Tag Archives: ework

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!

Re-creating offline excitement & a human touch online

Back in 1998, an effort that became the nonprofit Knowbility started a hackathon competition before such events were called hackathons. It was called the Accessibility Internet Rally, or AIR, and in one day, professional web designers and web design students volunteered their time to build web sites for nonprofits in Austin, Texas – web sites that are fully accessible to people with disabilities and people using assistive technologies. Designers were divided into teams, and each team had a nonprofit to build for. The teams were all on one floor of a training center that donated its space and computers for the event.

It was crazy, fun, exciting and, at times, silly. I was at that first competition, and at the events in 1999 and 2000, representing a partner organization, via the Virtual Volunteering Project. I helped greet and register every participant as they came in. I also ran through the hallways, into the training rooms, shouting deadlines, like “Two more hours! Just two more hours!”  We got donated food from a local Subway shop and various grocery stores, and teams wouldn’t take a lunch break, despite our pleas for them to do so – they’d run into the room, scarf, then run back to their computers, ready for more designing. Austin-area corporations donated their branded swag that they had leftover from conferences in the past, or that had old logos on them, and we were able to put together goodie bags of memo pads, pens, frisbees and more to hand out to all participants. The second year, several corporate teams returned – this time with custom t-shirts they had made for their team especially for the competition! The event was so energizing and fun that teams came back year after year.

I still use the crockpot that we used to provide nacho cheese for teams…

The AIR competition has continued, and is still awesome, but a few years ago, it became an entirely online competition. It’s now called OpenAIR. The event is not limited to Austin, Texas – it’s global! Instead of one day, teams now have five weeks to develop new accessible web sites for participating nonprofits – and the web sites are far more sophisticated than they were back in the 1990s. A team’s members are all onsite together, at the same company or in the same web design class, for the most part, but they aren’t in the same room with the other teams, nor the nonprofits they are supporting – all interaction among teams and clients is via phone, online conferencing, email and shared online spaces. Another big difference from those early years is that, now, most of the participating nonprofits already have web sites, so their material is already digitized – we don’t need to scan logos or photos anymore, because it’s already done.

It’s almost 20 years after that first AIR competition, and I’m back with Knowbility, this time as a consultant, in charge of recruiting nonprofits to participate and supporting them through the entire process. And I have a goal: to find ways to recreate that craziness and fun and excitement and personal touch from the offsite, in-person events of the past online.

I’m supposed to be the virtual volunteering expert. So this should be a piece of cake for me, right? Afterall, I have ideas for creating a personal experience for working with online volunteers in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. I’m using those recommendations, as well as looking through research I’ve curated about organizations working with online volunteers, information about virtual teams, remote teams, ework, telecommuting, etc., to come up with ideas… but I need more!

Here are my ideas so far:

  • Talk one-on-one with the nonprofits as much as possible live via phone or web conference. There could be as many as 45 nonprofits participating, and while there are plenty of tools to communicate en masse with the nonprofits, and I will use many such tools, I’m also committed to talking, in real time, with EACH nonprofit, one-on-one, both right after they sign up and as they need it through the process. If I’ve been clear in those mass communications – on the web site, on the intranet, in email, etc. – then we’re talking about a few minutes at time in real-time communications, not hours and hours. But those one-on-one meetings are, IMO, essential to restore that personal touch and personality to participation.
  • I’ll be asking each nonprofit to take a group photo of their staff holding a small 8 1/2 X 11” sign I will send them electronically, and that they will print out, that says something like “We’re in for #OpenAIR2018,” and then share via their various social media channels tagged with #OpenAir2018. And then Knowbility will share those photos as well via their social media channels, like Twitter and Facebook. That allows us to again see happy faces as a part of this event, and energize participants.
  • I’m going to do some short, private videos for nonprofit participants – maybe 5 minutes – very informal, just giving them updates about what’s going on or something they need to keep in mind, and with each one, having a joke of the week, or some theme (Star Wars, Halloween, nature, pets, basketball, whatever) – hoping that both the key message and the silliness will guarantee viewers and energize participants.
  • I’m going to have at least one live webinar, an “ask me anything” session, allowing nonprofits that have signed up to ask anything, “live”, and everyone in the webinars hearing my answers in real time. This is something PeaceCorps does periodically, and I really love how approachable it feels for participants.
  • I’m hoping the design teams and nonprofits, after they are matched together, will do some screen captures of their meetings together and share them with me, so we can share them with other teams to show each other what they look like when they are working together. Silly hats could be encouraged.
  • I’m going to ask the nonprofits to send something via postal mail to their design team. It can be a postcard of encouragement, a t-shirt from a previous event, a pen with their logo on it – just SOMETHING the web design team members can hold in a hand, something that represents the nonprofit in a personal way, something tangible, and something that didn’t have to be purchased or, if it did, was less than $2 and has something personal written on it by the nonprofit’s executive director or key contact (postcard!). If the NGO is, say, in Afghanistan, and has no way to send postal mail to the design team, I might ask them to send, via email, a recipe for a traditional Afghan dish, and ask the design team to share a photo of them enjoying the dish together.
  • I’m going to ask the design teams to send something via postal mail to their nonprofits. Same rules: it can be a postcard of encouragement, a t-shirt from a previous event, a pen with their logo on it – just SOMETHING the nonprofit staff can hold in their hands, something that represents the design team in a personal way, something tangible.

Those are my ideas for getting more fun and a human touch back into this competition. The challenge is to come up with things that are free, simple, worthwhile to spend the time on, that teams won’t see as a burden, and that nonprofits won’t see as a waste of time. If something can’t be all of those things, it’s not going to work!

So, there’s my challenge. What are YOUR ideas? Remember those restrictions:

  • free
  • simple
  • worthwhile
  • not burdensome
  • not a waste of time

Please put your fabulous ideas in the comments section!

And if you represent a nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO), charity, public school, or any other not-for-profit, mission-based organization anywhere in the world, I hope you will consider participating in OpenAIR. Your organization gets a new web site that is accessible for people with disabilities, people who want to donate to your organization, volunteer for it, support it or otherwise participate it in some way. Imagine how being a more welcoming organization online will look to your current supporters and to potential donors! The sooner you sign up, the sooner you can start preparing for the competition, and the more support you will get. Although the deadline for signing up isn’t until the end of this year, if you wait that long, you miss out on more than three months of support and preparation for the event!

Also see:

Related blogs:

Microvolunteering is virtual volunteering

Imagine if I announced that a one-day beach clean up, or a one-day walk-a-thon, that brought hundreds or thousands of people together for one-off service in support of a nonprofit organization or cause, wasn’t really volunteering. Imagine if I said it isn’t volunteering because most of the participants who are donating their time and service aren’t screened, aren’t interviewed, aren’t background-checked, and aren’t trained beyond maybe a 10 minute speech about things to keep in mind during the experience. Imagine if I also said it was because most participants may never volunteer again with that organization or for the cause.

Imagine if I claimed that people who sewed or knitted items from their home, in their spare time, for some nonprofit group helping kids in hospitals or people suffering from a particular disease, weren’t really volunteers. They also aren’t screened the way most other volunteers are, aren’t background-checked, and usually have no deadline for their work – they get it done when they get it done, if at all.

I would look ridiculous to make such claims. The volunteer management community would laugh me out of the workshop or conference (or the conference hotel bar, as the case may be). Or off the Intertubes.

Of course all of these activities are volunteering. In fact, they are all MICROvolunteering, without a computer! (most volunteer managers call such episodic volunteering, but the new name is much snazzier)

The folks behind the microvolunteering movement The Extraordinaries (though their web site is now called Sparked.com) continue to try to say microvolunteering isn’t virtual volunteering. Which is as preposterous as me claiming those other one-off volunteering gigs like one-day beach clean ups aren’t really volunteering. Of course microvolunteering is virtual volunteering: it’s unpaid, donated service in support of nonprofit organizations, provided via a computer or handheld device. How much time it may or may not take, and how volunteers are or aren’t screened or supported, is immaterial.

I’ve had an ongoing battle with the people behind the Extraordinaires for a while now. They burst online a few years ago, claiming that there was no need for traditional volunteering, or traditional volunteer management, because everything nonprofits need by online volunteers can be done through what they were calling microvolunteering: people who volunteered for just a few minutes at a time whenever they might get an inclination to help, from wherever they were. Web sites would be built. Topics would be researched. Logos would be designed. Marketing plans would be written. Children would be mentored. All by people waiting for a plane or during time outs at sporting events. No need to make time to volunteer — just volunteer whenever you have some spare time, even if that’s just for a minute or two.

I challenged them on various blogs and the ARNOVA discussion group, pointing out that, indeed, microvolunteering can work for some tasks – and I had been saying so since the late 1990s, when I called the practice byte-sized volunteering – but most certainly not for mentoring a child (online or face-to-face, mentoring is effective only if its a long-term, ongoing commitment that builds trust – something I learned when working with the National Mentoring Partnership in launching their standards for online mentoring) and many other activities undertaken by community-serving organizations. I pointed out that microvolunteering most definitely can work for something like logo design — which, in fact, I wrote about back in 2006, per the first NetSquared conference that highlighted several examples of such. But I also pointed out that successful volunteer engagement isn’t about just getting work done; it is, in fact, about relationship-building — recruiting people who could turn into donors, for instance, or raising awareness and changing behaviors — and it’s also about reserving certain tasks for volunteers specifically, because some tasks are actually best done by volunteers.

This recent blog shows that some of those arguments are starting to seep into their thinking – Hurrah! – but they still need to evolve their concept. They are right to point out that microvolunteering doesn’t employ some volunteer management techniques in the same way as other volunteering, but they just can’t get their mind around the fact that LOTS of volunteering doesn’t, like a one-day beach clean up doesn’t. But that doesn’t somehow negate microvolunteering as volunteering, or as virtual volunteering.

Volunteer management and support must be adjusted for a wide variety of volunteering scenarios, online and off; while there are certain fundamentals of volunteer management that are always the same for all volunteering, online or offline, microvolunteering or longer-term, such as capturing volunteer contact info, ensuring volunteers are invited to future opportunities, thanking volunteers for their contributions and showing volunteers how their service has been of value, other aspects of volunteer management have to be tailored to the unique situation, and that does, indeed, mean not recruiting micro-volunteers the same way as long-term volunteers, on or offline. 

In addition to their continued refusal to accept that, indeed, microvolunteering is virtual volunteering, they also continue to make some other misguided statements, such as:

With microvolunteering, ‘You hire EVERY volunteer.’ The end result gets better as more people work on and peer-review your project. You turn no-one away.

You do NOT hire every volunteer in a microvolunteering or crowd-sourcing project. In fact, you reject MOST of them — for a logo design, for instance, most people’s ideas are rejected – most ideas are not used. For open source software design that allows anyone to contribute to the code, not every submission gets included in the released version. It doesn’t mean those volunteering efforts aren’t appreciated and that you shouldn’t thank them and celebrate such, but the reality is that you are not going to use most of the work submitted for such a crowd-sourcing endeavor.

And as for their comment that The end result gets better as more people work on and peer-review your project, I could point to dozens of pages on Wikipedia that have gotten worse as more people have worked on them. The idea that more volunteers automatically means better is something that only someone who does not work with volunteers regularly — particularly online volunteers — would say.

If they want to claim that microvolunteering is the coolest form of virtual volunteering, or even the coolest form of volunteering, I wouldn’t be quite so passionate in my arguments – what’s coolest is, ofcourse, entirely subjective. Of course, I’d still argue that it wasn’t — I’d be speaking as a person who has been both a long-term online volunteer and a micro-volunteer, and has recruited and managed both kinds of online volunteers. To me, mircrovolunteering is like a one-night stand: interesting/fun in the moment, but then quickly forgotten. Um, not that I know what a one-night stand is… Such might lead to something more substantial, but usually, it won’t – and that means it’s not for everyone.

But this fact Ben and Jacob will have to eventually accept: microvolunteering, online, is virtual volunteering. And it’s been going on long before the Extraordinaires showed up. Proposing that it isn’t creates only confusion, segregates them from terrific conversations and resources and networks, and holds them back from the full success they could have with their efforts; accepting that they are part of virtual volunteering would open many more opportunities for their endeavor and ensure their long-term success.

Also see:

Micro-Volunteering and Crowd-Sourcing: Not-So-New Trends in Virtual Volunteering/Online Volunteering

But virtual volunteering means it takes no time, right?

What online community service is – and is not