hand.”9

There can be no argument that tribes have been historically unable to influence projects that affect them and the land they hold sacred so this feels like just yet another land grab against native people in the USA that will marginalize them and hurt their lives. Sarah Krakoff, a professor at the University of Colorado specializing in American Indian Law and Natural Resources Law, says, “Sometimes what the agencies think of as adequate and with all good intentions do not feel adequate from the tribal side. Either because the process isn’t meaningful to them, it doesn’t accord with their timeframe or decision frame.”

Even when participatory decision-making is emphasized, the actions taken that are supposed to provide ways for lots of different people to influence what’s happening can be just for show; any community activist can tell a story about meticulously capturing the input of a group through a variety of listening exercises, only to have all that feedback utterly ignored in the final plans. I don’t know that this happened in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, but I’ve seen it happen overseas in my own humanitarian agency work; it’s infuriating.

And even well-done participatory decision-making isn’t always enough to keep protests at bay: until 2016, the ongoing consultative processes regarding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge between local people, including ranchers, birders, outdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists, tribal members and others was considered a model for other communities. But that process, including a landmark 2013 agreement, didn’t stop people from far outside the area from using guns and force to invade the refuge, occupy it and cause many thousands of dollars in damage, including to private property and tribal lands.10, 11

On a related note, social media posts the Dakota Access Pipeline are often tagged with #NoDAPL, and slackervism / slactivism abounds, with people posting memes in support of the the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, or adjusting their Facebook page to show they are at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation when they actually aren’t.12 It’s supposed to somehow create support for the tribe and to confuse law enforcement authorities regarding who is at Standing Rock and who isn’t, but Snopes points out that there’s no record that such has helped at all, including in attracting more “material assistance.”13

Since I’m really not fond of slacktivism, here are ways to REALLY help re: #NoDAPL without leaving your house or coffee shop or wherever you are with Internet and phone access :

(1) Call North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple at 701-328-2200, leaving a RESPECTFUL, firm message on this subject (I find writing out the statement & reading from it helps me).

(2) Call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414 & tell President Obama to rescind the Army Corps of Engineers’ Permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

(3) Sign the petition at petitions.whitehouse.gov

(4) Contact the executives of Energy Transfer Partners that are building the pipeline:

Lee Hanse, Executive Vice President
Telephone: (210) 403-6455 or email: Lee.Hanse@energytransfer.com

Glenn Emery, Vice President
Telephone: (210) 403-6762 or email: Glenn.Emery@energytransfer.com

Also see:

Sources:

  1. Oil workers and oil communities: counterplanning from the commons in Nigeria, Terisa E. Turner 1997
  2. LEFT BEHIND; As Oil Riches Flow, Poor Village Cries Out, New York Times
  3. Wallonia rejects EU ultimatum over Canada free trade deal, EuroNews
  4. Portland City Council approves police contract amid unruly protest, Oregon Live
  5. Why protesters are mad about the police contract, Oregon Live
  6. What to Know About the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests, Time
  7. Tribal Consultation At Heart Of Pipeline Fight, insideenergy.org
  8. Guidance for Implementing E.O. 13175, “Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments” , whitehouse.gov
  9. The violent Dakota Access Pipeline protest raged for hours — until this tribal elder stepped in, Seattle Times
  10. Audubon Society of Portland Statement on the Occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
  11. Beyond the Oregon Protests: The Search for Common Ground, Environment 360, Yale University
  12. Standing Rock Facebook Check-in, CNN
  13. Facebook check-in at Standing Rock, Snopes

Volunteering & social cohesion in a post Brexit world

social cohesionOn 15 September, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) National Volunteering Forum met in Manchester, England to talk about the potential implications of Brexit for volunteering, and to discuss evidence and real life examples demonstrating the role that volunteering can play in improving social cohesion. The slides from the event are shared online, and the associated tweets, here.

The tweets are SO worth reading, a mix of comments said at the forum and comments from people following online. GREAT questions and comments that will give you pause, because you shouldn’t think of obstacles to social cohesion as just a British phenomena: all over Europe, as well as the USA, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Mexico, and on and on, societies are struggling with divided socio-political landscapes. Emotions are running high, driving nationalist movements and, often, racist and xenophobia movements as well. In many places, neighbors aren’t talking to neighbors because of differences in politics, religion, language, values and more.

As I note in my paper “Internet-mediated Volunteering in the EU: Its history, prevalence, and approaches and how it relates to employability and social inclusion” for the European Commission in 2014, researchers for vInspired, in exploring the contribution of volunteering to employability for young people, found that volunteering contributed to young people’s feeling of social inclusion:

  • Volunteering helped young people to develop their networks and mix with a more diverse social group. It also increased their ability to work within and across authority structures. This suggests that providing volunteering opportunities to a wide range of young people will help to break-down social barriers and lead to greater community cohesion and personal well- being.
  • The positive contribution made by young people to the organisations and communities with which they were involved, helped to overcome the negative stereotypes often applied to them, and improved perceptions of young people amongst adults such as staff, volunteers and service users.
  • Many young people are currently in a precarious economic position with the high level of youth unemployment, and some commentators are warning of a lost generation. Helping young people to stay connected to society and their communities, to develop leadership and employability skills that will shape their future, is one of the most urgent and critical tasks of the next decade.

As I note in that paper, this and other research demonstrates that volunteering can play a crucial role in building the personal resilience and capabilities that young people need to prosper in the work place and in society in general.

However, garnering those benefits from volunteering, as well as using it to encourage social cohesion, multi-cultural understanding, reconciliation, etc., is a tall order giving the current landscape in many countries:

  • War and dire economic circumstances are driving immigration at a historic rate, with desperate people seeking to migrate to more peaceful, prosperous countries, straining resources and emotions of those living in areas immigrants want to travel through or to.
  • Different ethnic, socio-economic and religious groups, among others, are clashing over everything from perceived threats to their culture and values to police relations to access to jobs to perceptions of crime rates and quality of life compared to the past.
  • Certain people are being excluded from participating fully in the societies where they reside, or from receiving the same employment, educational, societal and other benefits others in that society may receive. These people feel they are marginalized, that they have limited access to decision-making bodies, various institutions and employment.
  • Some people’s religious and ethical values clash with public social and working life, where others that have different ethical values also socialize and work. Not everyone embraces ideas of free expression, equality for all humans in all aspects of life (employment, education, marriage, etc.), democracy, non-traditional roles for women, and the value of diversity and inclusiveness. When these people are living in a society that insists on these values, by practice and laws, hostilities can arise, with ideas of tolerance and multicultural understanding clashing with deeply held beliefs and legal practices regarding human rights.
  • Change is rampant and is frightening to many people, particularly when economic situations are fragile, or perceived as such. People are hearing different languages than the one they have grown up with, they are seeing people dressing in a way that’s different than what they believe should be the cultural norm, and technology is rapidly changing employment, education and how services are delivered. The popularity of a restaurant serving food that isn’t perceived as indigenous or is perceived as being from a country local people don’t like, a poster in a church that isn’t in the official or unofficial national language,  a woman not wearing what local people believe she should be wearing – all of these acts can be perceived by a community as a threat to their local culture and values, and lead to hostilities.

The result of all of this is people feeling more and more powerless over the decisions and forces that affect their day to day lives. Fear and uncertainty is sweeping many communities, misinformation is rampant, and everything in the environment feels politicized. Many communities are becoming more segregated, with people choosing to live and socialize with people they perceive as like them in terms of culture and values, and choosing to stay away from festivals, neighborhoods, even restaurants where they believe a different culture prevails.

Can volunteering help bridge divides, increase understanding, reduce hostilities and nurture respect and social cohesion? Certainly there are organizations and researchers that think so:

What’s lacking is research showing that these efforts have, indeed, lead to multi-cultural understanding, a lessening of hostilities, etc. 

In my paper about Internet-mediated volunteering in EU countries, I identified challenges to promoting online volunteering as a pathway to social inclusion, and I believe it is, in fact, the biggest challenge for ANY volunteering as a pathway to social inclusion: resistance to including social inclusion goals into current volunteer engagement at an organization. In other words, most managers of volunteers don’t want to make social inclusion a part of their goals for volunteer engagement. Most organizations that involve volunteers have no stated reason relating to contributing to greater social inclusion for volunteers. They may not see the benefits of adapting their volunteer engagement to contribute to such. They may not have the expertise in how to do this. And they may not have the resources needed to build their expertise to do this. Agencies may resist adapting volunteer engagement schemes to include a social inclusion element, for fear of it draining resources or focus from their primary missions which may have nothing to do with social inclusion. In short: any effort to leverage volunteering as a path to greater social cohesion has to include money to pay for training of those in charge of volunteering engagement at various agencies. Otherwise, such efforts will, every likely, be doomed to failure.

Also see:

Managers of volunteers & resistance to diversity – my blog about comments that are generated when a discussion breaks out about diversifying volunteering ranks.

This lesson plan from the University of Nebraska Extension office, “Engaging Intergenerational Volunteers“, offers practical tips on having volunteers from a variety of age groups working together, as does this how-to guide from Bridges Together.

The Victoria Volunteering Portal (Australia) offers an excellent free guide on encouraging diversity among volunteer ranks.

I also offer my own free guide on Recruiting Local Volunteers To Increase Diversity Among the Ranks.

That moment when you totally change your mind about volunteer engagement

wizardAn email I received a few days ago. I’ve changed it a bit to hide the identity of the author:

I want to thank you, sincerely, for challenging me to think about my understanding of volunteering. You really got me thinking. I had a 3.5 hour drive ahead of me last night, and the discussions around mandated community service and volunteerism kept rolling around in my mind. In my current role, I haven’t really had to think about court mandated service as volunteering and from personal experience, I don’t know if those mandated, would consider themselves volunteers? I am trying to resolve this, for my own benefit at this stage, and I am finding it quite difficult! I intend on mulling this over a bit more. I trying to consider the benefits/detriment of either belief…. Challenged? Yes!

I love making people uncomfortable about volunteer engagement. I love challenging oh-so-solid notions about who is and isn’t a volunteer, the value of volunteering, and why people volunteer. Why? Because volunteer engagement is so much bigger than just, “We’ve got work to do. Let’s get some good-hearted people to do it for free!”, and I so want this mentality to change!

The results of this? I’ve made people angry. I’ve made people tear up. Some people have double-downed on their oh-so-rigid definitions. But most, while challenged, have also been inspired. They don’t all come to the exact same conclusions as me regarding volunteer engagement and its value, but they definitely broaden their original ideas.

I remember my big ah ha moment regarding volunteer engagement, via an event by Triumph motorcycles. And my blog, Should the NFL involve volunteers for the Super Bowl?, talks further about why I changed my mind about volunteers supporting for-profit settings, in certain situations.

Want me to challenge your organization? Complete details about my consulting services.

Also see:

Have you ever changed your mind?

Volunteer manager Fight Club

Nonprofits can learn from motorcycle manufacturers? Yes!

This blog was originally written and published by me back in August 2010.

Jayne and her motorcycleIn the last week, I’ve attended two events by motorcycle manufacturers, and there was so much — SO MUCH — that nonprofits could learn from how these motorcycle events were handled.

One event was a women’s-only event by Harley Davidson. It’s called a Garage Party. I went to the one in Gladstone, Oregon. These events are held at dealerships all over the USA.

The other event was by Triumph in Canby, Oregon. They had about 20 motorcycles you could sign up to ride, on group rides every 30 minutes. The Triumph truck travels all over the USA to bring these events to cities all over.

What I learned from these events that’s applicable to nonprofits:

    1. There were notices in local newspapers about these events, but the Internet also played a huge role in marketing these events, specifically viral marketing. I found out about both events because different people posted the details to online communities I’m a part of. Two of our friends went because we posted about one of the events ourselves on an online group. Text-only messages are easy to forward, and were essential in getting the word out to so many people so quickly about these events. How likely are your volunteers, clients and financial supporters likely to forward your organization’s events via email to family and friends, or to put info about it on their Facebook or MySpace status updates? They are not going to do it for every event, but they will for the ones that feel special to them, that really speak to their heart or that they think others will find fun or especially interesting. Also, do you reach out to specific online communities to market an event? In fact, have you ever considered reaching out specifically to motorcycle communities as event attendees?
    2. Both events were very well attended. The Triumph event had the attendance organizers were hoping for but not really expecting, because of the economy and because of the somewhat remote location. The Harley event attendance in Gladstone far exceeded expectations. I think this excellent attendance at both events came not only from good marketing, but also, because of how people are thinking right now: with the beating we’re all taking in this economy, people are revisiting their priorities and lifestyles, and not just cutting back financially, but also thinking about how they are going to live. Riding a motorcycle is surprisingly affordable, not to mention the sense of control it gives you, a sense of control a lot of people feel they don’t have now in other aspects of their life. These events spoke to people’s hearts and, maybe, even their fears.How might volunteering at your organization or experiencing your organization’s program in an event give someone a sense of stability, control, escape or fun? Could you create a one-day volunteering or program event that could invite new people into your organization with the sole purpose of getting as many people into your organization as possible and getting them in one-on-one conversations with volunteers, particularly in a fun, shared activity?
    3. The garage party was focused on a specific group: women. Harley knows that, to sell motorcycles in this economy, it’s got to create more motorcycle riders. And one of the best target audiences is women. So they have created an event that could not be more female friendly: it’s staffed entirely by women (all male staff leave), because new women riders tend to be very self-conscious and self-deprecating, and there’s nothing like watching a woman smaller than you pick up an 800 pound bike (362.87 kilos) and then tell you, “YOU can do this.” There’s great food, short demonstration stations, gift bags, and free t-shirts with I am not a back rest on the back. What could have made the Garage event better? More hands-on activities, and more interactions with actual women riders (see next bullet). And a lesson for the Triumph demo rides: have at least one woman Triumph rider (even more would be better) out talking to the women at these events, whether they look like they ride their own or not, and recruit more women motorcyclists to attend these events by posting about them on local online communities for women motorcyclists.How could your nonprofit create an event that’s targeted at a specific under-represented group? Are there people who are intimidated to come to your events currently, who would need to be catered to specifically in order to attend? What could you do to make an event more welcoming to a specific group that is currently under-represented among your volunteers, clients or supporters?
    4. The Triumph event was staffed primarily by VOLUNTEERS. Yes, a for-profit company was using volunteers! Because they were “free”? Nope. It was for all the right reasons: Because an event attendee talking to a volunteer — someone who owns at least one of the motorcycles in the line up, and owned at least one other probably at some point, who can speak passionately about the product, who wants you to get to have the experience they have been having, and who won’t get any commission from a sale and doesn’t rely on this activity for their financial livelihood — is in such contrast to talking to a salesperson or paid staff person. The volunteers got to spend two days talking about something they love, a free t-shirt, supper each night, and the opportunity to ride any motorcycle not booked for a ride. The few paid staff there stayed in the background, there to fill in blanks and maybe, must maybe, to make a sale, but volunteers were the official spokespeople.Do you value your organization’s volunteers as unique, important spokespeople on behalf of your organization? Do you encourage them to talk and blog about their experience? Do you have a speaker’s bureau of volunteers available to go onsite and talk to a group about your organization? Do you give volunteers a role at all or most public events? And have you ever considered reaching out specifically to motorcycle communities to recruit volunteers?

A LOT to think about!

Update: Here’s me on a Triumph Scrambler at the aforementioned event back in 2011. And here’s me on the motorcycle I have now (a Kawasaki KLR 650), wearing the t-shirt I got from that Harley event I talk about above (“I am not a backrest”).

The awesome power of tweet tags

Twitter_logo_blueI still love Twitter. I know, I know – all the hip tech folks say it’s passé. Nonsense. I still get so much more out of Twitter than Facebook, professionally:

  • I get a great sense of what folks are doing in the areas of expertise and work I care about most – new resources, new ideas, new trends I need to know about
  • I can easily find and connect with amazing experts in areas of expertise and work in which I’m intensely interested
  • I can find what I’m looking for and easily screen out what I don’t care about (unlike with Facebook)
  • When I tweet, I get replies and retweets and even requests for more info – real engagement – as well as traffic to my blog and web site

In fact, I’ve gotten a couple of paid jobs because of what I do on Twitter. 20 minutes on Twitter a few times a week is well worth my time! I’m @jcravens42 on Twitter, btw…

One of my favorite things about Twitter is tweet tags – keywords or phrases with a hash mark (#) in front of them. They are my favorite way to find great information on a specific subject, and for me to reach people that aren’t following me on Twitter but are following the tweet tag (by “following”, I mean that they look for tweets with that tag, specifically).

Here are my favorite tweet tags as of today. If you don’t know what one means, and I haven’t said so below, just click on it and have a look at some tweets that use the tag:

#volunteer (usually used regarding people giving back to causes or communities, but there is a USA university that uses it for their sports team references too)
#volunteers
#voluntario
#voluntarios
#nonprofit
#ngos (non-governmental organizations)
#vvbook (for mentions or links to The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook)
#ework
#ttvolmgrs (Thoughtful Thursday discussions for managers of volunteers)
#tech4good
#apps4good
#Civictech
#ict4d
Community, environmental & human development-related tags (caution: some software developers sometimes use some of these tags for their work, which can be confusing, and “development”, and therefore “dev”, can also mean fundraising in the USA)
#humanitarian
#comm4dev
#research4dev
#ideas4dev
#capacity4dev
#globaldev
#sdgs (sustainable development goals)
#undp
#unitednations
#usaid
#defyhatenow
#Afghanistan
#Ukraine

#Kentucky (usually in combination with another tag, like #volunteer or #nonprofit)

#pdx (Portland, Oregon-area – usually in combination with #volunteer)

#fogro (Forest Grove, Oregon)

How do I find tags to follow? Either via other Twitter accounts I follow, or I think of them and wonder if any is using them and so I look for them. I also look at what’s trending on the left side of my Twitter screen on my laptop, and sometimes those trending tags inspire me to share something using such myself.

I also leverage Twitter tags associated with United Nations Days that are somehow associated with my work or interests. For instance, August 19 is World Humanitarian Day, a day meant to honor those who have been killed whilst doing international aid work and to recognize the work being done by humanitarians worldwide – local as well as international humanitarians. The tag the organizers use ever year is #WorldHumanitarianDay. Some years, they have a second tag for a specific theme; in 2016, that tag was #ShareHumanity. So I used HootSuite to program tweets in advance that would be posted a week before the day, the day before, and then lots the day of, and that were tagged with #WorldHumanitarianDay and/or #ShareHumanity. The result was that many people following those tags ended up retweeting my tweets, and I got a few new followers as a result (and some great people and organizations to add to my Twitter lists).

Tweet tags to use and follow will differ from person to person, and organization to organization. For instance, when I was in Ukraine, working for the UN, I recommended that @UNDPUkraine use these tags regularly, both on their own tweets and to follow:

#Ukraine
#UNDP
#uatech4good
#mdgs
#innovation
#comm4dev
#urbanplanning
#poverty
#humanitarian
#health

For a government program regarding water and sanitation in Afghanistan, I recommended:

#Afghanistan
#UNICEF
#water
#watsan
#sanitation
#wateris
#food
#health
#toilets
#equality
#industry
#energy
#poverty
#humanitarian

Give it a try yourself! Searches can be saved, for easy daily or weekly references. I don’t check all the tags every day – usually just a few times a month. And this is anonymous – people can’t see which tags you are looking for and following yourself.

Should you create your own tweet tag for a conference, a program, your region, a cause, etc.? Only if you believe you can get lots of other people to use it, and you understand you will not own the tag, that absolutely anyone on Twitter can use it. How to get lots of people to use a tag you have created? That’s the subject of a future blog…

Lessons on effective, valuable online communities – from the 1990s

I’ve been researching updates for my page A Brief Review of the Early History of Nonprofits and the Internet (before 1996). I started the page a few years ago because I worried that the pivotal role that nonprofits played in the early days of electronic networks is overlooked, and because so many people claiming to be starting something new regarding the Internet for nonprofits are really recycling and renaming ideas from decades ago. As I revisited resources I already knew about and found new ones, it reminded me yet again of how much great stuff was written even 25 years ago or more about the potential of the Internet for a force for good, and how much of the advice from then is still valid.

An example of what a First Class online community looked like.

An example of what a First Class online community looked like (I wish I could show you what CItyNet, or any of the Virtual Valley communities, or BMUG, looked like, but there doesn’t seem to be any screen captures of them online).

One of my favorite early resources is from 1993; written by Steve Cisler, then of Apple Computers, “Community Computer Networks: Building Electronic Greenbelts” notes that, “On a local level, thousands of electronic bulletin boards have been started by dedicated individual hobbyists, small business people, non-profits, corporations, federal agencies, other governments and educational institutions.” And Cisler noted the role of volunteers in creating and sustaining these online communities – and that means online volunteers. Back then, Free-nets and community networks were all the rage among the small number of advocates for Internet use by everyday citizens, like Virtual Valley Community Network, a series of community bulletin boards via FirstClass and serving cities in Silicon Valley, California by San Jose-based Metro Newspapers, the most popular being Cupertino’s CityNet. I was involved in CityNet, just as a user, as well as Virtual Valley and Mac-focused online bulletin boards back in the early 1990s, when I was living in San José – I was much more excited by them than the World Wide Web, which, to me, was just a series of online brochures.

In May 1994, Apple Inc. and the nonprofit Morino Institute held the Ties That Bind Conference on Building Community Networks, at Apple HQ in Cupertino, California. It was about the potential of communities online that “make a difference” and “drive positive, sustaining social change.” It defined such communities as everything from neighborhoods to dispersed people with something in common, like a health concern, or caregiving. At that 1994 Silicon Valley conference, the Morino Institute presented a document called Assessment and Evolution of Community Networking. The document opens with a letter published in the newsletter of the Cleveland chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association:

“Every time I do get on Free-Net, I need some kind of help, and when I leave I have truly received the help I need. … I want you to know that without Free-Net I would be lost. … I don’t worry, I am not afraid, I have Free-Net and my Computer Family of loving and caring friends.”

He’s talking about online volunteers – people caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and donating their time and knowledge to others online. Is this the earliest heartfelt statement on record by someone that has benefitted on an emotional and psychological level from the efforts of online volunteers? It’s the earliest I’ve found – though virtual volunteering is a practice as old as the Internet, which means it began in the 1970s. Regardless, the statement well represents the potential of virtual volunteering – a potential thousands of organizations and their clients have realized.

I also found this San Jose Mercury News article in 1995 noting the lack of public interest at the time regarding the Cupertino CityNet system allowing users to message their elected officials. An excerpt:

Let the record show that history was made, but few took note.

Cupertino this week became the first city in the nation to allow people to communicate with the city council from home via computer during meetings. The results: Five notes saying, “This is a great idea,” and another, in response to a comment jokingly made by Councilman John Bautista, informing the council that people who commute by bicycle do obey traffic signals.

Although just a handful of residents sent messages, city officials say they have great hopes for the future of interactive computer access to the city council.

Doesn’t sound promising, in the heart of Silicon Valley, for this Internet thing… and yet, less than three years after this article was published, I was directing the Virtual Volunteering Project and abandoning my idea of listing every nonprofit, community or government endeavor involving online volunteers because there were already way too many to count.

My search this time to update my page uncovered a resource I hadn’t seen before: Janice Morgan’s 1997 Master’s Thesis, “Community ties and a community network : Cupertino’s computer-mediated Citynet“. I had forgotten that many these networks were strongly associated with local newspapers, even sponsored by such, until I started reading Morgan’s paper. Media companies started abandoning their relationships with these networks around the time her paper was published. You have to wonder if newspapers could have remained relevant with new generations had they kept their involvement in these communities instead of walking away.

Back in the 1990s, in addition to CityNet and other bulletin boards, I was also heavily involved in USENET newsgroups. These were worldwide distributed discussions that weren’t “closed gardens” like Facebook or Twitter – you didn’t have to join a particular network and fill out lots of information about yourself in order to see messages and participate. They weren’t even based on the World Wide Web. Rather, you just used a free tool to access newsgroups, found a discussion in which you were interested and jumped in! The one I was most involved with was soc.org.nonprofit, which was for the discussion of nonprofit organizations. soc.org.nonprofit, a USENET newsgroup that was also available by email subscription (and called USNONPROFIT-L via email). I joined shortly after it was started in 1994 by Michael Chui, then of Indiana University. I made friends and colleagues on that community, and others, that I still have to this day, and my involvement lead to all of my employment for the rest of the 20th century – not even kidding.

The sense of fraternity I got from those city-based First Class bulletin boards and USENET back in the day is missing from most online communities today. As I revisited these documents, I was reminded of this yet again. Social media, with its extensive registration and user information demands, focus on profits and requirements that users have either the most advanced hardware and software, even a special app for each platform, has taken that away.

Also, Assessment and Evolution of Community Networking presents 10 suggestions as critical to transitioning community networks to “a higher role and significance.” The suggestions are things that so many online startups, nonprofit or for-profit, have, sadly, ignored. Among them:

We urge you to consider relevance. We suggest gaining a better understanding of the people and institutions to be served and of the institutions and services to be involved. Gain an understanding of what needs are going unmet — at home, in families, in the workplace, for the unemployed, in the government, social services, and so on. The well-worn cliche, “if you build it, they will come,” is ineffective relative to the needs of community.

That statement is as relevant now as it was in 1994, and NOT just for community networks. I wish every person who wrote me about their fabulous new idea for a start-up nonprofit that will somehow involve tech4good or digital volunteers would have that paragraph in mind as they pitch their idea to me.

If you have never looked at documents from the 80s or 90s about online communities and the promise of the Internet as a tool for building more awareness regarding various causes, improving citizen engagement and participation, helping nonprofits, and driving positive, sustaining social change, you really should: you will be amazed at how early people were seeing the potential of the Internet for good, and how much we have yet to realize.

vvbooklittleAnd, as always, as I read these articles, research and case studies from years past, it all yet again confirms what Susan Ellis and I promote in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, and what I see being promoted many years later by the very latest digital engagement initiatives and “hot” new technologies meant to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference. Tools come and go – but certain community engagement principles never change.

Goodbye newspaper, goodbye community?

I don’t just come from a city in Kentucky; I come from a community. And I believe that one of the things that has made Henderson a community has been our local newspaper, The Gleaner.

I started reading The Gleaner as soon as I started to read. Everyone in my family read The Gleaner. Every neighbor read The Gleaner. Every adult I knew referenced the newspaper regularly. We all knew what city and county ordinances were up for debate, who had died, who was running for what office, what was happening in the state legislature, who was getting married, who had gotten divorced, local team sports scores, what Spring musical the high school was doing, and all the other things a community should know. The news from our paper crossed lines of culture, ethnicity, religion, political belief and neighborhood. The news was about us, for us. In so many ways, The Gleaner was the best representative of our community, as a whole.

I worked at The Gleaner when I was in high school. I worked there again as a summer intern in 1986. More than 25 years later, when I’m back in Henderson, people recall some of the stories I wrote, some I don’t remember myself. When I left Kentucky, my parents bought me a subscription to my hometown paper, and I would get the newspapers in bundles in the mail. I was long gone from Henderson, but I knew what was going on there. I used what I learned from my time working at this paper in my press relations career, which I chose over a journalism career. More than once, I had a reporter tell me, “I can so tell you worked at newspapers. You always have the info I need!”

In the 1990s, what I dreaded for so long happened: the local owner of The Gleaner sold the newspaper. It came under the management of a newspaper in another state. I got a taste of the identity and news Henderson was losing when I went to The Gleaner‘s web site but couldn’t access the front page story about the death of Dr. Donald Cantley, a beloved member of the Henderson community, a former president of the Kentucky Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics who devoted his life to improving the physical and mental health of children. He established seven school-based clinics to provide care for children with inadequate health coverage of other barriers to care, and was a pioneer in his approach to caring for children with behavioral disorders. It was huge news in Henderson when he died, but the web site had been revamped in such a way that anyone with a Mac OS just a year out of date couldn’t access it. Furious, I called The Gleaner, and a staff member and friend told me, sorry, but the web site is managed by the Evansville, Indiana Courier Press. So I called that other office, asked that the front-page story be emailed to me, told them why, and they sent me… the obituary from page 2. Because they didn’t know who Dr. Cantley was. They didn’t know he was on the front page of the newspaper in Henderson, Kentucky.

When I was last in Kentucky, I was stunned at the skimpiness of my hometown paper. The cuts in reporting staff have been devasting on local coverage. And the Internet has not replaced this information; I just tried to find some of the information I used to find in my hometown paper, by spending time on various organization’s social media and web sites – funeral home web sites, school social media accounts, government social media sites, etc. I think I know less than a quarter of what I would have known in the same amount of time with a version of the newspaper produced in the way it was in the 1980s.

I remember when I was studying for my journalism degree at Western Kentucky University. One of my professors said that, if you are ever out of story ideas in your local community, just look at the newspaper’s classified ads – there will be something there that will lead you to a story. Classified ads in newspapers now barely exist, replaced by Craigslist. Honestly, I feel like most Craigslist ads are either scams or from creepy people I really don’t ever want to meet face-to-face.

I long ago accepted that my hometown newspaper is going away, slowly but surely. I know this is happening all over the USA. 105 newspapers closed in 2009 alone. In 2007, there were 55,000 full-time journalists working at nearly 1,400 daily papers; in 2015, there were 32,900, according to a census by the American Society of News Editors and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University, and that number doesn’t include the big buyouts and layoffs last fall, like those at the Los Angeles TimesThe Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Daily News, among others, and weeklies and magazines like National Geographic.

But what is the cost of this loss? “You know who loves this new day of the lack of journalism? Politicians. Businessmen. Nobody’s watching them anymore,” said Russ Kendall, quoted in this blog on the Bill Moyers site. Kendall was a long-time photojournalist and editor who is now self-employed as a pizza maker. Indeed, I’ve wondered often if state legislatures have been so prolific in some of their legislation that rolls back civil rights legislation, women’s access to health care, environmental laws and more because they know they aren’t being scrutinized by the public the way they were 30 years ago, because of the demise of newspapers.

But the loss is also the loss of community. What city and county ordinances are up for debate? What is happening in the state legislature? What Spring musical is the high school doing? I ask – and people aren’t sure, they can’t remember… not in Henderson, not in the small town where I live now, in Oregon. Local information is slowly disappearing – along with local connections. And social media ain’t so social.

Vanity Volunteering: all about the volunteer

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersIf you regularly read my blog and web site materials or have seen me present, then you know just how strongly I believe in the importance of the involvement of volunteers in nonprofit/mission-based causes. I believe that volunteer engagement represents community investment, can allow people from different walks of life to be associated with a cause more deeply than just donating money, can allow people who don’t want to or cannot quit their day jobs to be involved in a cause, educates people about a cause through firsthand experiences, and can demonstrate the organization’s transparency regarding decision-making and administration. Service activities can educate volunteers to be better advocates for a cause, even change their behavior or feelings regarding certain issues, activities and groups. And I believe any of these reasons are far, far better reasons for involving volunteers than to save money by not paying staff.

I feel so strongly about the importance of volunteer engagement that when I see nonprofit organizations that don’t involve volunteers in some way, it makes me suspicious of them – how invested is this organization in the community it’s supposed to serve if it isn’t letting the community participate behind-the-scenes? How much does this organization really want to be a part of the community if the only way I can be a part of that organization is to work for it, professionally?

But I also have to say that I am wary of the value of a lot of volunteer activities, much more so now, having worked for international humanitarian aid and development agencies for more than 15 years. I regularly witness or hear about volunteering activities abroad and right here in the USA that are more about making the givers of service feel good than about benefitting the cause that the organization is supposed to serve. Voluntourism gets accused of this a lot: people going for a week or two to a poor community, usually in another country, and doing things that local people would love to do themselves, and be paid to do themselves, like build wells, build schools, repair houses, play with orphans, teach a few English classes, etc. Do those activities primarily benefit local people or a critical cause, or are they actually more about being great money-makers for organizations, including religious groups, that know Westerners will pay big bucks for a feel-good volunteering experience and lots of touching photos of them in exotic or devastated locations? There are even tragic consequences from this kind of volunteering, such as the rise of orphan voluntourism, where children that are NOT orphans are presented as such, in need of help from short-term international volunteers, people with little or no expertise regarding the needs of at-risk children.

An article from December 2015 in Cracked captured my wariness about some volunteering, particularly around the holidays. It’s called “5 Realities Of A Homeless Shelter At Christmas.” Regarding homeless shelters, the article notes:

These charities exist to help people with serious problems. They do not exist to round up sideshows and parade them around for gawkers, or to help regular folks gain perspective on their own lives. Surprisingly, not everyone is aware of this.

The article also notes:

Remember, these people are homeless for a reason. We don’t mean “because they’re jerks and deserve it”; we mean that mental illness and substance abuse issues run rampant. If you reserve your charitable feelings only for those capable of showing gratitude in some satisfying way, you’ll be neglecting the ones who need help the most. They show their gratitude by still being alive the next time Christmas comes around.

This all came to mind recently when I found an article about a young boy who created his own nonprofit so he, personally, could hand out food to homeless people in the city where he lives. That’s the primary purpose of the nonprofit: to give him an outlet to hand out food to homeless people. He’s well under age, so I’m not going to name him or his nonprofit or say where he is – I also really do not want to humiliate a kid, especially one that has such a big heart. But his nonprofit seems to be more about him than the homeless: the nonprofit has his name in the title, the web site for the organization is filled with many, many more photos of him than homeless people, and on the web site, a link for more information doesn’t say “About our organization,” but rather, “About me.”

He says he started his nonprofit because organizations serving the homeless turned him away as a volunteer because he’s “too young to help,” and that made him “sad.” What I suspect shelters and food kitchens actually said is that many of their clients are not allowed, legally, to be around anyone under 18, and the organization would, therefore, be causing those people to break the law by interacting with a child. They probably also told him that shelter staff need to put their resources into helping clients, not diverting such to ensuring the safety and heart-warming learning experience of underage volunteers.

The web site for this child’s organization has no information about the nutritional needs of the homeless or statistics on food availability for the homeless in this particular city. The web site has no information about the causes of homelessness. The aforementioned Cracked article correctly points out that when homeless people die, it’s most often from heart disease, substance abuse and trauma, rarely from hunger, although, of course, nutrition is a big challenge and hardship for many homeless people. The principle causes of food insecurity in the United States are unemployment, high housing costs, low wages and poverty, lack of access to SNAP (food stamps), and medical or health costs, but the web site for this child’s nonprofit never mentions any of these realities – it makes it sounds like he’s personally keeping these folks alive, that most homeless people die of starvation. Even if his nonprofit isn’t going to address any of those causes of hunger, shouldn’t those causes be mentioned somewhere on his site? This young man’s nonprofit could make a HUGE difference by helping people, particularly young people, understand why people are homeless, why they experience food insecurity – and they could take that knowledge to the ballot box, and make donation decisions based on that knowledge. Instead, this nonprofit, as demonstrated by the web site and by the media coverage of the nonprofit, is about making a little boy feel like he’s making a difference in the world, and making us feel good about him.

Robert Lupton, a veteran community activist based in Atlanta and author of Toxic Charity: How the Church Hurts Those They Help and How to Reverse It, was quoted in an opinion piece in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, saying this about various volunteer groups that show up to hand out food in Atlanta parks: “The folks that come and hand out sandwiches? I call that harmful charity. It’s irresponsible… Who is this service activity for? To help the homeless? Or someone else?” I am not as down on charity as Lupton; in contrast to him, I do believe charity and aid will always be needed, that food banks and on-the-street food handout programs cannot and should not be replaced entirely by community development / empowerment / teach-a-man-to-fish programs, and I think there are very good things that can come from group volunteering projects in communities . But I do agree with him that a lot of high-profile volunteering seems more about making the giver have a feel-good experience and lots of great photos than focusing on the primary needs of those to be served.

No one is too young to volunteer, but there are volunteering activities in which a youth or child may NOT participate, because it would be illegal or inappropriate. Even with that restriction, there is no cause a young person can’t support in some meaningful way as a volunteer, including helping the homeless, and there are many ways a young person can volunteer, no matter how young he or she is. Volunteering is a great way to teach children about compassion and empathy, but it shouldn’t perpetuate old-fashioned ideas about volunteering, that it’s just about charity, and that its primary purpose is about well-off people giving food and items to poor people, but not talking about why there are poor people and not addressing those reasons. Volunteering by youth shouldn’t be primarily about making the kids feel good about themselves. Volunteering by youth should educate those young people about why causes are important, about community challenges, and/or about people very different from themselves. And volunteering should ALWAYS be primarily about what the person or cause needs most, not about the volunteers themselves. That means sometimes telling well-meaning people, even young people, “It’s great that you want to help, but the way you want to help is not what’s needed most and, in fact, can take valuable resources away from what we really need. And what we really need is…”

This is not a call for a volunteer motivation “purity” test. Volunteering doesn’t have to be selfless – as I have said many times in my workshops, I’m a part of Generation X, and I’ve never volunteered “to be nice” in my entire life; I’ve volunteered because I’m angry about a situation and want to do something about it, because I’m lonely or bored, because I want to explore careers, because I’m curious about an organization or activity, because I want to develop a skill or get experience for my résumé, because it sounds fun, because I want the fabulous t-shirt, and on and on. Almost any reason to volunteer is a great reason to volunteer. What I’m questioning are some of the reasons volunteering activities are created – what I’m saying is that they may actually do harm rather than good.

Even with all my disclaimers and all my work to date promoting volunteerism, I have a feeling this blog is still going to get me accused of being anti-volunteer. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But vanity volunteering… sorry, I’m just not a fan.

For more on this subject – written by others:

Symptoms of a Vanity Nonprofit by Mark Fulop, from May 28, 2014.

The Most Outlandish Charity Trends: Is It About Vanity?, from MainStreet an online financial magazine & news site by TheStreet, in April 2014.

Vanity Charity, an opinion piece by Alan Cantor, published online on March 5, 2013

This 2012 Cracked article: “5 Popular Forms of Charity (That Aren’t Helping).

This New York Times Magazine article, “The Vanity of Volunteerism,” from July 2000.

#InstagrammingAfrica: The Narcissism of Global Voluntourism , from the Pacific Standard, June 2014

This Boston Globe article, Corporate volunteers can be a burden for nonprofits, from March 2015

How to judge a charity: the five questions no one asked Kids Company (How do you know if a charity is changing lives?), 2 January 2016 article from The Spectator

Added Jan. 18: In The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems, Courtney Martin warns against a line of thinking which leads privileged young Westerners to think they can solve serious social problems in developing countries. Ms. Martin points to failed international development efforts like the now-infamous PlayPump, a piece of playground equipment that was meant to also pump underground water in remote communities. It was embraced by the development community — though the pumps didn’t, in fact, work. “It’s dangerous for the people whose problems you’ve mistakenly diagnosed as easily solvable. There is real fallout when well-intentioned people attempt to solve problems without acknowledging the underlying complexity.”

And for more by me, on related topics: