Tag Archives: crowdsource

Updated: list of research on virtual volunteering

I don’t have funding to research virtual volunteering, but in my spare, unpaid time, I try to track academic studies and evaluation reports on virtual volunteering by others. At least twice a year, I search for published research regarding online volunteering / virtual volunteering, including studies on the various different activities that are a part of online volunteering such as online activism, online civic engagement, online mentoring, micro volunteering, remote citizen scientists, remote volunteers, crowd-sourcing, etc. I’m not looking for newsletter articles, press releases or no newspaper articles; rather, I’m looking for scholarly reports providing qualitative and quantitative data, case studies, comparisons, etc.

I have just uploaded the list of such research articles on the Virtual Volunteering Wiki, a free online resource I maintain with Susan Ellis. I was surprised at how many I found published in 2017. Note that sometimes research articles do not call the unpaid contributors “volunteers.” Included on this list are also research articles on virtual teams, which often involved paid staff; that’s because these research studies are especially applicable to virtual volunteering scenarios. These mostly go in reverse publishing or research date order.

If you are interested in researching virtual volunteering, this blog can give you guidance before you get started.

I also maintain a list of the latest news about virtual volunteering. You will find a long list, in reverse date order, of news articles and blogs about virtual volunteering, focusing on especially innovative or news-worthy pieces. I also have a list of articles from 1996 to 2011, including the oldest article I can find about virtual volunteering.

vvbooklittleResearch about virtual volunteering and related subject played a major role in writing find The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. This book, which I co-wrote with Susan J. Ellis, is our attempt to document all of the best practices for using the Internet to support and involve volunteers from the more than three decades that this has been happening. Want to know more about how to create assignments for online volunteers, how to support online volunteers, how to recruit, screen and and train online volunteers, and how to ensure quality in their contributions? This book is for you. In fact, whether the volunteers are working in groups onsite, in traditional face-to-face roles, in remote locations, or any other way, anyone working with volunteers will find The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook helpful. The book is available both in traditional print form and in a digital version.


If you read the book, or have already read it, I would so appreciate it if you could write and post a review of it on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble web sites (you can write the same review on both sites). If you could also review it on GoodReads as well, that would be terrific!

Why Do So Few Women Edit Wikipedia? Insights into virtual volunteering

wikipediaJulia Bear of Stony Brook University’s College of Business and Benjamin Collier of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar published “Where are the Women in Wikipedia? Understanding the Different Psychological Experiences of Men and Women in Wikipedia” in the journal Sex Roles in January 2016.

Those that contribute information and edit Wikipedia, help others on the site, are called Wikipedians, and are online volunteers. So this study relates to virtual volunteering without ever actually saying that phrase.

From the abstract of the paper:

“We proposed that masculine norms for behavior in Wikipedia, which may be further exacerbated by the disinhibiting nature of an online, anonymous environment, lead to different psychological experiences for women and men, which, in turn, explain gender differences in contribution behavior. We hypothesized that, among a sample of individuals who occasionally contribute to Wikipedia, women would report less confidence in their expertise, more discomfort with editing others’ work, and more negative responses to critical feedback compared to men, all of which are crucial aspects of contributing to Wikipedia. We also hypothesized that gender differences in these psychological experiences would explain women’s lower contribution rate compared to men in this sample… Significant gender differences were found in confidence in expertise, discomfort with editing, and response to critical feedback. Women reported less confidence in their expertise, expressed greater discomfort with editing (which typically involves conflict) and reported more negative responses to critical feedback compared to men. Mediation analyses revealed that confidence in expertise and discomfort with editing partially mediated the gender difference in number of articles edited, the standard measure for contribution to Wikipedia. Implications for the gender gap in Wikipedia and in organizations more generally are discussed.”

Their study is summarized in this 02 June 2016 article “Why Do So Few Women Edit Wikipedia?” That article notes that Jimmy Wales, the founder of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the site, said that the organization failed to meet its goal of increasing women’s participation to 25% by 2015, despite launching several initiatives.

This is great information for anyone that works with online volunteers – or wants to. While most reviews of the makeup of online volunteers at organizations, at least in the USA, show more women than men participating, and women providing more hours during their service, Wikipedia attracts far more men in its online volunteer ranks. Your organization might also be unconsciously excluding a particular group of people from participating, and this study can help you think about ways to find that out. Kudos to the Wikimedia Foundation for acknowledging this gender gap problem and wanting to address it.

vvbooklittleInformation about this study of the gender gap among Wikipedians has been added to the Virtual Volunteering Wiki list of research regarding virtual volunteering, the most comprehensive list you will find anywhere of such, with information about virtual volunteering research dating back to 1997 (though most starts in 2000). Wikipedia’s engagement of online volunteers is talked about in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, available both as a traditional printed book and as a digital book. The book is for anyone that works with volunteers – the marketing manager, the director of client services, and on and on – not just the official manager of volunteers.

February 10, 2017 update: @Wikimujeres_ES: voluntarias de Wikimedia que intenta reducir la brecha de género incorporando nuevas editoras y generando más contenidos relacionados con mujeres (Volunteers from Wikimedia who are trying to reduce the gender gap on the service, by incorporating new female Wikimedia editors and by generating more content related to women). Here is the web site of this volunteer effort. Here’s a nice 09 January 2017 article by the Association for Progressive Communications about their efforts, in English.

In January 2015, some women Wikipedia editors from the Wikipedia Mexico chapter, along with SocialTIC, ÍmpetuLuchadorasMujeres Construyendo and Sandía Digital, created an Editatona, or Women’s Editathon, “an event exclusively for women where we could learn and share information about Wikipedia just among ourselves, talking about our needs and failures in the project, but also finding solutions by uniting our strengths. And we also wanted to think about specific topics that global Wikimedia events organised by men simply do not take into consideration… we had 84 women registered at the Simone de Beauvoir Leadership Institute. Where there was room for 30 people, we squashed in nearly 40, and there we edited articles about feminist approaches.” On July 2th, 2016, a “Women’s Human Rights” Editatona was held at Mexico City Women Institute offices, Mexico City, Mexico, organized by Instituto de las Mujeres de la Ciudad de México and Wikimedia Mexico, and more than 30 Editatona events have been held in Aguascalientes and Chihuahua in Mexico, and in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Spain and Uruguay. “The Editatona does not have answers to all the problems in digital spaces, such as harassment, very few women creating content, etc. It is only a proposal which we hope will grow and become consolidated. We have a problem to face jointly and resolutely.” You can follow this effort on Twitter at @editatona or on Facebook.. More in this article.

Also of note: this exchange on the TechSoup forum which shows at least some men believe that women don’t feel comfortable as Wikipedia editors.

Also see:

OCHA guide to crowdfunding: a review

409571-OCHA_TB16_Crowdfunding_for_Emergencies_onlineThe United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has released a briefing called Crowdfunding for Emergencies. Not really a how-to guide, more of a look at how it might work in the very best of circumstances. I’m glad to see a UN agency – OCHA, in particular – talking about crowdfunding – about how individuals can donate financially, directly, to humanitarian efforts – but any talk of crowdfunding needs to come with a reality check. And there’s no reality check in this short report.

So, here’s my reality check regarding crowdfunding for humanitarian crises:

  • Most of the time, a crowdfunding effort does NOT raise lots of money. Most crowdfunding efforts fail to meet the expectations of the initiatives that attempt them. We hear only about the campaigns that are wildly successful – not the many more that aren’t successful at all. Let’s look at just Kickstarter, which is mentioned repeatedly in the report — but without these statistics: less than 41% of approved Kickstarter campaigns get funded — and Kickstarter says another 20% of projects submitted are rejected by the site. Out of the over 72,000 projects funded on Kickstarter since its inception, as of October 2014, only about 1,600 raised more than $100,000.
  • The wildly successful crowdfunding efforts you have heard about – for Haiti, for Nepal – have had a tremendous amount of marketing and media coverage behind them. Vast amounts. People were hearing about the dire circumstances in Nepal on the news, on the radio, on their social media networks, and on and on, for days and days. Most initiatives won’t have that kind of outreach behind their crowdfunding effort.
  • The wildly successful crowdfunding efforts you have heard about have, later, lead to some very bad feelings among donors, who later read stories about the misuse of funds. Crowdfunding might get your initiative lots of money, but if it does, it will also get you lots of scrutiny. Are you ready to handle such? Are you ready to show the impact of the money you raised, in hard facts and figures, on demand?
  • Donor fatigue is real. People get exhausted from seeing images depicting desperate circumstances. They are moved the first time, maybe the second time, but then they feel overwhelmed, emotionally-drained, even under siege. If your crowdfunding effort for a humanitarian crisis happens soon after another humanitarian crisis, it might not matter that you have an excellent outreach campaign and lots of media coverage.

I was glad to see this risk talked about in the publication:

“Financially supporting a few crowdfunded projects at the potential expense of the community-at-large is a substantial risk, as crowdfunding platforms tend to target individuals as compared to agencies.”

Crowdfunding is, absolutely, something humanitarian organizations should be exploring. But keep expectations realistic.

Also see:

Survival Strategies for Nonprofits

hey, corporations: time to put your money where your mouth is re: nonprofits & innovation

logoI started talking about virtual volunteering – without knowing it was called that – as early as 1994, more than 30 years ago. Soon after I started babbling about it, I directed The Virtual Volunteering Project, based at the University of Texas, back in the late 1990s. Back then, I thought that, by now, well into the 21st century, there would be corporations clamoring to sponsor virtual volunteering activities and events. I could see back in the 1990s that this wasn’t just a fun idea – it was an effective one for nonprofits, NGOs, and volunteers themselves – and that it would become a widespread practice. I just knew corporations would want to be seen as leaders in the movement and, therefore, fund it.

Yet, 30 years later, while thousands of nonprofits all over the world have embraced using the Internet to support and involve volunteers, corporations remain largely silent in their involvement and support. I am frequently contacted by nonprofits and NGOs looking to expand their involvement of online volunteers, or that want to do something particularly interesting or innovative regarding virtual volunteering, but they need funding, and they want to know if I can help. And I can’t. Because corporations clamoring to be a part of virtual volunteering just hasn’t happened.

It’s not true of all corporations: the international telecommunications company Orange seems to get it, to a degree: Fundacja Orange (the Polish branch) partially funds the ground-breaking Discover E-Volunteering competition, the best showcase of new virtual volunteering initiatives on the planet. But, sadly, the UK branch of Orange seems to have already discontinued its Do Some Good smart phone app to help people volunteer through their mobile phone, launched in 2012 – less than three years ago. Hewlett-Packard used to have a pioneering e-mentoring program, bringing together their employees, as mentors, with high school students, and the program is frequently referenced in academic literature 20 years ago about the promise of e-mentoring – but that program is long gone, and I can’t find any association between HP and virtual volunteering anymore. Rolex seemed somewhat interested in microvolunteering, a version of virtual volunteering that engages online volunteers in micro tasks, but that initial interest seems to have quickly, completely waned. Cisco was a key financial and in-kind supporter of NetAid, a part of which became the UN’s Online Volunteering service, but that support ended in 2001.1

You’ve heard it and read it so many times: corporate folks chastising nonprofits and NGOs, saying those mission-based initiatives need to be more innovative, saying they need to embrace the latest network technologies and revolutionary management styles and on and on. Yet these same corporations demanding nonprofit innovation aren’t funding virtual volunteering-related initiatives.

Time to put your money where your mouth is, corporations: there are some terrific virtual volunteering activities out there. There are outstanding innovations happening at nonprofits and NGOs all over the world. You say you want more risk-taking, more innovations, more tech-use by mission-based organizations – okay, they stand ready to do it. All they need is the investment. Are YOU ready to put your money where your mouth is?

vvbooklittleAnd also… why haven’t you bought The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook?


1: The last sentence of this paragraph, regarding Cisco and NetAid, was added on July 24, 2015

Nov. 11, 2015 update:  Nonprofit leaders are not focusing enough attention on innovation, measuring the impact of their efforts, and creating funding structures that encourage risk-taking, according to a new report from Independent Sector. Great – who is going to FUND THOSE ACTIVITIES?!

Spontaneous online volunteering/crowdsourcing in response to Eric Gardner grand jury decision

Have you seen the remarkable, spontaneous online volunteering / crowdsourcing that’s happening in response to grand jury decision about the death of Eric Gardner in New York City? There are thousands of tweets with the tag , with various people identifying as white in the USA posting about times they have committed crimes and come in contact with police as a result, and even been confrontational with the police at those times, and how they were not arrested as a result. It’s meant to refute the justifications for police use-of-force regarding the killing of Eric Gardner.

Powerful stuff.

More about spontaneous online volunteers.


Good Housekeeping UK Flubs Virtual Volunteering story

One of the reasons I created the list of myths about virtual volunteering was because of journalists who kept writing articles that did not reflect the realities of online service. They loved to say “this is so new!” and that “it’s great if you don’t have time!”, for instance – despite virtual volunteering starting in the 1970s with the advent of the Internet and all volunteering, online or off, taking real time. I ask every journalist that calls me to read those myths before they interview me – and I can always tell if they have or not. 

I have been in positions to develop assignments for online volunteers and to recruit and support volunteers in those assignments since 1994. When I lose volunteers in virtual assignments – the ones that disappear with their assignment undone – the excuse is almost always the same: I didn’t realize how much time this would take. Never mind that I tell all volunteers, up front, how much an assignment might take – and often, it’s a micro assignment, taking just minutes a day or a week. But even a few minutes a day, just once, is A FEW MINUTES A DAY.

This article by Good Housekeeping UK is representative of what so many journalists get wrong about virtual volunteering. Not only does this article claim the practice is new (it’s more than 30 years old), not only do they think it’s great for people that don’t have much time (most virtual volunteering assignments take just as much time as onsite volunteering assignments, just without the need to travel and park), and they think the terms micro volunteering and virtual volunteering are inter-changeable – they just can’t get it that, while micro volunteering online IS virtual volunteering, not all virtual volunteering is “micro.” You know, like group volunteering is volunteering, but not all volunteering is group volunteering.

The magazine even highlights one of my favorite initiatives, the online mentoring program Infinite Family, and then brands it as micro volunteering – despite the program requiring volunteers to make an ongoing commitment of several hours regularly – because that’s what kids deserve, not just a few minutes here or there that a volunteer might be able to spare.

You want to do a story on JUST micro volunteering? Great. Here are some initiatives you can mention:

Carnamah Historical Society virtual volunteering initiative (Australia) – Online volunteers help with transcription and indexing projects to make historical records more discoverable and searchable.

ebird database, supporting the National Audubon Society. You go “birding” or bird-watching, observing birds with your eye or binoculars, and then enter into the database when, where, and how you went birding, completing a checklist of all the birds seen and heard during the outing

Help From Home has a mix of volunteering activities you can do from home, both online and without a computer.

Koodonation, part of Sparked / Extraordinaries, hosts a database of online microvolunteering assignments (tasks that can be completed in around an hour or two online) in support of different nonprofit organizations. Both nonprofits and volunteers must register on the site to view microvolunteering assignments.

NetSquared, an initiative of TechSoup, is a place where nonprofits, corporations, government agencies, NGOs and individuals propose ideas that involve “the intersection of technology and social impact.” Anyone is welcomed to comment on the proposed projects on the site, and there are often opportunities to vote on which projects should receive funding.

Smithsonian Digital Volunteer program. The Smithsonian seeks to engage the public in making its collections more accessible. “We’re working hand-in-hand with digital volunteers to transcribe historic documents and collection records to facilitate research and excite the learning in everyone.” Transcription turns handwritten and typed documents into searchable and machine-readable resources, creating an incredibly valuable asset for art, history, literary and scientific researchers across the globe.

TechSoup has a series of discussion groups where nonprofits ask questions about technology. You can log into the community at any time and try to help nonprofits and volunteers with questions about software, databases and more. TechSoup also needs people to transcribe its most popular archived webinars (requires that you listen to the pre-recorded webinar and type what is said, re-listening as you need to in order to capture what is being said). 

Wikipedia, the largest online volunteering initiative in the world. To volunteer, you simply find an article you have some knowledge of and add information to the entry. 

And that’s just the virtual volunteering that is “micro” – there’s LOTS more virtual volunteering assignments that allow you to take on leadership roles, manage an entire project, work as a team with other online volunteers, build relationships with other people, and more. I have many links to various initiatives you can get involved with here.

There is no excuse for this flub, Good Housekeeping. NONE.

ICTs, Employability & Social Inclusion in the EU

In my last blog, I talked about how, at long last, my paperInternet-mediated Volunteering in the EU:  Its history, prevalence, and approaches and how it relates to employability and social inclusion, had been published. My research was for the ICT4EMPL Future Work project undertaken by the Information Society Unit of the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

The ICT4EMPL Future Work project aims to inform policy of new forms of work and pathways to employability in the European Union mediated by ICTs – Information and Communications Technologies. The ICT4EMPL research project is in the context of of implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy and the Digital Agenda for Europe. For more information, see Skills & Jobs, Digital Agenda for Europe.

The ICT4EMPL Future Work project developed, produced overview reports on the state of play of crowd-sourced labour, crowdfunding, internet-mediated volunteering and internet-mediated work exchange (timebanks and complementary currency). These activities were explored in relation to key themes of opportunities for entrepreneurship and self employment, skills and social inclusion, and transition from education to employment for young people.

In addition to my paper, here are other papers published as part of the ICT4EMPL Future Work project, and almost all of them talk about volunteering in some way:

Wish they had a way people could comment on the papers. Online discussions about these topics would further our learning about them.

Internet-mediated Volunteering in the EU (virtual volunteering)

paperAt long last, Internet-mediated Volunteering in the EU:  Its history, prevalence, and approaches and how it relates to employability and social inclusion, has been published. 

My research was for the ICT4EMPL Future Work project undertaken by the Information Society Unit of the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, and consumed most of my 2013.

As part of this project, I created a wiki of all of the various resources I used for my research, and it includes a list of online volunteering-related recruitment or matching web sties that are either focused on or allow for the recruitment of online volunteers from EU-countries, and a list of more than 60 organisations in EU countries that involve online volunteers in some way. The wiki offers many more resources as well, not all of which made it into the final paper.

I also blogged about what I learned from researching virtual volunteering in Europe, such as how much virtual volunteering is happening all over Europe, how Spain is, by far, the leader in Europe regarding virtual volunteering (particularly in Catalonia), how little the French seem to be doing with regard to virtual volunteering (tsk tsk), and that traditional volunteer centers in Europe are pretty much ignoring virtual volunteering – if it’s mentioned at all, it’s talked about in terms of being new and rare – which the research firmly established is not at all the case.

It would be amazing if this paper lead to significant change in the EU regarding volunteering: if volunteer centers – from the city level to the international level – fully acknowledged virtual volunteering at long last, and if detailed materials regarding how to create virtual volunteering tasks was written and published in all the various languages of Europe. It would be great if employers in Europe started valuing volunteer experience on people’s résumés, something they don’t seem to do currently. What would be particularly awesome would be the establishment of online discussion groups for managers of volunteers in European countries., something that, as far as I can tell, only exists for the UK (UKVPMs) and, to a degree, in Spain (E-Voluntas). People are hungry for virtual volunteering activities – particularly, but not limited to, people under 40 in the EU. I hear European-based NGOs and charities complaining about not being able to involve young people as volunteers – and then balk at the idea of creating online volunteering assignments. THIS HAS TO CHANGE.

Also, as a result of this and other research, I have a list of people based in Europe that I consider experts in virtual volunteering – in the U.K., in Spain (of course – mostly in Catalonia, in fact), in Germany, in Italy (met her after the research was turned in, unfortunately) and Poland, and if you are a researcher, journalist, or organization interested in virtual volunteering, and want to talk to an EU-based consultant, give me a shout and I’ll give you my list of contacts.

Also see this review of the paper by Ismael Peña-López.


Me with The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook

It’s real! Not virtual! Me with The Last Virtual volunteering Guidebook.

Jayne and book

Amazing to hold YEARS of research and writing in my hands at last!

The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook is now available for purchase as a paperback and an ebook from Energize, Inc

If you read the book, I would so appreciate it if you could write and post a review of it on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble web sites (you can write the same review on both sites).

Now available: The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook!

vvbooklittleThe Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook is now available for purchase as a paperback and an ebook from Energize, Inc

The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook reflects all that has changed — and remained the same — since the first book was published online more than 10 years ago. Again co-authored with Susan Ellis and published by Energize, Inc.The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook still includes the basics for getting started with involving and supporting volunteers online, but it goes much farther, offering detailed information to help organizations that are already engaged in virtual volunteering with improving and expanding their programs. It also offers more international perspectives. The first book was focused on people who had never heard of virtual volunteering; this revised book still serves as the most comprehensive introduction to the subject available, but provides much more in-depth information and guidance for organizations already engaging online volunteers, who want to improve or expand their virtual volunteering activities.

New and advanced information includes:

  • More detailed advice on virtual volunteering assignment, including one-time “Byte-Sized” tasks (micro-volunteering), longer-term, higher-responsibilities and virtual team assignments.
  • A thorough look at various practices for screening and matching volunteers to assignments, with an eye to getting the most capable volunteers into your volunteering ranks and preventing incomplete assignments or burdensome management tasks
  • How to make online volunteer roles accessible and diverse
  • More details about how to work successfully with online volunteers, so that they are successful, your organization benefits and volunteer managers aren’t overwhelmed
  • Balancing safety with program goals
  • Respecting privacy of both the organization and online volunteers themselves
  • Online mentoring
  • Blogging by, for and about volunteers
  • Online activism
  • Spontaneous online volunteers
  • Live online events with volunteers
  • The future of virtual volunteering and how to start planning for oncoming trends

There’s also a new chapter just for online volunteers themselves, which organizations can also use in creating their own materials for online volunteers.

I’ve worked hard over the years to make this book worth the purchase price, and to be a resource you can turn to any time for support in your engagement with volunteers online.

In conjunction with the revised guidebook is the Virtual Volunteering Wiki, a free online resource and collaborative space for sharing resources regarding virtual volunteering. We are seeking a partner university or college that could recruit an intern from among students studying in its post-graduate program to keep this wiki updated.

If you read the book, I would so appreciate it if you could write and post a review of it on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble web sites (you can write the same review on both sites).