Tag Archives: critics

Anti-volunteerism campaigns

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Presidents’ Summit on America’s Future in Philadelphia, a three-day event that was aimed at boosting volunteerism and community service efforts across the USA. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, former Presidents George Bush, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and retired Gen. Colin Powell all participated. The original web sites of these campaigns are long gone, but I have screen captured them from archive.org and linked them from my web page tracking anti-volunteerism campaigns.

The summit resulted in a lot of press coverage, the launch of at least one nonprofit, and a huge boost for the Corporation for National Service, particularly AmeriCorps. But the summit also resulted in some anti-volunteerism campaigns, both on the political left and the political right.

I’ve been tracking campaigns against volunteer engagement since that time, and I’ve linked everything I’ve found from that aforementioned web page as well. These anti-volunteerism campaigns are not just in the USA: I have information about anti-volunteerism in Europe and elsewhere as well.

I track anti-volunteerism campaigns, and share what I find, for two reasons: (1) Those that promote volunteerism need to be aware of criticisms to their belief that volunteer community service is a great thing, and know how to counter such criticisms, and (2) Some of the complaints these campaigns have about volunteer engagement are absolutely legitimate, and also need to be addressed.

Actually, there is a third reason I share what I find: (3) I had someone that heads a major international organization that promotes volunteerism deny that these campaigns exist at all, particularly in Europe.

My only fear in sharing this information is that anyone would think I’m opposed to volunteer engagement! I hope that doesn’t happen…

One more thing: one of the most outspoken organizations against volunteering, which is cited on this page, is the Ayn Rand Institute. And, yet:

Yes, they are against volunteering UNLESS it’s for their organization.

Anyway… here is a long list of great reasons to involve volunteers.

The dark side of the Internet for mission-based organizations

handstopOnline criticism – criticism of you, or your organization, is unavoidable. Even if your organization or program foolishly decides not to use any social media at all, in a futile effort to avoid criticism, others WILL talk about your organization online, some to criticize it, and perhaps even to spread misinformation. Your organization, no matter how small, needs to know how to address online criticism.

NTEN has a good blog on addressing online criticism and trolls: Navigating Naysayers: Managing Difficult Social Media Interactions, by Charrosé King, Senior Social Media Specialist, American Psychiatric Association. “Social media can feel like an incredibly dark place, but don’t let hate silence you or your organization’s messages that other people need to hear.”

My own resource: How to Handle Online Criticism / Conflict. How a nonprofit organization, government office or community initiative handles online criticism and conflict speaks volumes about that organization or initiative, for weeks, months, and maybe even years to come. It can even cause discord offline, among volunteers and employees. There is no way to avoid criticism, but there are ways to address criticism that can actually help an organization to be perceived as even more trustworthy and worth supporting. An organization MUST be able to honestly and openly deal with online criticism, particularly from supporters and participants. Otherwise, the organization puts itself in a position to lose the trust of supporters and clients, and even generate negative publicity — and, once lost, trust and credibility can be extremely difficult to win back.

And it brings to mind a thread I started on TechSoup called It’s not always Tech For Good. The first story is about how a VSO Volunteer from Britain working in Kenya persuaded two leaders from the Maasai tribe, a seminomadic people living in Western Kenya, to do an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit. To persuade the village chiefs to do the interview, the volunteer said that people across the world wanted to know more about the Maasai community and may even be willing to offer help. Sadly, the online event got hijacked by porn pushers. The next post, also by me, is about how location services on a smartphone can be grossly misused by others, such as an anti-abortion campaigner that uses such to push services to reach women who check-in at fundraisers for pro-choice events. the thread is still open and additional stories are welcomed.

And on a somewhat related note: Yes, Nonprofits Get Scammed, Too: Security Tips to Avoid Phishing, Pretexting, and Baiting is worth your time to read and share with your staff. “While the technology we depend on has changed over the years, people’s social behavior hasn’t. This leaves us at risk of having our goodwill exploited. In security circles we call this scheming activity social engineering. It’s an attempt to acquire sensitive information for malicious reasons through deception… Awareness and vigilance will go a long way towards protecting yourself.”

Also see:

Addressing criticism, misinformation & hate speech online

angryjayneEvery program, agency or individual will face criticism online. Every organization and person will have to address misinformation online as well. We have always lived in a world of criticism, hate speech and misinformation – with the Internet, that speech can be instantly widespread.

No matter how large or small your nonprofit, NGO or government program is, your communications staff needs to be ready to address criticism and misinformation – and worse – online. Here are five resources, some by me, that can help:

  • How to Handle Online Criticism / Conflict. Online criticism of a nonprofit organization, even by its own supporters, is inevitable. It may be about an organization’s new logo or new mission statement, the lack of parking, or that the volunteer orientation being too long. It may be substantial questions regarding an organization’s business practices and perceived lack of transparency. How a nonprofit organization handles online criticism speaks volumes about that organization, for weeks, months, and maybe even years to come. There’s no way to avoid it, but there are ways to address criticism that can help an organization to be perceived as even more trustworthy and worth supporting.
  • Recommendations for UN & UNDP in Ukraine to use Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and Other Social Media to Promote Reconciliation, Social Inclusion, & Peace-Building in Ukraine (PDF). This is a draft document I submitted to UNDP Ukraine just before I left Kyiv in October 2014, having completed my term there as a “Surge” Communications Advisor. This draft document offers considerations and recommendations for social media messaging that promotes reconciliation, social inclusion, and peace-building in Ukraine. It provides ideas for messaging related to promoting tolerance, respect and reconciliation in the country, and messaging to counter bigotry, prejudice, inequality, misperceptions and misconceptions about a particular group of people or different people among Ukrainians as a whole.
  • UNESCO’s Countering Online Hate Speech, a free publication from UNESCO (pdf), spends most of its time talking about what is and isn’t hate speech, but does have some good information about countering hate speech and misinformation, without censorship, in the chapter “Analysing Social Responses”, specifically the sections on Monitoring and discussing hate speech, Mobilizing civil society, Countering online hate speech through media and information literacy, Citizenship education and digital citizenship, Education as a tool against hate speech, Development of critical skills to counteract hate speech online, Educational goals of media and information literacy to respond to hate speech, and Assessing media and information literacy and education initiatives (pages 33-41, and 46-52).
  • I have also been gathering and sharing examples for a few years now of how folklore, rumors and urban myths interfere with development and aid/relief efforts, as well as recommendations on preventing or responding to such.
  • List of my blogs related to conflict, free speech, reconciliation, etc. – my blogs that talk about conflict, extremism, extremists, hate speech, words, offensive, offended, hating, haters, reconciliation, toleration, free speech, apologies and inclusion.

Support Your Local Online Discussion Manager!

logoI’ve dealt with a LOT of debates and conflict on a variety in online discussion groups, and that vast experience lead to creating this resource on how to deal with such, especially for nonprofits, NGOs, government agencies and other mission-based folks. It’s one of the most popular pages on my web site.

Recently, an experience made me realize there was a crucial piece of advice missing on that resource. Here it is:

Support Your Local Online Discussion Manager!

When you, the Executive Director or Marketing Manager or Program Director, see your online discussion manager facilitating an online debate about something your organization is or isn’t doing, the temptation may be for you, the senior person, to jump in and start posting.

That may or may not be a good idea.

It’s a good idea if there is something you need to clarify that you can say better than your online discussion manager, particularly if it might relieve pressure on that person and allow him or her to move the discussion forward. It’s also a good idea if you see the manager under fire – it can be wonderfully motivating for an online community manager that is bruised from an online virtual debate to see your public support for him or her, and it can help for discussion group members see your faith in that person.

However, it’s a bad idea if you are seen as “taking over;” your posting to the discussion can disempower your online discussion manager, reducing his or her importance to the community. Why should the community look to that person as their liaison with the organization online, when you’ve made it clear that YOU are higher up and in-charge, and you took over the discussion?

If you think there is a different way to handle an online situation than your online discussion manager is doing, talk with that person FIRST, and if at all possible, have the discussion  manager continue to be the lead in facilitating the discussion. If you must post something, be sure to add verbiage that shows you still have faith and trust in your online discussion manager, and that you fully support that person.

Read more about how to deal with online criticism / conflict.

Chat with me on Twitter Oct. 2!

On Tuesday, Oct. 2, from 1-2 p.m. New York City time (10 a.m. Oregon time), I’ll be leading the tweetchat on Twitter.

The tweetchat is focused on building and sustaining online communities for nonprofits, charities, schools, government programs and other mission-based initiatives, though some corporate folks frequently show up and share.

The focus of the chat tomorrow will be on dealing with conflict among members of an online community.

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I addressed it in this web page, Handling Online Criticism, which recently got quite a few mentions on Twitter. Just as criticism of an organization is inevitable on an online community, so is conflict among members. There’s no way to avoid it, but there are ways to address conflict that can help an organization maintain a reputation for being transparent and responsive, but without allowing someone to dominate a conversation and drown out others. How an organization handles online conflict speaks volumes about that organization, for weeks, months, and maybe even years to come.

Participating in the tweetchat is simple: you log into Twitter, and then you click on the link or do a search on the term #commbuild on Twitter. All messages with the #commbuild tag will appear. Keep reloading the tweets and you will see all new messages. To respond, just choose a message and click on “Reply”. Be sure to put the tag #commbuild in your message, however, so everyone else can see it too!

The questions I’m going to be asking on this Tweetchat (subject to change!):

Q1: Is conflict in an online community avoidable?
Q2: Is conflict on an online community ever healthy? Examples?
Q3: Have YOU ever been an instigator or participant in a lively conflict on an online community?
Q4: Do you include info about conflicts that happen on your community in staff meetings, or to your supervisor? Why/why not?
Q5: Do you have written rules on how to deal with conflict on your online community?
Q6: How long do you let conflict/debate go on on your online community?
Q7: Have you ever said no to calls by others to ban a member? Why?
Q8: When is it time to ask for a debate to stop?
Q9: Other tips for dealing with conflict online?

And regarding Q3: yes, I have been a participant in MANY lively conflicts in various online communities. Some of the experiences have actually been really gratifying: a problem that several people were experiencing got resolved, or minds got changed (this happened a few times in debates regarding virtual volunteering back in the 1990s). Some experiences have not been positive: I’ve lost respect for organizations and individuals who I felt were wanting to shut down debates because they didn’t like the opinions being expressed.

In addition to this being a terrific learning experience regarding how to handle conflict on an online community, it’s also a great learning experience if you are new to Twitter or to tweetchats.

More about the #commbuild tweetchat events.

POSTSCRIPT: Archive of this tweetchat.

What is “too much” from an online contributor?

When a nonprofit, NGO or government agency starts an online community or hosts an online event, they envision questions being asked and the staff or event hosts answering such, all in an oh-so-orderly fashion. No arguments, no disagreements – just a reasoned exchange of online information by all participants.

However, online communities and events rarely work the way organizers or hosts envision. These communities or events have hardly any messages at all or an overwhelming number of such. They may be inactive for days, weeks, even months, and then suddenly, a lively debate may break out that sends message numbers through the roof and makes the organization feel uncomfortable. And on many communities, only a small percentage of members regularly share information or engage in discussions; the rest of the members, often 90% of such, are lurkers, reading messages but rarely responding to such.

Most users still get online community messages via email, so remind members, more than once, how to manage email – specifically, how to filter community or event messages automatically into a folder within their email program. The people who get the most upset about a surge in messages are people who subscribe via email digest, where all messages are put into one single email, so encourage members to change their subscriptions to individual messages and to filter these into a folder of their own, which makes it much easier to find the messages each person will want to read and to delete the messages a user doesn’t want to read.

Remember that lively debates are a natural, important part of a successful online community or event. Don’t panic when they happen: let them happen, think about why people are saying whatever it is they are saying, keep everyone fact-based, and let them run their course. Step in only if

  • someone says something that is not fact-based,
  • if arguments get personal,
  • if people are repeating themselves,
  • if your policies are violated, or
  • if the argument reduces down to a back and forth between just one or two people.

You can tell people to take the argument off the group if you truly believe the argument has run its course with other members, or even dismiss someone from the group if he or she has violated policy – but be ready to quote from their messages and your written policy to clearly show the violation.

When should you suspend or dismiss an online community member? If that person:

  • uses inappropriate language or images, as you define such (be ready to cite specific examples in your dismissal; inappropriate is a really vague term!)
  • makes false or misleading statements even after being cited for such (again, be ready to quote examples)
  • posts off-topic even after being warned not to
  • violates confidentiality rules
  • encourages illegal activity (if you are worried that your community could be held liable if a community member does, indeed, engage in that activity and get caught or hurt)
  • violates copyright or trademark laws such that your online community could be held liable
  • misrepresents himself or herself (for instance, as running a nonprofit organization that turns out not to exist, or as being a staff person from an organization when, in fact, he or she isn’t)
  • chronically posts inaccurate information (claims an organization engages in activities that it actually doesn’t, claims there are certain rules and regulations about an activity when, actually, there are not, etc.)
  • contacts community members or event participants off-list and engages in the aforementioned activities
  • tries to stifle views different from himself or herself (again, be ready to cite specific examples of such, with quotes)
  • threatens anyone

 

You may also have rules about advertising a business, but be careful; if a vendor answers a question like “Where can I find volunteer management software” with “Here’s our company’s product…”, that’s actually a helpful answer. Allow the posting of business information if it is truly on-topic for your group. You may also have rules about when it is appropriate or inappropriate to share information from an online event or an online community outside of that event or community.

Some organizations panic when an online community member that isn’t an employee starts engaging in leadership activities on a group or within an event – when the non-staff person answers questions before the official moderator gets to them, frequently shares events and resources that are on-topic to the community, and otherwise posts on-topic, but posts more than the moderators or facilitators. Don’t panic when you end up with a “super user” – celebrate it! When someone starts exhibiting leadership on your online community:

  • write or call the person directly and thank him or her for the contributions
  • ask the person where he or she heard of the community or the event
  • ask the person why he or she feels so motivated to share

If the person responds to every post to a community, then do likewise: “Thanks, Mary, for that information. Does anyone else have something they would like to add or share?” That encourages others to share as well.

If you want to limit community members to a certain number of posts a day, per person, that’s fine, but that means your staff, including your moderator, has to abide by the same rule!

You may want to approach a super-user about becoming the official moderator, freeing up your staff time for other activities; however, make it clear, in writing, if, as moderator, the person would then be prohibited from sharing opinions. You may also want to invite the person to create and host a specific online event!

By all means, if the person posts inappropriately, per your written policies, tell the person. But don’t reprimand someone for being an active community member!

Also, don’t let one community member dictate what makes your online community or event a success; if one person complains that your community has too many messages, that doesn’t mean everyone feels that way. Survey your community at least once a year so you can get everyone’s opinion.

And a final note: no super-enthusiastic online contributor lasts; it may take a few months, but every super-sharer on an online community eventually slows down. It’s impossible to maintain that kind of unofficial enthusiasm on an online community.

Social media: cutting both ways since the 1990s

Social media — those avenues to send instant, short, widely-distributed messages and images — cuts both ways:

  • It can be used to organize protesters, but it can also be used to identify protesters and arrest them.
  • It can be used to spread information, but it can also be used to spread MISinformation.
  • You can use it to promote your organization and cause, and others can use it to tear down your organization.

And it’s been used to organize protests since the 1990s – so can we stop now with how “new” it all is?

Back in 2001, while working for UNDP/UNV, I researched how handheld computer technologies were being used, or could be used, in community service / volunteering / advocacy. It wasn’t called “social media” or “micro volunteering” back then, but even without the snazzy jargon, I knew something very exciting was going on, something that was changing the way communities are engaged and mobilized. Among the discoveries in my research was that grassroots advocates had used handheld computer or phone devices to help organize and direct protesters during the 1999 Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organization, and that in 2001, protesters in the Philippines used cell-phone text messaging to mobilize demonstrators to help oust President Joseph Estrada. In addition, in China, also in 2001, tens of thousands of followers of the spiritual group Falun Gong continued to exist-despite a harsh crackdown-in a vibrant community fed by the Web and encrypted text messaging. I created a web page just on the subject of using text messaging for advocacy – but I was not the first to do so, as you will see on the page.

I also noted in that page that hand held technology can lead to widespread misinformation as well: “Musician and U.S.A. Green Party activist Jello Biafra noted in an article on Zdnet.Uk: ‘Be careful of the information gossip you get on the Internet, too. For example, late in 1997 I discovered out on the Internet that I was dead.'”

We’re not hearing enough about how effective Web 2.0 tools are in promoting misinformation and negative speech. For instance, micro-blogs, tweets, texts and other technology spread misinformation about and within Haiti, as well as other disaster zones (it will be interesting to see what misinformation gets spread in Japan). During the swine flu panic in the USA a while back, we saw Twitter’s power to misinform, and rumors still affect polio eradication campaigns. So-called “new” media has helped spread misinformation to derail government health initiatives here in the USA rapidly and efficiently.

It’s not just the misinformation that’s a problem in trying to use social media to mobilize community activists and educate the public: in an interview with Radio Free Europe, Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, noted that internal security agencies welcome the use of new- and social-media tools. “The reason why the KGB wants you to join Facebook is because it allows them to learn more about you from afar,” he said. “It allows them to identify certain social graphs and social connections between activists. Many of these relationships are now self-disclosed by activists by joining various groups.” Al Jazeera profiled cases in Azerbaijan, Tunisia and Moroccans where the government or those opposed to any change in government were, indeed, using Facebook accounts to anticipate protests and easily monitor and arrest protesters.

And then there’s social media, like YouTube and blogs, being used by GOTCHA media advocates, as I blogged about yesterday: there could be just one person in your community with a video camera and a dream of humiliating your organization right out of existence, and social media makes that easier than ever to do.

Don’t roll out the comments saying I’m anti-social media. Don’t start pulling your hair and gnashing your teeth, chanting, “Jayne hates Web 2.0!” I love the Interwebs. But it’s long-overdue for a reality check on all these “Twitter revolutions.” Yes, there are lessons to be learned – but we’re not focusing on the right lessons. Back in 2001, the Ruckus Society featured Longwire’s Communications Manual for Activists on its web site, and included tips for using various hand held devices and avenues-two-way radios, CB radios, cell phones, pagers, satellite communications and more in community organizing. Those lessons from a decade ago could teach current activists a lot about using social media tools effectively.

Could your organization be deceived by GOTCHA media?

Not everyone loves your nonprofit organization. Not everyone loves your non-governmental organization (NGO), civil society organization, or government agency. In fact, there is at least one individual, and maybe even a group, that would like nothing better than to hurt your organization in a very public way.

You may think no one would launch a negative campaign against your beloved organization that protects wildlife or works to educate children from low-income communities or helps women fleeing abusive relationships or encourages people to spay and neuter their pets or helps people grow their own food or brings the joy of live theater to your town. You may think:

Our organization is completely non-threatening to anyone. We’re a-political. We’re politically benign. No one would want to see our organization go away. We benefit everyone!

The truth is that every cause can become politicized, and every organization can become a political target.

I learned this while working in public relations and marketing for nonprofit professional theaters in New England back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when arts groups became the target of a very vocal, well-funded political force who felt all local, state and national government funding for theater companies, dance companies, museums and other arts organizations should be cut off. They declared such funding not only a waste of money, but also as promoting pornography and un-American values. And they had snippets of plays and photos from various exhibits that, out-of-context, seemed to prove their case to the public and the press. I felt completely unprepared as I helped book a very famous actor to debate a very famous televangelist on the subject, on a new network called CNN, and wrote talking points – I’d never been trained for such a response. I never expected to have to do anything like that for an arts organization.

Since then, in various jobs, I’ve interacted with people I later found out weren’t really representatives of the press, weren’t really independent documentary film makers, and weren’t volunteering to help with a mailing because they believed so passionately in this or that cause. Luckily, the discovery of who they really were was always made early enough such that no damage was done – usually before a first face-to-face meeting even took place. I learned to always confirm someone really did represent whatever organization they claimed to, no matter how nice they sounded on the phone, and to always vet every potential volunteer, no matter how enthusiastic and well-qualified they seemed initially – and that was before I had the Internet to help me research people. Subterfuge has been attempted at almost every organization I’ve ever been a part of, no matter what the mission.

Over the last 20 years, I have seen seemingly-benign causes come under voracious attack again and again, the latest being National Public Radio. Your organization may not be big enough to become the target of gotcha right-wing film-maker James O’Keefe, who also brought down the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn), a collection of community-based organizations in the USA that advocated for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, and affordable housing. But there could be just one person in your community with a video camera and a dream of humiliating your organization right out of existence – and given the opportunity, that person could upload a YouTube video that gets picked up by the media and sends you scrambling to explain yourself.

Whether its an animal shelter, or a volunteer association that supports a state park, or a community radio station, or a homeless shelter – no matter what kind of organization it is – you need to talk with staff regularly about handling various scenarios, including:

  • how fund raisers and chief executives should respond to solicitation calls and initial meetings with potential donors, especially those who seem to represent potentially large gifts
  • an email or phone call from anyone claiming to be from the press
  • vetting volunteers and job applicants
  • what staff and volunteers should not share on their blogs and social networking sites, no matter how private they may think such is
  • what conversations should never take place via email or text-based chat
  • what to do when faced with suspicious activity by a volunteer, a donor, a new staff member, someone claiming to be a film maker, etc.
  • pointed questions from someone at an open house, a public event, etc.
  • any questions that hint at the organization helping someone in an illegal way

Don’t assume senior staff, including your Executive Director, is prepared for these kinds of situations because they are in a leadership position. It doesn’t mean that person has to give up individual opinions, but they need to remember when they are “on the clock”, representing the organization to others, and they need to clarify when they are speaking as an individual and when their views do not represent the organization.

Also, don’t become a fortress. You aren’t looking to shut down staff blogs or prevent volunteers from taking photos during their service. You want to exude transparency and openness; but you also want all staff and volunteers to remember the powers of their words and actions.

We hear a lot about how great social media is; but remember that it can be used to spread misinformation and bad press as quickly as it spreads the good stuff the press likes to be breathless about.

One more thing: a lot of people are chastising the head of NPR for not saying anything when the fake donors were making disparaging, insulting remarks about Israel. Yet these critics are the same people who, when chastised for making disparaging, insulting remarks themselves about other various countries and cultures and people, will cry, “Stop telling me to be politically correct!” How many times has a politician, a community leader, a well-known person, said something in a private conversation to you, when you were meeting in relation to your work, that was sexist, racist, and otherwise inappropriate or inflammatory? Did you grin uncomfortably and try to move on, or did you say that the language made you uncomfortable? It’s happened to me too many times to count. Most of the time, indeed, I say something (surprise!), but a few times, I’ve changed the subject or found an excuse to walk away because I was too flabbergasted to say anything else. Before you reprimand a staff person for telling a beloved volunteer, “The language you are using right now about my co-worker is inappropriate and I cannot continue this conversation if you are going to continue using those terms to describe women,” or you reprimand a staff person for staying silent in a hidden camera video while a fake customer made racist comments, consider how well you’ve trained staff to handle these situations, and what YOU do in similar circumstances!

Also see how to handle online criticism, a resource for nonprofits, NGOs, government agencies and other mission-based organizations.