Tag Archives: help

The harm of orphanage voluntourism (& wildlife voluntourism as well)

You see the posts on the subreddit regarding volunteerism, on Craigslist, on Quora, on LinkedIn groups, etc.:

Come provide care, love and attention to orphans! Help provide daily care to these orphans, help prepare meals, help watch over them, help with homework, participate in playtime activities, and be a child’s best friend in Africa… You’ll also be the shining light for the children and bring about a fresh and positive energy in the orphanage. You’ll also play the role of a friend and mentor to the children, turning them into confident individuals capable of believing in themselves. The love and attention that these children get from volunteers will uplift their spirits and put a smile on their faces.

Those are all actual statements combined from two different sites that sell volunteer trips to help orphans.

Think about it: these organizations are claiming that foreigners, who may or may not be appropriate to be around children, who may or may not have any experience working with children, who may not even speak the local language, should come interact with orphans, and that an ever-changing group of foreign volunteers, coming in for a few days or weeks at a time, can somehow transform the lives of vulnerable children. Or wildlife. The only thing those foreign volunteers need is the ability to pay all of their transportation, accommodation costs, and program fees to the trip organizer. No criminal background check, no verifiable, needed skills – just money and will.

There are so many Westerners ready to pay big bucks for these feel-good experiences and all the selfies they can take with third world children that many NGOs have popped up with fake orphanages: the children have parents, but the parents are given small fees by the NGOs for their kids to pretend to be orphans for foreigners.

Friends-International, with the backing of UNICEF, has launched this campaign to end what is known as orphanage tourism. This is from their web site:

Voluntourism can be a program that invites tourists (for a specific fee, or through an NGO directly recruiting), to volunteer at an organization. In most cases, these organizations do not require candidates to have relevant qualifications or previous work experience in social work or childcare. At worst, some organizations do not require or conduct proper background checks of volunteers before placing them in direct contact with children.

And then there is this incendiary report by South African and British academics that focuses on “orphan tourism” in southern Africa and reveals just how destructive these programs can be to local people, especially children. From the report:

The term ‘AIDS orphan tourism’, describes tourist activities consisting of short-term travel to facilities, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, that involve volunteering as caregivers for ‘AIDS orphans’. Well-to-do tourists enrol for several weeks at a time to build schools, clean and restore river banks, ring birds and other useful activities in mostly poor but exotic settings… Well-to-do tourists enrol for several weeks at a time to build schools, clean and restore river banks, ring birds and other useful activities in mostly poor but exotic settings. AIDS orphan tourism has become a niche market, contributing to the growth of the tourism industry…

As in other countries undergoing social or other changes, non-family residential group care (orphanages) in southern Africa has expanded, perversely driven by the availability of funds for such facilities, and the glamour that media personalities have brought to setting them up. However, many orphanages are not registered with welfare authorities as required by law, and most face funding uncertainties and high staff turnover, making them unstable rather than secure environments for children. Moreover, children taken in by orphanages are usually from desperately poor families rather than orphans – the case of David Banda in Malawi is a case in point.

There is also this May 16, 2016 report from The Guardian that volunteers from the west are fueling the growth of orphanages in Uganda. Voluntourism has been linked to damaging local economies and commodifying vulnerable children. It also can perpetuate harmful stereotypes about the so-called “third world”, while also promoting neo-colonialistic attitudes. There’s also this blog from a person who paid to volunteer in an orphanage, and realized just how unethical it was.

A legitimate NGO serving orphans would never solicit come-one-come-all-as-long-as-you-can-pay volunteers via a general web site like Quora. Rather, they would have a proper, detailed Terms of Reference posted to credible humanitarian recruitment sites, like ReliefWeb or DevelopEx. That post for volunteers would detail the education and experience the volunteer would need to have and details on how the volunteers’ credibility would be investigated. And for legitimate programs, not every applicant would be accepted just because they’ve got the money to pay to the program organizer; in fact, many applicants would be turned away because they lack the necessary skills.

In short: unless a program overseas is recruiting volunteers who have many years of experience working with children, certifications, references and criminal background checks, has a web site that details how its programs are evaluated to show impact of their programs, and has endorsements by well-known international organizations,  stay away from the program. And don’t be Savior Barbie.

As for supposed conservation volunteering in another country: why would legitimate wildlife sanctuaries allow untrained foreigners to work directly with wild(ish) animals for a few weeks? No credible zoo in the USA would ever do that. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee doesn’t let volunteers interact with the elephants! Before you rush off to an animal sanctuary in a foreign country, do a tremendous amount of research to make sure this is truly a sanctuary, not a place that goes out and captures baby animals so that tourists will pay to care for them and have photos with them.

Also see:

Virtual volunteering: it’s oh-so-personal

logoThe 20th anniversary of the launch of the Virtual Volunteering Project is approaching! I count it as December 1, 1996, actually, though I could be off by a few days. It was probably summertime 20 years ago that the project was funded, actually.

All that was on my mind when I read that World Pulse, a global nonprofit organization, put out a call for stories that explore the role of technology in our lives and its potential to bring positive change:

At World Pulse, we see so many signs of the good. Every day, women and men creatively embrace tech tools to solve the pressing problems facing our communities and our world. From mobile apps designed to track incidents of violence against women to crowdfunding platforms that put money in the hands of social entrepreneurs, technology is making so much possible for women everywhere.

What technologies have the most potential to make a difference in your community? Do you have a story about using communication technology to form meaningful relationships or bridge a geographical divide? Maybe you are part of a group using technology to mobilize for change.

I submitted my own story for this challenge, noting:

I’ve been researching virtual volunteering for more than 20 years now, and the biggest shock for most people that aren’t familiar with the practice and hear me talk about it at length is just how close I feel to so many of the volunteers and volunteer-involving agencies all over the world. They are my friends and colleagues, just as real as people I work with onsite, face-to-face. These are all real people with hopes and fears and challenging ideas and humor and talents. So many of these online relationships, established through email and Twitter and online communities, are so very, very personal to me.

I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

By the time I left the Virtual Volunteering Project, I had worked with  more than 300 online volunteers. I could tell you so many things about many of them: their career goals, their music tastes, what they enjoyed doing as online volunteers, what they DIDN’T enjoy, and on and on. No, I didn’t know them all that intimately – not all of them wanted to be known that intimately, and there just isn’t enough time in the day to get to know 300 people that well, online or off. At least one of my online volunteers had mental disabilities, and his doctor was one of his references; I got to talk with that doctor once on the phone, and he told me what a huge impact virtual volunteering had had on this particular volunteer. I hung up the phone and cried – I’d had no idea.

I kept working with online volunteers when I took over the UN’s Online Volunteering service, then also a part of NetAid, in February 2001, and a year later, one of the online volunteers died that I had been working with since joining the UN Volunteers program headquarters. She was very young, killed in an accident. I was shattered. We had often IM’d each other, just chatting over this and that. She’d formed a nonprofit with other online volunteers she met through volunteering online with UNV. I was also heartened that, when I sent an email to the entire UNV organization announcing her death, something any program manager did for a volunteer killed in the field, the head of the organization then, Sharon Capeling-Alakija, immediately directed her staff to write the online volunteer’s parents a letter of condolence, just as UNV does when a UN Volunteer dies.

That’s why I get so weary of explaining over and over to people new to virtual volunteering, or skeptical of the practice without reading anything about it, that this volunteering is not impersonal. As I said in an email to someone that blogged disparagingly about virtual volunteering, saying that, as a result of it, “volunteering has the potential to lose its social and community-building benefits”:

Your blog assumes onsite volunteers work in groups and have lots of interaction. This is often not the case. MANY onsite volunteers work in isolation: they arrive, they receive an orientation and training, and then spend their time alone in a room stuffing envelopes, or sorting in-kind donations, or checking inventory, or cleaning something, etc. You cannot assume that onsite volunteering automatically means lots of personal interactions.

I’ve studied virtual volunteering since the mid 1990s, and what I’ve found is just as much or as little social and community-building benefits as any other volunteering. It all depends on the culture of management: is the manager of online volunteers one who provides lots of personal interactions, or one that gives a task and then interacts only at the request of the volunteer? Whether or not any kind of volunteering has social or community-building benefits depends on the manager and the culture of the organization, not necessarily the task being done onsite or online.

Working with virtual volunteering? It’s personal. At least it is for me.

vvbooklittleThere is lots more information about what it’s like to work with online volunteers in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, available both as a traditional printed book and as a digital book. The advice is based on both extensive research of virtual volunteering practices at a variety of organizations all over the world and my own experience working with online volunteers – I’ve now worked with more than 1000, some of whom I’m still friends with online, some of whom have become friends offline as well. And if you are about to write about virtual volunteering, but you don’t want to read the guidebook, then PLEASE, at least, first read these Myths About Virtual Volunteering.

How to help Baltimore

I’ve written about how to help Nepal. So… what about Baltimore, site of so much violence, civil unrest, economic injustice, mistrust and lack of opportunity ?

Just like with Nepal, my first comment is going to be: do not go to Baltimore to help. Not yet. Not without a formal affiliation with a LOCAL nonprofit. If you want to help any of these nonprofits, FIRST, you must contact them and tell them what you want to do as a volunteer, onsite in Baltimore or online and offer references that can confirm your abilities and character. If you want to travel to Baltimore,  you need to say when you will be in Baltimore, and state that you will pay for your own transportation, housing, food and all other needs, that you are not, in any way, expecting the nonprofit to provide you any funding or support for your travel or accommodations. And you need to be ready for rejection: most of these nonprofits are completely overwhelmed and may not have the resources and funding to involve an influx of outside volunteers.

Here are some credible nonprofit organizations that are based in Baltimore and are focused on economic empowerment, helping economically disadvantaged people, and/or building stronger, more empathetic, compassionate environments.  I haven’t fully vetted them beyond knowing they exist and are appropriately registered – I haven’t typed the name of each nonprofit into Google or Bing with words like “complaint” and “fraud” and “sued,” to see if anything came up, for instance. But if I had a lot of money to give, I wouldn’t hesitate to give to each of them:

Enoch Pratt Free Library
Serves the residents of Baltimore with locations throughout the city. In addition to being a traditional lending library, it also provides accessibility services, online tutors,
Internet access, classes and events, and kids and teens services.

Community College of Baltimore County
Provide undergraduate education, workforce development, technology training, and lifelong learning/life enrichment in the Baltimore Metropolitan area.

Maryland New Directions, Inc.
Mission: To provide comphrensive career counseling, employment assistance, and post-employment support to people who are in life and career transition. Since 1973, Maryland New Directions has served over 130,000 individuals looking to become self-sustaining through employment.

Public Justice Center, Inc.
Nonprofit legal advocacy organization. We work with people and communities to confront the laws, practices, and institutions that cause injustice, poverty, and discrimination. We advocate in the courts, legislatures, and government agencies, educate the public, and build coalitions, all to advance our mission of “pursuing systemic change to build a just society.”

The Baltimore Station, Inc.
Concentrates on helping veterans that have fallen on hard times. We know that they suffer a special kind of hell, returning to society with the effects of combat (including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), often turning to drugs to silence the trauma. We know the cycle that can spin out of control, leading to poverty, estrangement and homelessness. We know what it takes to break that cycle – a highly structured environment – because most of our staff is in recovery themselves and half are veterans. Recovery is not a “quick fix” battle. It’s a long tough war.

Baltimore Cash Campaign
Connects clients to asset building resources, including financial education classes, one-on-one financial coaching, mainstream banking opportunities (instead of for-profit cash-advance and check-cashing companies), and credit counseling (debt is a major challenge to severely economically disadvantaged people), conducts marketing and outreach about the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and other relevant tax credits for low-income workers, provides free volunteer income tax assistance (VITA), and advocates for issues impacting working families

Win Family Services
Target demographics: at-risk youth and their families. Programs: treatment foster care, community mental health, therapy, and a talent development after-school program

Baltimore Humane Society
I believe with all my heart that encouraging compassion and care for animals cultivates compassion and care for humans.

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center
Works to create and maintain equal housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income people, primarily in Baltimore City, and to encourage and support strong and diverse neighborhoods. (this was added after the blog’s original publication – thanks, Kate Bladow, for the rec)

Maryland New Directions
a non-profit dedicated to improving lives in Baltimore through employment. (this was added after the blog’s original publication)

Don’t stop there: look for nonprofits in Baltimore that are focused on giving all people access to the arts, such as dance and theatre, or that are focused on sports, or senior services, or whatever activity you think could help the people of the city. Look at Volunteer Central Baltimore and VolunteerMatch as well for nonprofits seeking volunteers in Baltimore.

It was a beautiful thing to see all of those local people in Baltimore spontaneously volunteering in their community, starting to clean up even DURING the riots. So many people, so many photos. Just go to Twitter and search for Baltimore and volunteers, and you will see what I mean. Wouldn’t it be great if all of those people, as well as those that were rioting, volunteered with even one of these nonprofits? And wouldn’t it be great if those nonprofits had the training and resources to involve that influx of volunteers?

Also see:

When ICT help goes wrong: warning for aid workers going to Nepal

Here is a comment I read on one of the many online discussion groups I follow, and I think it is really important for aid workers to keep in mind when going to developing countries to help, particularly in post-disaster situations. I’ve removed any specific identifying information, and any emphasis is mine:

One issue we’ve observed many times when doing relief work, perhaps worst in the 2004 tsunami, the 2003 conflict in the Congo, and 2010 in Haiti, is that areas with modest ICT infrastructure that was adequate to the sustainable needs of their market, are swamped by aid workers with immodest expectations. i.e. a desire to video-chat with their families every day, play WoW, and download video porn. So they all show up, and declare “repairing the Internet infrastructure” (to levels never before seen) to be their first priority. They run rough-shod over the local infrastructure operators, step on carefully-regulated or carefully-negotiated frequency allocations, etc.

I very much hope we won’t have to deal with that in this case. Nepal’s ICT environment is mature, its professionals are expert, and its community is well connected. If and when they need help, they’re perfectly capable of indicating what help they need, and anyone from the outside who believes they know better is WRONG. So, if you’re interested in helping, by all means, make your availability known to any of the many other ICT professionals in-country, but please don’t assume that you know what’s needed, or worse, that they don’t.

The Swedish-Finnish telco TeliaSonera operates in Nepal and is engaged in relief efforts, and is urging everyone in Nepal to communicate whenever possible by SMS rather than voice in order to minimize the strain of the network.

Also see: How to help Nepal

How to help Nepal

I’m already seeing these posts online:

How can I go to Nepal and help regarding the earthquake?!

Unless you have specific areas of expertise regarding post-disaster situations, speak Nepalese, and can go under the auspices of a respected non-governmental organization or your own government, DO NOT GO. And please don’t start collecting things to send to Nepal either.

When a disaster strikes, thousands of people start contacting various organizations and posting to online groups in an effort to try to volunteer onsite at the disaster site. If the disaster happens in the USA, some people jump in their cars and drive to the area.

But what most of these people don’t realize is that spontaneous volunteers without specific training and no affiliation can cause far more problems than they alleviate in a disaster situation, particularly regarding disaster locations far from their home. Consider this:

  • In many post-disaster situations, there is NO food, shelter, services or gas to spare for volunteers. Many volunteers going into the Philippines, Pakistan, Haiti, Japan, even the Gulf Coast states in the USA after Katrina or states affected by Sandy, had to be absolutely self-sustaining for many, many days, even many  weeks. No shelter or safety measures could be provided to these volunteers by the government. Those volunteers who weren’t self-sustaining created big problems and diverted attention from local people in need.
  • Just because you have some equipment does not mean you are ready to volunteer: inexperienced people have been killed using chainsaws after hurricanes and other disasters, by falling limbs and live electrical wires, during their DIY clean up efforts. Responding to these people when they get themselves into a jam takes away from the needs of local people.
  • In disaster situations, you are going to be encountering disaster victims. They are going to be stressed, maybe desperate, and maybe angry. As a trained volunteer or paid staff member working with a credible organization, you are going to know how to comfort these people and direct them to where they can get assistance, and how to convince them that you have to save this person over here instead of their relative over there. If you are untrained and unaffiliated, you may become a target of their anger, because you cannot provide them with appropriate assistance, or because you provide them with incorrect information.
  • What will you do when you are accused of stealing from someone? Of harming someone? Of making a situation worse? What do you know about local customs and cultural taboos that, if you violate them, could taint all outside volunteer efforts? Aid workers have been arrested, even killed, because of cultural missteps. Who will navigate local bureaucracies to save YOU in such situations?

I could go on and on – and I do, on this web page about how to help people affected by a huge disasterDisasters are incredibly complicated situations that require people with a very high degree of qualifications and long-term commitment, not just good will, a sense of urgency and short-term availability.

Also, more and more agencies are hiring local people, even immediately after a disaster, to clean rubble, remove dead bodies, build temporary housing, rebuild homes and essential buildings, and prepare and distribute food. Hiring local people to do these activities, rather than bringing people in from the outside, helps stabilize local people’s lives much more quickly!

If you want to help the people of Nepal, donate to CARE International’s efforts in Nepal and/or UNICEF’s efforts in Nepal and/or Save the Children’s efforts in Nepal (all of these organizations serve all people, not just children).

Here’s more about donating Things Instead of Cash or Time (In-Kind Contributions).

If you want to go abroad to help after a disaster, then here is advice on how to start pursuing the training and experience you need to be in a position to do that – it will take you about 24 months (two years) to get the minimum of what you will need to apply to volunteer for such scenarios.

Also see:

Extreme poverty is not beautiful

(a version of this blog first appeared in March 2009)

I was in a convoy heading to the Pansjir Valley in Afghanistan once upon a time, when a non-Afghan man in the back seat, a fellow aid/development worker, started talking to a colleague about how beautiful and simply the people lived in Afghanistan, how idillic it was, how it was a shame to bring them aid and development if it meant they would have to give up their beautiful, simple life.

I wanted to stop the SUV, throw him out of it, and let him see how he liked living “simply” for a few weeks.

Being poor is NOT the same as living in extreme poverty.

Dolly Parton and my grandmother grew up poor in Tennessee and Kentucky, respectively: there was no money to buy new clothes when they were children and, often, their mothers made clothes from whatever they could find (such as used potato sacks), their families had to grow most of their food, their families didn’t have a car, etc. But they were resource rich: they could grow and raise their own food, they had access to free, clean drinking water, they had access to doctors for emergency medical care (though a long walk to such), the fathers lived at home most of the time rather than having to live far away for most of the year to send money home, the families never went hungry or suffered from extreme cold, and they had access to wood for the stoves in winter. They never had to sell any of their children in order to feed the rest of the family. There was no danger of a rival tribe or religious zealots or a mafia looking for money or revenge breaking down the door and killing everyone or taking all their animals. Yes, there were hardships: many babies died in infancy, many women died in childbirth, diseases and injuries that are curable/treatable now were deadly back then, many children had to work rather than go to school, people died young compared to today, etc. But often, there was freedom and time for children to play safely around their homes. The whole family could read by the time they were teens. Talk to people who grew up like this, and they will tell you stories of hardship, but also of laughter and family and dreams.

By contrast, there’s nothing at all beautiful about extreme poverty, especially in Afghanistan. Extreme poverty means a family that has no means to grow its own food and, therefore, starves without the means to purchase food or attain food aid. It means women who die in childbirth, and babies that die in infancy, at rates that far exceed most other places on Earth. It means children sold as child brides or slaves in order to raise money to feed the rest of the family for a few weeks. It means a life expectancy of around 40. It means having no resources to build a fire or cook food — if there was food to cook. It means few people, if anyone, in the family being able to read, which means less of a chance of accessing health care and food assistance that MAY be available. It means people dying by the thousands regularly from preventable diseases. It means being a repeated victim of criminals and having no protection or justice because there’s no money for the bribes the police or the militias require. It means absolutely no way, on one’s own, to ever improve life for the family. It means no freedom, no time and no safety to play or dream or plan. It means no control over your life at all.

I’ve never forgotten that guy’s comments. And what’s sad is that I heard it again just recently in a video by someone I consider a dear friend . That there can be any confusion between living off-the-grid and living in extreme poverty is astounding to me.

Want to help combat poverty? There no better organizations than these, IMO, to donate to, and to spend your time reading their field updates:

Also see:
*Another* Afghanistan Handicraft program? Really?

For those that want to help those affected by Sandy

For all of you wanting to volunteer to help people affected by Hurricane Sandy, and all of you wanting to donate clothing, food, or other things to help those affected by Sandy, please see these two resources ASAP:

Volunteering To Help After Major Disasters

Donating Things Instead of Cash or Time (In-Kind Contributions)

Let’s give the REAL help that’s needed – or get out of the way and let those who know how to help do their jobs!

 

Helping Southern states in the USA

Disaster is striking in the American Southeast. Recent tornadoes and current flooding have brought devastation and heartache to many parts of the South, and messages are everywhere on various online communities, asking how to help. There is an incredible amount of misinformation being posted about how to help as well.

If you want to help the states affected by recent tornadoes and current flooding in the USA, you can:

  • Watch the news, and when you hear a county name for a state that is being affected, or a city name, look up the American Red Cross chapter, or the local Humane Society/ASPCA/animal welfare organization serving that area on Google. Most of these will have a web site that allows you do donate directly to the organization. The Red Cross provides emergency housing and various other emergency services to local people, but usually doesn’t allow pets in their emergency shelters; local animal shelters are struggling with abandoned pets and pets that aren’t allowed into emergency shelters. Your donations provide desperately needed funds to help both food and animals! The Red Cross estimates that it will spend as much as $31 million responding to these recent disasters; you can donate to the national chapter, but many feel better donating directly to chapters serving an affected area.
  • If you want to volunteer in a disaster-affected area, you need to be entirely self-funded and self-sufficient, formally affiliated with a credible organization, and have full approval of that organization to go to the area and serve as a volunteer. People affected by these disasters need to be protected from unscrupulous people who may use this situation to take advantage of others (it’s already happening), and people affected by these disasters deserve trained people who won’t end up having to be cared for themselves because they are woefully unprepared (yes, it happens). Here’s much more about the realities of volunteering to help after major disasters.
  • Unless you have read on a web site by an organization in the affected area that they are accepting donations of food and clothing, do NOT start gathering food and clothing for the affected area. It’s often much cheaper – and much safer – for a relief organization to buy food and ship it to an area, knowing they are buying exactly what’s needed, knowing the food is not spoiled, knowing it’s appropriate, etc., than to ask for donations and have to spend endless hours figuring out what food is usable, what is not, and trying to put together meals based on what is donated. If you are determined to donate items for an affected area, then call the local Red Cross and local communities of faith in the affected area and ask if they will accept what you are gathering to donate. And be prepared to drive to the area yourself – no one is going to come pick them up from you, as they are much too busy dealing with disaster victims. Also, note that organizations are saying they CANNOT handle any more used toys or cast-off clothing (they would prefer cleaning supplies and diapers!). More on donating things instead of cash or time (in-kind contributions).
  • You can also look at the web sites of high schools serving these affected areas; if they are in need of something (prom dresses, school supplies, etc.), they will say so directly on their web site.

Obviously, donating financially is the way to go if you really want to help. Even just $10 will help – and, yes, you can afford $10 (don’t buy coffee shop coffee for a few days, make your lunch for a few days, don’t eat from any restaurants all week, reduce your cable package subscription to the most basic for a month or two, etc.).

Use this as an incentive to call your local American Red Cross, right now, and start getting training for disaster in your own area. Why not at least call and attend the next volunteer orientation? There’s no obligation to volunteer just for attending the orientation!

Tags: nonprofit, NGO, not-for-profit, outreach, disaster, volunteer, tornado, flood, earthquake, tsunami, volunteers, donations, donate, canned goods, clothing, clothes

How to help Alabama & surrounding areas

This is the address of the Alabama Red Cross serving the areas hardest hit by the tornado, including Tuscaloosa. Donate directly to them if you want help to get quickly to those in most need. The Red Cross provides food, shelter, vital information and connections to the government and health resources local people are in desperate need of right now – and will continue to do so in the weeks to come.

The Humane Society of West Alabama is in need of financial help – they’ve suffered some serious damage and can’t take in all the abandoned and lost animals in need. The Greater Birmingham Humane Society will also need help with the influx of lost and abandoned pets. Making a donation will help buy food and pay for medical services. Adopting a pet from this or any nearby shelter will free up space for other animals.

For other areas, simply look up the state and county’s American Red Cross chapter or Humane Society or animal shelter on Google.

Unless you have extensive medical, engineering, logistics, health care or emergency management experience in post-disaster zones, and unless you are *already* affiliated with an emergency response agency (American Red Cross), and you are fully self-sufficient (you have a place to stay, you have transportation and fuel, etc.), DO NOT GO. If you do, you will be in the way and you will be a drain on resources (food, gas, etc.).

If you enjoyed the Royal Wedding today, why not make a donation to any of the above in honor of such? Or in honor of anyone you love? In honor of your own pets?

Also see:
Volunteering To Help After Major Disasters
(earthquake, hurricane, tropical storm, flood, tsunami, oil spill, etc.)

Please call your local American Red Cross and get training NOW for disasters LATER. They have training specifically for disaster response!

Volunteer with your local animal shelter NOW and build up your skills and your credibility so that you will be in a place to provide critically-need help in the future.

 

 

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