Tag Archives: court

Involving volunteers: a cop out for paying staff?

Nurses in the Philippines are angry. They are being forced to work for free, or for a stipend on which they cannot live, while the hospitals where they are working call them “volunteers.” Some hospitals are even charging nurses for their “volunteer” work experience. Thousands of graduate nurses are paying hospitals and working for months without salaries under the guise of “training,” so the nurses can gain work experience and have an improved chance of being employed as a regular staff eventually. As a result of this exploitation, nurses have filed cases against four hospitals through the Philippines Department of Labor and Employment – National Labor Relations Commission in February and March. Nurses have also sought the help of a Philippines political party, the Ang Nars Party, which has been using its Facebook page to highlight their campaign against what they are calling “false volunteerism”. (Thanks, oh-so-awesome DJ Cronin, for the heads up about this situation!)

You can read more about this situation at the Nursing News, March 2, 2017, but be warned: this is a click-bait site, packed with advertising banners and in-text advertising links.

I am, of course, outraged about this situation in the Philippines. It’s the same outrage that prompted me to call on the United Nations to defend its involvement of full-time, unpaid interns. It’s not only horrible that these nurses are being exploited; these kinds of actions create campaigns opposed to some or all volunteering (unpaid work). No doubt the hospitals in the Philippines have happily talked about the value of volunteering only in terms of money saved in not paying staff, just as ILO, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies, UNV, and others have encouraged them to do.  The result of this exploitation will be a further backlash against all volunteering in hospitals in the Philippines – and beyond. The fight against unpaid internships hurts volunteering. And all of this is because so many organizations see volunteers only as a way to not pay staff, to save money.

If you do not have a  written statement that explains explicitly why your organization reserves certain tasks / assignments / roles for volunteers, including unpaid interns, and that statement has NOTHING to do with not having enough money to pay staff, then you have no business involving volunteers, or unpaid interns, or whatever it is you want to call people you aren’t paying for work.

Good luck to the nurses in the Philippines. And good luck to hospitals in justifying future engagement of volunteers after making so many enemies to the term.

Also see:

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.

Courts being fooled by online community service scams

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

— Original blog from 2011 below —

As I’ve blogged about before, there is a for-profit company based in Florida, Community Service Help, Inc., that claims it can 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 is watching videos. Yes, you read that right: you pay to get access to videos, which you may or may not watch, and this company then gives you a letter for your probation officer or court representative saying you did community service – which, of course, you didn’t. – you watched videos.

Another of these companies is Community Service 101, which charges a monthly fee for users to track and report their hours – something they could do for free on a shared GoogleDoc spreadsheet. There’s also this nonprofit, Facing the Future With Hope, which also offers to find online community service, for a fee. And there’s fastcommunityservice.com, which claims that you can work off your court-ordered community service hours by taking an online “Caffeine Awareness Course.” It’s a $30 fee to take this “course” and get their letter saying you have done community service – which you have NOT, because taking an online course is NOT COMMUNITY SERVICE. And, not to be outdone is completecommunityservice.com, which follows the same model: pay a fee, get a letter that says you did community service.

At least one of these companies is affiliated with Terra Research Foundation; it didn’t have a web site when I first started blogging about this back in January, but it does now, and it’s now listed on Guidestar as “Terra Foundation”, however, the web site has no listing of staff or their qualifications, no listing of these offices they say they have all over the USA, no listing of board members, no listing of current projects, no testimonials from those benefiting from their projects, no listing of specific nonprofit organizations they have collaborated with/assisted, no annual report, no budget information, and on and on.

If it’s a for-profit company saying they can help you with community service for the court, you should be able to find on their web site:

  • A list of courts, by name, city and state, that have accepted community service arranged through this company (not just “courts in Florida”, but “the circuit court of Harpo County, Florida)
  • An official statement from a court – ANY court – saying, “We endorse such-and-such company for getting your court-ordered community service done”
  • A list of “charity partners” or nonprofit partners or government agency partners that use this service
  • The names of staff at the company and their credentials to show their experience regarding online volunteering or community service.
  • A list of all fees – specific dollar amounts – on the home page (not buried on the web site)
  • A scan of a letter they have provided to a court, a probation officer, a school, a university, etc. (with the contact name for the person blocked out, ofcourse), so you know exactly what the organization says to confirm community service.
  • A list of every court, school and university that has accepted the community service hours this company has ever arranged for anyone.

Good luck finding this information on the web sites I’ve mentioned in this blog. The information is NOT there.

If it’s a non-profit company, you should be able to find on their web site:

  • Their most recent annual report that notes their income and expenditures for their last fiscal year
  • The names of the board of directors
  • The names of staff and their credentials to show their experience regarding online volunteering or community service.
  • A list of courts, by name, city and state, that have accepted community service arranged through this company (not just “courts in Florida”, but “the circuit court of Harpo County, Florida”)
  • An official statement from a court – ANY court – saying, “We endorse such-and-such company for getting your court-ordered community service done”
  • A list about specific activities that people do as volunteers through the nonprofit organization
  • A list of “charity partners” or nonprofit partners or government agency partners that use this service
  • A list of all fees – specific dollar amounts
  • A scan of a letter they have provided to a court, a probation officer, a school, a university, etc. (with the contact name for the person blocked out, ofcourse), so you know exactly what the organization says to confirm community service.
  • A list of every court, school and university that has accepted the community service hours this company has ever arranged for anyone.

Again, this information is NOT THERE on the web sites I’ve already mentioned.

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 for freely-available information.

I also have a big problem with judges and probation officers accepting online community service that consists of a person watching videos. Watching a video is NOT community service. Listening to a lecture is NOT community service. Watching an autopsy is NOT community service. Courts can – and do – sentence offenders to watch videos or listen to a lecture or watch an autopsy, and that’s fine, but these activities are NOT COMMUNITY SERVICE.

Sadly, courts are sometimes not catching the scam until it’s too late: I’ve been contacted by representatives of two different court systems, both in California, who had approved court-ordered community service by people who used one of these companies, not realizing that the people had just paid a fee for a letter and had not done any community service at all (and both representatives said watching a video or taking a course is NOT community service in the eyes of the court!).

You can read about what happened when I started investigating Community Service Help, Inc. in January and reported them to the proper authorities, and what the company’s reaction was (not good!). And you can read the nasty comments that are showing up on that original blog – the people who are running these unscrupulous companies are definitely feeling the heat!

I wish I could spend time reporting each of these companies to the State Attorneys General for each state where they reside, but I just do not have the time; it’s a lot of forms to fill out.

In that original blog, I asked if organizations that claim to represent the community service sector such as the Corporation for National Service or AL!VE would investigate and take a stand regarding these companies – to date, they have done nothing.

I’ve contacted the following organizations today about these unscrupulous companies, urging them to investigate. Let’s hope those who can really do something about these companies will do so!

American Probation and Parole Association

U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System

Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association (FPPOA)

National Association of Probation Executives

American Correctional Association

And one final note: I’ve been lucky enough to have involved some court-ordered folks as online volunteers – I say “lucky enough” because they have all of them have ended up volunteering for more hours than they were required to do, and been really great volunteers. And, no, I did not charge them!

Also, here’s free information on Finding Online Volunteering / Virtual Volunteering & Home-Based Volunteering with legitimate organizations.

November 6, 2012 update: I just got got email from a TV reporter in Atlanta, Georgia who used my blogs about this scam to create this excellent video about this scam and the people behind it. Thanks Atlanta Fox 5!

February 2013 update: Here’s the latest on what’s going on with this company.

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

online volunteer scam goes global

At the start of this year, I outed a shady company in Florida, Community Service Help, Inc., that sells community service hours: the company claims it can 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 to the company. However:

  • There is no list on the company’s web site about what people do as online volunteers through the company, and no list of “charity partners” that use this service.
  • There is a list of testimonials from people who have supposedly used the service — testimonials which all sound amazingly the same, as though they were all written by the same person.
  • There is also no listing of the names of the staff people and their credentials to show their experience regarding online volunteering or community service.
  • It’s statement on its home page, The only place to complete your court ordered community service online!, is a blatant lie! It’s NOT true! There are many places to complete online volunteering for court ordered community service – FOR FREE
  • The company has no profile on Yelp.com.
  • And the final kicker: no online volunteering service is performed at all. Instead, in return for your fee, you get access to online videos that are supposed to help you be a better person. The people who use this service do no activities other than watching videos as their “community service.” Through a nonprofit organization in Michigan, the company arranges for paperwork to be sent to the court or probation officer that says the paying customer has completed the “community service” and how many hours they spent doing such.

I call this a scam because I’m sure any court that has accepted these community service hours has no idea that no community service was actually performed. I’m sure the judges or probation officers have no idea that all the person did to complete his or her community service hours was to pay a fee and watch videos on his lap top or smart phone (or, at least, someone watched those videos — who knows who!), that there was no completion of an actual activity that helps a nonprofit, a government agency or those such agencies serve. And, finally, there is NO need to pay this company to find online community service – here is a list of credible organizations that involve online volunteers – freely offered!

Just how unscrupulous is Community Service Help, Inc.? The company now proudly has a tag on its web site as featured on NBC news! per an investigative piece done by an NBC affiliate out of Columbus because of my original blog outing this company as a scam!

It’s a story that just keeps on giving. And here’s the latest: this scam has gone global! A comment was submitted to my blog, by katy_electrician@yahoo.com, which said, in part:

Court ordered community service is a new way punishment. Are you looking for community service .To gets started just check your email first and follow the directions to see if you need an online time sheet. Most people will not need an online time sheet for court ordered community service. If you read the guide and find that you do need the online time sheet just follow the directions and we will help you set it up. After you read the CS101 Community Service Guide you will discover how easy it can be to find court ordered community service options and your assignments will start coming as fast as you can complete them.1.Sign up Online2.Receive your Assignments3.Record your hours worked online4.Print out your completed time sheet Keep the judge Happy and Stay Outta Jail!

You can read the entire message for this latest scam here. I did some digging, and found the first paragraph of the same post on Topix, and it seems the person promoting this scam is in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Yes, that’s right: this company hired someone to promote his or her scam, and the person not only keeps forgetting to include the web address for the company, the person submitted the information to a blog that is fighting against these kinds of scams!

Sigh.

If you need community service hours, and you want to engage in online volunteering for those hours, here is a long list of credible organizations you can volunteer with. No fee to me required – I offer this list of fully vetted, credible organizations freely. This is a list of real virtual volunteering. There’s even advice on the page on how to negotiate with a court representative regarding performing your community service online (not all courts will accept such!).

Here’s also a web page to help you if you want to perform your court-ordered community service onsite, in-person – again, freely offered by me.

See this blog for more info on how to identify these online community service scammers – not just for those assigned community service – probation officers, court representatives, judges, you need to read this page as well! and other such companies.

November 6, 2012 update: I just got got email from a TV reporter in Atlanta, Georgia who used my blogs about this scam to create this excellent video about this scam and the people behind it. Thanks Atlanta Fox 5!

February 2013 update: Here’s the latest on what’s going on with this company.

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

Tags: court, probation, community, service, home, home-based, arrest, arrested, DUI, volunteer, volunteers, lawyer, lawyers, legal, virtual, volunteering, microvolunteering, micro

Volunteers are suing!

In May 1999, two America Online volunteers in the USA filed a class action lawsuit against AOL, claiming that AOL online volunteers performed work equivalent to employees and thus should be compensated according to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Yes, a for-profit business involved online volunteers. It happened all the time. It still happens. These online volunteers moderated chat rooms and message boards, kept online areas up-to-date, helped new users, helped with technical issues, etc. In return, they got perks like free AOL access.

AOL was the Facebook of its day; if you didn’t have an AOL keyword, you weren’t really on the the Internet. Back then, TV commercials didn’t just say a company’s web site address, they ALSO said a company’s AOL user name. And at its peak, AOL had more than 14,000 online volunteers.

But something went wrong. Maybe it was when the volunteers started looking at AOL’s massive profits. Maybe it was when some long-term volunteers were dismissed and they felt cheated. Whatever it was, volunteers started getting angry. The plaintiffs detailed how AOL’s online volunteers — called Community Leaders — had to undergo a thorough, three-month training program and were required to file timecards for shifts, work at least four hours per week, and submit detailed reports outlining their work activity during each shift. In response, AOL began drastically reducing volunteer responsibilities. According to Wikipedia, by 2000, nearly all Community Leaders had lost content-editing rights and no longer provided customer service or technical support to AOL customers. Other AOL online volunteers joined the lawsuit. In February 2010, the United States for the Southern District of New York gave preliminary approval to a settlement between AOL and the Community Leaders totaling 15 million dollars. Final approval was granted in May 2010.

Well, here we go again: AOL is now again being sued by online volunteers – by Huffington Post unpaid writers. The Huffington Post site was sold for $315 million and as many as 9,000 unpaid bloggers for the Huffington Post that have contributed the content that helped the web site’s price tag soar want to know where their share of the money is. They see themselves as responsible for that hefty price tag – and, really, why shouldn’t they?!

Should nonprofits that involve volunteers be worried about this turn of events? Yes, if they talk about volunteers in terms of money saved. If they talk about how much an hour of volunteer time is worth in terms of dollars. If they say things like, “We would never have enough funds to pay people to do what volunteers do.” If they say, “We have too much for our paid staff to do, so let’s find some volunteers.”

Consider this: was the value of the original AOL volunteers back in the 1990s really their unpaid time? Or was it that the tasks they were doing were best done by volunteers, by people who were there because of the passion they felt for a subject matter and not because of a paycheck? Not that paid employees can’t have passion and dedication – but do you have a different feeling when you are dealing with an organization’s representative that is a volunteer, as opposed to an employee? Does Girl Scouts of the USA, for instance, have most of its program delivered by volunteers because it saves money (not having to pay staff to do those things), or because of the long-term ties to communities that volunteers create, and because things like troop leadership are actually best done by volunteers? Just as some jobs are best done by paid employees, wouldn’t you say some nonprofit jobs are best done by unpaid staff? AOL’s original online volunteers were usually recruited from the more active users of a particular online forum; they were, therefore, genuinely passionate about the area for which they volunteered their time, and that enthusiasm often resulted in a greater sense of community on AOL. The online forum culture on the site changed drastically when volunteers started being let go – and not for the better. AOL never recovered from that change, and users fled to other online communities.

If AOL had talked about its online volunteers in different terms that had nothing to do with money — constantly and consistently — would AOL have still been successfully sued? I’m not so sure.

One of the many things that used to drive me crazy about the now defunct Association for Volunteer Administration (AVA) was how, after every annual conference, AVA representatives would brag about how much money was taken in. Myself and others would say, “Yes – on the backs of volunteers, the people who delivered all of your conference workshops but whom you did not pay.” I was often one of those unpaid presenters. We weren’t being involved because volunteers were best for the task at hand – we were involved because we both sold tickets and didn’t cost the organization anything.

Take a look at what you are saying about your organization’s volunteers. What’s written on your web site and in your annual report? How are you talking about their value? How are you talking about why your organization involves volunteers?