Tag Archives: Germany

What I learned from researching virtual volunteering in Europe

As I’ve blogged about 7 times already (and now, 8!): Since early April 2013, I’ve been researching Internet-mediated volunteering (virtual volunteering, online volunteering, microvolunteering, online mentoring, etc.) in European Union (EU) countries. This research is for the ICT4EMPL Future Work project being undertaken by the Information Society Unit of the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. 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 sites 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, either through a formal virtual volunteering or microvolunteering program, or just as a part of their volunteer engagement, without calling it virtual volunteering or any other associated name.

The research and analysis for this project is pretty much done. The overall ICT4EMPL project is focused on employability and social inclusion, so all of my analysis in the narrative for the EU ties back to those goals. The final paper should be available before the end of the year from the Information Society Unit of the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, and may be published in a journal by the University of Hertfordshire.

But here’s some analysis about what I found in my research that either aren’t in the paper I’ve submitted, but I think they should be out in public for discussion, or, that are in the paper, but I wanted to highlight them in particular for discussion:

  • Virtual volunteering is happening all over Europe. It’s not a new practice in Europe, just as it isn’t in North America. There are thousands of people in Europe that are engaged in virtual volunteering – and as I found 60 organizations involving online volunteers in a very short time, I image there are far, far more that I didn’t find, just because of my lack of skills in languages other than English. True, virtual volunteering still isn’t as widespread in Europe as it is in the USA, but its well-established and seems to be growing.
  • Traditional volunteer centers in Europe are ignoring virtual volunteering. The web sites of volunteer centers in European capitals, as well as most national web sites focused on volunteering in Europe by Europeans, were of little help in this research – they rarely mentioned online volunteers, virtual volunteering, microvolunteering, etc. Also, many of their online search engines for volunteering opportunities offer no way to list virtual opportunities. What is it going to take for this to change?
  • Spain is the European leader regarding virtual volunteering. Organizations involving online volunteers and web sites talking about voluntarios virtualesvoluntarios en línea, voluntarios digitales, voluntarios en red, microvoluntariosvoluntariat virtual, voluntaris digitals, voluntariat virtual abound in Spain. I could have done this report JUST on Spanish virtual volunteering and had 50 pages of narrative! Fundación Hazloposible, an NGO established in 1999 in Spain, launched HacesFalta.org the following year, an online portal for the promotion of volunteerism, including virtual volunteering, and its been growing ever since. Academic articles about this and other online efforts are plentiful. But why did Spain embrace virtual volunteering so early, and why did it spread so quickly, compared to other European countries? I would love to hear your thoughts as to why.
  • Lack of French virtual volunteering efforts. French is spoken by 74 million people, including in 31 francophone countries of Africa. It’s one of the official working languages of the United Nations. And, yet, information about virtual volunteering in French is sparse; even when the France-based France Bénévolat, talks about it, they just mention the phrase and then link to Canadian materials. Why the lack of information in French – and the apparent lack of interest in France regarding virtual volunteering, compared to Spain and England in particular?
  • Where are the online discussion groups for managers of volunteers in European countries? The United Kingdom has the wonderful UKVPMs, which brings together hundreds of people that work with volunteers, regularly discussing everything from legislation to day-to-day challenges in working with volunteers. There’s E-Voluntasun canal para compartir experiencias de intervención e investigación sobre voluntariado. But where are the discussion groups in French, Portuguese, Italian, Catalan, German, Czech, Polish, Estonian, Swedish and on and on? In fact, where are the associations of managers of volunteers in these countries – not the volunteer centres, that promote volunteerism, but the associations that talk about effective management and support of volunteers? I found nothing on the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) site nor on the European Volunteer Centre (CEV) about such groups. Without such associations/communities of practice, there’s little chance of volunteering be elevated to the level of importance many of us believe it deserves, far beyond “feel good” activities. What will it take to change this?
  • Where are materials in languages other than English to help organizations involve online volunteers? I don’t mean just the Guía de voluntariado virtual, the translation of the Virtual Volunteering Guidebook I co-authored with Susan Ellis back in the 1990s, or translations of web materials I’ve written. I don’t mean just the UN’s Online Volunteering service English materials translated into French. I mean advice written in Spanish about Spanish experiences for a Spanish audience, or advice written in French about Francophone African experiences for a Francophone African audience, regarding how to identify tasks that might be undertaken by online volunteers, how to screen online candidates for volunteering, how to keep online volunteers motivated, how to supervise and support online volunteers, how to create an online mentoring program, how to create microvolunteering opportunities how to work with virtual teams of online volunteers, and on and on? I am so hungry to read a non-USA perspective about how to create online volunteering tasks, how to support online volunteers, the benefits of such engagement for organizations (not just the volunteers), etc. Are these out there and I’ve missed them? And I am ready to write an impassioned endorsement for anyone who wants to undertake such an endeavor for his or her respective country/region.
  • There are far, far, far more efforts in Europe to promote virtual volunteering, including microvolunteering, to potential volunteers than to volunteer hosting organizations. I found lots of material geared towards potential online volunteers, or talking about online volunteers and how they benefit, but scant information about why organizations in Europe involve volunteers, and why they should. Without focusing much, much more on hosting organizations, Europe is in danger of creating many thousands of disappointed people – people that wanted to volunteer online but couldn’t find tasks to do.

Those are some the findings I think might be of most interest to those that work with volunteers. Would love to hear your thoughts about these findings. 

Survey for EU online volunteers

If your organization is based in the EU and works with volunteers, and any of these volunteers do any of their service online for your organization via their own computer, smart phone, tablet or other networked advice, I hope you will pass on the following survey information to them and encourage them to complete this survey.

If you are a citizen of any EU country and living in the EU, or you are an EU citizen but living outside of Europe, and you have engaged in any form of online volunteering / virtual volunteering / microvolunteering (not receiving any payment for this online work), I hope you will fill out this survey.

If you fill out this survey, your identity will NOT be made public, and will NOT be known by the researchers, if you do not provide your name and email address at the end of this survey (you are NOT required to provide this information!).

This survey takes 15 minutes or less to complete.


This survey is for is a part of research by the ICT4EMPL Future Work project. You can read more about the project at this wiki.

Update on research re: virtual volunteering in the EU

I’ve made LOTS of updates on the wiki for the research project I’m working on, regarding the state of Internet-mediated volunteering (virtual volunteering, online volunteering, microvolunteering, crowdsourcing, etc.) in the EU and how such is providing or might be providing opportunities for entrepreneurship and self employment, skills and social inclusion, and transition from education to employment for young people.

In addition to the home page for the blog, here are the contents as of today:

  • More about the overall project & researchers
  • About Internet-mediated volunteering
  • The information we are seeking / How to submit information
  • Challenges to this research (obstacles we’re facing in gathering information)
  • Case studies (Europe focus)
  • Resources and research related to Internet-mediated volunteering
  • Resources related to telecommuting, virtual teams and remote management
  • Resources related to volunteer engagement and volunteerism in EU countries
  • Online work sites for pay (rather than virtual volunteering sites, for no pay) – examples and studies
  • Información en español
  • Informations en français
  • Informationen in Deutsch

Here’s the previous blog about this project (though it’s the wiki that now has the most detailed info).

Huge thanks to everyone who has responded so far. Any help any of you can provide in getting the word out to charities and NGOs in Europe about this research project will be MOST appreciated; the results of this research could lead to more support for online volunteering-related projects in the EU!

To stay updated about this project:

Government support re: volunteerism increasing worldwide

A recent edition of Global Trends in NGO Law, “a quarterly review of NGO legal trends around the world”, published by The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, examines the major international trends in the development of supportive volunteerism policies and legislation over the past decade. In anticipation of the 10 year anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers (IYV+10), the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program commissioned the report by the ICNL and the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL).

The report finds that since IYV 2001, more than 70 laws and policies on volunteers and volunteering have been adopted in countries around the world. These laws cannot be absolutely attributed to the events surrounding IYV 2001, but it can be said that a growing number of countries are becoming aware of volunteerism in their countries — not just informal activities of neighbors helping neighbors, but volunteers self-organizing or being organized through a non-governmental organization (NGO) to provide certain services, to engage in activities that promote change by government or corporate sectors, etc.

Organized volunteerism isn’t just people being nice and helpful, and efforts to introduce, expand or support volunteerism nationally should keep that in mind. There are some not-so-nice volunteers out there — and while I think they are wonderful, many governments are going to balk when they show up.

In addition, as governments expand their support of volunteerism in their countries, they are going to learn very quickly that volunteers are not all selfless! Volunteers are neither saints nor teddy bears, and fuzzy language about them and their contributions needs to be replaced by more modern and more appropriate language that recognizes their importance, like “powerful” and “intrepid” and “audacious” and “determined.”

And do they understand that volunteers are never free, that successful volunteer engagement requires volunteer management and support – and that such support and management costs money?

It’s also important to take extra care in talking to impoverished people about donating their time for free – there can be a very ugly backlash with the wrong approach. But asking impoverished people to donate their time to free can work!

In short – there are LOTS to consider about expanded promotions of volunteering in countries globally! Let’s hope governments are getting that message as well.

Also see Germany needs 90 thousand volunteers immediately.


Germany needs 90 thousand volunteers immediately

(Gehen Sie für diese Abhandlung auf Deutsch hinab)

Germany is getting rid of its compulsory military and community service for young men, and German hospitals, retirement homes, hostels, Red Cross chapters, agencies serving people with disabilities, and other social service and community agencies across the country are deeply worried about how they will now staff their organizations.

For more than 40 years, young German men, age 18 to 20, were drafted into military service — it was originally a two year commitment, but over the years, it was reduced to 15 months, then reduced to 12 months, and most recently, reduced to six. The reductions have been a result of cost-cutting. Men could substitute community service at German social service agencies for military service; the community service commitment was usually a bit longer, by a few months, than the military service. Men who opted for community service instead of military service are known in Germany colloquially as “Zivis.”

But the days of compulsory service — and the Zivis — are over as of 2011. Hundreds of charities across Germany that have relied on almost 100,000 conscripts to run their organizations are bracing for a severe labor shortage. Many charities don’t believe they will be able to find enough volunteers willing to do the grunt work that Zivis have done – washing dishes, cleaning rooms, preparing meals, etc.

Can Germany recruit 90,000 volunteers to replace Zivis? Yes – but it will take a sweeping, fundamental rethinking of how Germany charities perceive the role of volunteers, and a LOT of training and support to implement this new thinking.

Germany already understands the value of volunteers in fire fighting. Germany has the most volunteer fire fighters, per capita, of any country in the world. In Germany, for a community served by volunteer firefighters, the first truck must arrive within eight minutes. Volunteer firefighters train alongside professional firefighters — there is no two-tiered training system, one for professionals and one for volunteers. Volunteers stay for years, not just weeks or months. And volunteer fire fighters fight fires, protecting humans, businesses and property. Yes, they also do grunt work, but they also fight fires. Whether they know it or not, Germany already trusts volunteers with critical services; Germany needs to build on that for other community services.

The place to start: German charities need to involve volunteers in more than grunt work:

    • They need to think about volunteers in the ways organizations here in the USA that are staffed primarily by volunteers do. Volunteers deliver the majority of services provided by the American Red Cross and the Girl Scouts of the USA, for instance, staffing not just the grunt work but leadership positions as well. Many of their volunteers stay for years, not just weeks or months, because they do much more than grunt work. Volunteering varies across cultures in many aspects, but one thing that is always the same, culture-to-culture, country-to-country: volunteers want to feel like the work they are doing is critical, not just nice, but necessary.
  • In addition, volunteering needs to be tied to high school and university work, where appropriate, giving students practical experience applying what they are learning in classrooms — service learning. Certain community service should earn the volunteer high school or university class credit.

To make this transformation possible, however, will take intensive, advanced volunteer management training for charities, for universities and for government agency staff. It also may mean paying people to do the grunt work, while reserving positions with high levels of responsibility for volunteers – that’s a radical way of thinking for many people.

I trained a few times in Germany, and I was taken aback at how far behind the country is with regard to volunteer management:

    • Representatives from volunteer centers told me they would not use online databases of volunteering opportunities because “then no one will use our volunteer center.”
  • Residents who are not ethnically-German are vastly under-represented among the staff of most charities and community service organizations in Germany; you can go to a village in Germany with a significant ethnic-Turkish population, for instance, but you won’t see volunteers from this population at the local fire house. In my eight years in Germany, I never found any charity or community service organization that involved volunteers that was undertaking recruitment activities targeted on minority communities specifically — yes, I looked.

This is a challenging time for Germany, but it’s also an amazing opportunity for Germany to ramp up its involvement of volunteers, and transform its society in a number of positive, sustainable ways. It could become a model for the rest of the EU! Attention Germany: I’m ready to help!

Read more at this story at NPR.

— Übersetzung in Deutsch —

Die Tage der Wehrpflicht – und der Zivis – sind vorbei ab 2011. Hunderte Wohlfahrtsorganisationen in ganz Deutschland, die auf die Arbeit der fast 100.000 einberufenen vertraut haben, sehen sich jetzt einer radikalen Verringerung ihrer Arbeitskräfte gegenüber. Viele Organisationen glauben nicht, daß sie ausreichend Freiwillige finden können um die Routinearbeit zu erledigen, die bis jetzt von Zivis erledigt wurde – spülen, Räume reinigen, Mahlzeiten zubereiten, usw.

Kann Deutschland 90.000 Freiwillige rekrutieren um die Zivis zu ersetzen? Ja – aber es verlangt ein fundamentales Umdenken wie deutsche Wohlfahrtsorganisationen die Rolle von Freiwilligen verstehen, und VIEL Übung und Unterstützung um dieses neue Denken auch umzusetzen.

Deutschland versteht bereits den Wert von Freiwilligen in Feuerwehren. Deutschland hat die meisten Freiwilligen Feuerwehrleute pro Einwohner aller Länder weltweit. In einer deutschen Gemeinde mit einer freiwilligen Feuerwehr muß nach 8 Minuten erste wirksame Hilfe durch die Feuerwehr geleistet werden. Freiwillige Feuerwehrleute erhalten die gleiche Ausbildung wie Berufsfeuerwehrleute, es gibt keine zwei Klassen-Ausbildung. Freiwillige bleiben für Jahre, nicht nur für Wochen oder Monate. Und freiwillige Feuerwehrleute bekämpfen Feuer, retten Menschenleben und schützen Sachwerte. Ja, sie machen auch Routinearbeit, aber sie bekämpfen auch Feuer. Ob sie es wissen oder nicht, Deutsche vertrauen bereits jetzt Freiwilligen mit Aufgaben von entscheidender Bedeutung; Deutsche müssen dies auf andere soziale Aufgaben ausdehnen.

Der Anfang: Deutsche Wohlfahrtsorganisationen müssen Freiwillige für mehr als nur Routinearbeiten einsetzen:

    • Sie müssen sie genauso ansehen wie Organisationen in den USA, deren Mitarbeiter hauptsächlich Freiwillige sind. Freiwillige übernehmen den Grossteil der Leistungen, die das Amerikanische Rote Kreuz und die `Girl Scouts of the USA` (Girl Guides) anbieten, so übernehmen sie nicht nur die Routinearbeit, sondern auch Führungspositionen. Viele ihrer Freiwilligen bleiben für Jahre und nicht nur für Wochen oder Monate, weil sie viel mehr tun als nur die Routinearbeit. Das Ehrenamt variiert in verschiedenen Kulturen in vielen Aspekten, aber eines bleibt immer gleich, Kultur zu Kultur, Land zu Land: Freiwillige wollen merken, dass ihre Arbeit wichtig ist, nicht nur nett, sondern notwendig.
  • Zusätzlich muss ein Ehrenamt mit Hochschulen und Universitäten verbunden werden, wo dies angemessen ist. So, dass Schüler und Studenten praktische Erfahrungen sammeln und anwenden können was sie in Unterricht lernen — “service learning.” Bestimme Ehrenämter sollten den Freiwilligen bei der Hochschule oder Universität angerechnet werden.

Um diese Transformation möglich zu machen, benötigt es intensive und fortgeschrittene Freiwilligen-Management-Schulungen für Wohlfahrtsorganisationen, für Universitäten und für Regierungsbehörden. Es kann auch bedeuten, Angestellte zu bezahlen um die Routinearbeiten zu erledigen, während Positionen mit mehr Verantwortung für Freiwillige reserviert werden – für viele Leute ist dies eine radikal Denkensweise.

Ich habe ein paar Schulungen in Deutschland geleitet und war erstaunt wie weit zurück dieses Land ist im Bezug auf Management von Freiwilligen“? :

    •  Vertreter von Freiwilligen-Zentren erzählten mir, sie würden keine Online-Datenbank für verfügbare Ehrenämter benutzen, weil “dann wird niemand unsere Freiwilligen Zentrum besuchen.”
  • Einwohner mit Migrationshintergrund sind weit unterrepräsentiert in der Belegschaft der meisten Wohlfahrtsorganisationen und gemeinnützigen Organisationen in Deutschland. Man kann z.B. in eine Gemeinde mit deutlichem türkischem Bevölkerungsanteil gehen, aber man wird keinen Freiwilligen dieser Bevölkerungsgruppe im örtlichen Freiwilligen Feuerwehrhaus antreffen. In meinen acht Jahren in Deutschland habe ich nie eine Wohlfahrtsorganisation oder gemeinnützige Organisation, die Freiwillige einbezieht, gefunden, die Anwerbung speziell auf Minderheiten zugeschnitten hatte – ja, ich habe danach gesucht.

Es ist eine herausfordernde Zeit für Deutschland, aber es ist auch eine einzigartige Gelegenheit für Deutschland, um die Einbeziehung von Freiwilligen zu steigern; und um seine Gesellschaft in einer positiven und nachhaltigen Weise zu transformieren. Deutschland könnte zu einem Vorbild in der restlichen EU werden! Aufgepasst Deutschland: Ich bin bereit zu helfen!

Lesen Sie mehr in diesem Bericht auf NPR (nur in Englisch).

(Thanks to Stefan Dietz and Lis Mullin Bernhardt for the translation)