Tag Archives: engagement

National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership, July 26-28, 2017

Registration is now open for the 2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership, July 26 – 28, 2017 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) is hosting the first national conference in the USA in more than a decade for people in charge of supporting and involving volunteers. This will also be the first time in more than a decade the profession’s most well-known thought leaders, authors, and trainers will be together in one place.

The Summit will offer more than 100 workshops to increase knowledge and skills regarding the management of volunteers. There will also be plenaries and group discussions to determine how to build a new national presence for leaders of volunteer engagement, tackle the issues that affect this profession, and ultimately increase the community impact of the volunteers engaged. There will also be special sessions focusing on grant makers and other philanthropic organizations which support volunteer engagement with funding, providing a unique opportunity for funders and nonprofit leaders alike to learn more about each other’s perspectives, approaches to collaboration, and challenges.

With the budgets of so many nonprofits and community-focused government programs on the chopping block, I hope this conference will also talk about how to advocate for those programs to voters and legislators.

It’s really wonderful 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.

And, as I said the last time I blogged about this conference: 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.

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

papers on cyberactivism by women in Iran & Azerbaijan

angryjayneIf you are interested in digital engagement or human rights advocacy anywhere, it’s worth your time to read the following papers. In addition, both concern women’s engagement and feminism specifically. The most exciting things happening regarding cyber activism, in my opinion, are happening in countries outside North America and Western Europe, particularly in countries where freedom of expression is not assured by law nor practice.

(1) Women’s voices: The journey towards cyberfeminism in Iran, by Mansoureh Shojaee, Part of the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Working Paper Series.

The working paper looks at the history of Iranian media by and for women, culminating in cyberfeminism. The main focus are women’s websites and cyber campaigns dedicated to improving women’s rights, and how they helped to mobilize Iranian women’s movements. There are two main case studies: The main case study on websites is the “Feminist School” as an important site for feminist discourse and women’s movements managed from inside Iran. The main case study in relation to cyber campaigns is the “My stealthy freedom” campaign which is undertaken from outside Iran. Through these two case studies, the paper aims to answer the following questions: To what extent and how do these sites provide strategic opportunities for the Iranian women’s movement to advocating gender equality and women’s rights? And did the cyber campaign help to build coalitions between women’s movements inside Iran and diaspora activism outside of Iran? The case studies are based on the author’s earlier work on the history of the women’ movement, interviews with leaders and directors of women’s websites and directors of mobilizing cyber campaigns along with self-reflective and discourse analysis of the websites and campaigns.

(2) Azerbaijani Women, Online Mediatized Activism and Offline Mass Mobilization by Ilkin Mehrabov, Karlstad University, Sweden

Abstract: Despite its post-Soviet history, Azerbaijan is an under-investigated country in academic research—compared with the other former constituencies, such as the Baltic countries or Russia, of the USSR—and gender questions of the contemporary Azerbaijani society are even less touched on. Within the current context of the post-“Arab Spring” era of mediatized connectivity and collective political engagement, this article looks into and analyzes how Azerbaijani women participate in different online and offline social and political movements, and if (and how) they are impeded by the increased state authoritarianism in Azerbaijan. Using data, obtained from online information resources, yearly reports of human rights organizations, focus group discussions, and interviews, the study detects four major activist constellations within the Azerbaijani field of gendered politics. Based on the analysis of conditions of detected groups, the article claims that flash mobs, a tactic employed mainly by liberal activists, emerge as the promising way in overcoming the normative nature of Azerbaijani patriarchal society, thus providing an opportunity for normalization and internalization of the feeling of being on the street and acting in concert with others—the practices which might lead towards an increasing participation of (especially young) women in the political processes of the country.

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…

Volunteer management is community engagement

logoAll these years that I’ve been a manager of volunteers and a consultant regarding the management of volunteers, I have felt quite alone in how I approach the value of volunteer engagement.

I believe that volunteer engagement should live under “program” at an organization, not under “human resources” or the fundraising/fund development department. Here’s why:

  • I believe in creating tasks specifically for volunteers because, sometimes, volunteers are the best people to do a task, even if it’s not the most efficient way to get something done, even if it means the tasks take twice as long as they would if completed by an employee. That may be because the organization needs to emphasize transparency to the community in its operations, and therefore wants to give community members a first-hand view. That may be because it wants to give the community a sense of ownership in the organization, through volunteering. That may be because clients prefer interacting with volunteers in certain activities rather than paid staff.
  • I believe in sometimes defining tasks in such a way so that certain people – a specific type of person – could do them as volunteers – a group, youth, people with disabilities, online micro volunteers, etc. That may because such volunteering gives the organization access to audiences they may never reach otherwise. That may be because the organization has a mission to serve specific audiences or engage in certain activities, and this kind of volunteering is a manifestation of this.
  • I believe volunteer engagement can help to address youth unemployment, cultural conflicts, intergenerational misunderstandings, integration, community cohesion, social integration, and on and on. Volunteer engagement can play a vital role in building social cohesion and intercultural understanding.
  • I’m passionate about a big tent approach in talking about volunteer engagement, including anyone who is donating their unpaid time at a nonprofit, school, government program or other mission-based entity – that means I include people volunteering in order to fulfill a community service obligation or people in an unpaid internship. I don’t believe in motivation purity tests when it comes to who gets called a volunteer (only those volunteering out of the goodness of their heart get to be called volunteers? No.).
  • Volunteers are not free, and often do not save money. Plus, no one says, “Wow, I really want to work for free for such-and-such organization!”

I believe volunteer engagement is so much more than just finding people with supposedly good hearts to do work for free. I believe volunteers aren’t just people that want to donate time out of the goodness of their heart, but also people that want to gain job skills, people who want to apply what they are learning in a classroom, people who feel anger about a particular issue and want to do something about it, people who think the volunteering activity looks fun, people who are skeptical about an organization and wants to see first hand what they do, people who are new to a community and want to meet locals, and on and on.

So I’ve spent copious amounts of time deriding the monetary value of volunteer hours. I talk instead about measuring success for volunteer engagement in terms of impact and transformation and community connection, not hours donated and number of volunteers involved.

I’m not entirely alone in this way of thinking: Sharon Capeling-Alakija, then head of the United Nations Volunteers programme, talked about why UNV was committed to its online volunteering program, she never said it was because NGOs or UNVs have so much work to do and need people to undertake some of that work for free. She said it was because “this is a way for people to be involved in the work of UNV, first hand. Before the OV service, the only way to do that was to be a UN Volunteer – and most people don’t get to do that.”

Not that I believe that an organization has an obligation to involve absolutely every person that wants to volunteer as a volunteer. Some organizations, because of their mission, may not be appropriate places for children as volunteers, for instance. Nonprofits and schools have every right to say no to an offer of group volunteers from a corporation if the proposed volunteering activity offers little return of investment for the organization. And I don’t think every volunteer is worth the effort – volunteers aren’t automatically “good guys.”

But all of my ideas about volunteering, along with my promotion of virtual volunteering, has made me the odd gal out at most conferences and in most conversations regarding volunteerism and volunteer management. In fact, my point of view about the value of volunteerism has made many people angry, people that want volunteering to be talked about only in the most basic, old-fashioned terms: people donating their time purely out of the goodness of their hearts, never for any other impure reason, like because they have been compelled by a court. They want to value volunteers based on number of volunteers, how many hours those volunteers give and a dollar value for those hours.

In January 2016, I decided to say all this and more via my keynote speech to the South Carolina Association for Volunteer Administration (SCAVA). My speech was to managers of volunteers, and it was about what we are versus what we should be, what we COULD be, touching on all the aforementioned points. If managers of volunteers are merely in charge of creating assignments for people with good hearts, and measuring the success of such with the number of hours contributed and a monetary value for those hours, then we deserve to be thought of as low-level administrators, and we deserve the anger we get from labor unions. If we want a seat at the senior staff table, it’s time to approach volunteer engagement as community engagement, as something much more than bodies doing work for free. We don’t just coordinate, we manage, we facilitate, we direct. I thought my speech would very likely cause people to storm out of the room – and instead, I got a standing ovation, complete with yelps and tears. It was a stunning reception. People said they had never heard volunteer engagement talked about that way.

But I found out that I’m late to this evangelizing, per recently finding this outstanding blog from 2008, Volunteer Management: Once More with Meaning, by Jennifer Woodill of Ontario, Canada. She developed these ideas while working at St. Christopher House (now West Neighbourhood House). Woodill seems to have been as frustrated as me regarding how nonprofits and corporate folks talk about volunteering. Like me, when she started out as a manager of volunteers, she joined the Association for Volunteer Administration (AVA) – now defunct – and attended various conferences and meetings, hoping to find kindred spirits and inspiration. But what she found instead was a big disconnect, as she notes in her blog:

My big-picture questions about how voluntarism connects to community development, civic engagement, and social inclusion were never discussed in these resources, however, or in meetings with other volunteer managers.

She continues later:

The principle of resource development views volunteers—much like money—as resources or assets. You can see this principle at work by identifying where volunteer management lives within an organizational structure. Often volunteer management is housed with administrative and fundraising functions. This principle underlies the trend to measure volunteering and calculate hours worked, people employed, and placing dollar values on the value of a resource. Again, quantity rules over quality, because a numerical value cannot express relationships developed or the ability to cultivate passion in another’s work. This principle of resource development allows an organization to deem a prospective volunteer “not worth the effort” after conducting a quick cost-benefit analysis. But if a volunteer is poorly educated or he has a disability, traditional management principles don’t view him as a valuable resource.

And this:

I propose an alternate way of approaching volunteer work and management, where the emphasis is on social inclusion and community development. With this alternate way of thinking, planning for volunteer involvement, practices, and management structure starts with these central questions: “How can we find creative ways for community members to get involved in and engaged by our work? How can we develop an organizational culture where volunteer engagement and involvement is central to all our programs? How can we develop a culture in which volunteers are completely integrated into the organization?” These questions move us in new and creative directions… in this model, an organization also makes a commitment to think creatively about ways to create opportunities for newcomers to volunteer. Instead of finding the “best” person for the “job,” an organization makes a commitment not to exclude newcomers from participation in a community and to create meaningful space for their engagement.

I don’t agree with all of what she says in the blog, like the statement “social exclusion is an inevitable result of conducting volunteer management based on the principles of efficiency, resource development, and control.” I don’t think the emphasis on quality standards in volunteer management is what is excluding a diversity of volunteers – I think it’s the emphasis on how to value volunteer engagement perpetuated by various groups like the Corporation for National and Community Service, various UN entities, and the Independent Sector is what is driving the oh-so-narrow view of what volunteering is. Still, you MUST read Jennifer’s blog!

Of course, I had to track Jennifer down and tell her how much I loved her 2008 blog! I found her on Twitter, and she seemed genuinely flattered at my fawning. But then she said this in our public online conversation:

I decided to leave my work with #volunteers cause I couldn’t move forward. I needed to make a difference.

My jaw dropped. We lost her. She needed to make a difference, and traditional management of volunteers did not allow her to do that.

I’m not surprised though. After all, most organizations worldwide, not just in the USA, want to measure volunteerism with a monetary value for service hours. Most volunteer management conferences focus on talking about the basics – how to recruit large numbers of volunteers, how to retain volunteers for years and years, etc. – but avoid more advanced topics, like how to recognize unconscious bias that might drive our exclusion of certain volunteers and how and why to create volunteering opportunities for people struggling with unemployment. These conferences and workshops also segregate technology use in volunteer management to one catch-all workshop on the last day, rather than integrating it into all workshops. There are no workshops on how volunteer engagement can, and SHOULD, support the goals of the marketing department, or the goals of a specific program.

The European Volunteer Centre (CEV) feels that unpaid internships are “mistakenly perceived to be or even presented as volunteering,” yet also says that

Volunteering is an outstanding source of learning and a contributor to personal and professional development. CEV considers it important to recognize volunteering as a source of non-formal and informal learning, while keeping a balance in order not to move the focus from the benefit to others to the benefit of the individual in the form of qualifications or recognition of skills.

So, apparently, volunteering can have all the goals of an unpaid internships, but can never be called an unpaid internship, because then it’s not volunteering? A European conference in April of this year in Romania supported by CEV and focused on managers of volunteers emphasizes that managers of volunteers should “be able to explain the definition of volunteering and differentiate it from other concepts such as civic engagement, internship, traineeship, etc.” – yes, that’s right, don’t you dare confuse pure volunteerism with impure and completely unrelated practices, like executives on loan, pro bono consultants, unpaid internships, etc., and it’s most certainly NOT community / civic engagement…

As a manager of volunteers, I don’t want to be just an HR assistant. There’s nothing wrong with HR assistants – I was one, actually, a long time ago, and it was an excellent work experience. But as a manager of volunteers, I want to be talking about how the organization will use volunteer engagement to better connect to the community and help meet our program goals. I want to see managers of volunteers invited to speak at conferences by the American Planning Association and or conferences for online community managers or conferences on building community.

In my speech to the South Carolina group earlier this year, I lamented that managers of volunteers are obsessed at being labeled “nice,” that we like to be thought of reliable, sweet and over-worked. And that thinking makes us expendable. What’s the first position to be cut in bad economic times? The manager of volunteers. Why? Because most people do NOT know what we do. They think anyone can do what we do. We contribute to this thinking ourselves, because of the old-fashioned approach to volunteer management and volunteer value:

To get other people to think of you differently, YOU have to start thinking of yourself differently… here are some words I’d like to hear about managers of volunteers in addition to nice:

  • daring
  • innovative
  • pioneering
  • unpredictable
  • instigator
  • radical
  • audacious
  • feisty
  • gutsy
  • cutting edge

How much longer are managers of volunteers going to marginalize themselves by having such a limited view of who volunteers are and why volunteers should be involved? Volunteering is community engagement, and such engagement is vital to any organization serving a cause or a community. It’s overdue to demand more from conferences and workshops about volunteerism. It’s overdue to reject limited views of the value of volunteerism. It’s overdue to demand more of ourselves.

Request to all those training re: volunteer management

Are you teaching a volunteer management 101 class, where you talk about the basics of successfully managing volunteers?

Are you going to teach a workshop on how to identify tasks for volunteers?

Are you going to teach a workshop on how to recruit volunteers?

Are you going to teach a workshop on how to keep volunteers engaged/volunteer retainment?

Are you going to teach a workshop on how to recognize/honor volunteers?

If you said yes to any of these questions, then here’s a thought. Actually, it’s a very strong suggestion: you absolutely should include virtual volunteering, whether or not you ever say the phrase virtual volunteering. You absolutely should talk about how to use the Internet – email, a web site, social media, third-party web sites – in each and every aspect of those basics of volunteer management. No exceptions. No excuses.

Consider this: no high-quality marketing workshop about event promotion would not talk about the Internet. No high-quality HR seminar or webinar would talk about worker recruitment and not talk about the Internet. No high-quality management class about better-supporting large numbers of employees in their work would not talk about digital networking tools. So why do those that work with volunteers settle for volunteer management workshops, even on the most basic subject, that don’t integrate into the class the Internet use regarding supporting and involving volunteers?

I hear a lot of excuses for consultants and other workshop leaders who don’t talk about Internet tools in a course regarding the management of volunteers:

  • The volunteer managers I’m working with don’t work with volunteers that use the Internet or text messing
  • The volunteer managers I’m working with are at organizations focused on the arts or the environment or animals or homelessness and therefore don’t need to talk about the Internet or text messaging
  • There’s a separate workshop for talking about digital tools
  • The volunteer managers I’m working with have volunteers that are over 55

ARGH! Not one of those excuses is valid for not integrating talk of the Internet throughout any volunteer workshop addressing basic topics like recruitment, retainment, task identification, etc. NOT ONE. In fact, I think anyone who attends a workshop on working with volunteers, especially a volunteer management 101 course, whether hosted by a volunteer center, a nonprofit support center, or a college or university, whether online or onsite, should ask for at least a partial refund if virtual volunteering is not fully integrated into the course (it’s either not mentioned at all or is briefly mentioned at the end of the class). There is NO excuse for this, it shows a lack of competency on the part of the workshop leader and it’s time to demand better!

As Susan Ellis and I note in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, virtual volunteering should not be a separate topic amid discussions about volunteer engagement and management. Instead, virtual volunteering needs to be fully integrated into all such discussions and trainings. No more segregation at the end of the book or workshop! The consequences of not integrating Internet use into volunteer management 101 workshops? It ill-prepares people for working with volunteers. It also immediately contributes to the stereotype that nonprofits are out-of-touch and old-fashioned.

vvbooklittleWe called it The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook not because we don’t think there will be more to say about virtual volunteering in the future, not because we don’t think there will be new developments on the subject, but because we really hope it’s the last book focused only on virtual volunteering, because we hope all books written about working with volunteers, whether in general or regarding a very specific part of the management of volunteers, like mentoring or risk management or recruitment or board member support or whatever, will now fully integrate the use of the Internet/digital tools in their suggestions. We hope that every workshop on any aspect of volunteer management, and every certificate regarding the management of volunteers, will fully integrate the various uses of the Internet in their suggestions. There’s no excuse not to!