Tag Archives: involvement

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!

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.

Deriding the monetary value of volunteer hours: my mission in life?

moneysignsDuring a presentation on volunteers at a local government agency that I attended a few weeks ago, the program manager proudly noted that the agency’s volunteer contributions are the equivalent of 21 full time employees, and gave a value of their time at more than a million dollars, based on the dollar value per hour promoted by the Independent Sector. That was one of her very first points in her presentation, and this was the ONLY reason offered during the entire session as to why this agency involves volunteers; she then went on to what volunteers do.

I wonder how the agency’s volunteers would feel to know that they are involved because they replace paid staff? Because they “save money”?

This agency said the greatest value of volunteers is that they are unpaid and mean the agency doesn’t have to hire people to do those tasks. I have so many, many examples on my blog and web site – linked at the end of this blog – regarding why those statements lead to outrage, and how they actually devalue volunteer engagement. These statements reinforce the old-fashioned ideas that volunteers are free (they are not; there are always costs associated with involving volunteers) and that the number of hours contributed by volunteers is the best measure of volunteer program success (quantity rather than quality and impact).

Put this in contrast to a paper on volunteer resource management practices in hospitals which I read today. The post about it on LinkedIn promotes this quote, “volunteers contribute greatly to personalizing, humanizing and demystifying hospitalization.” The paper, “Hospital administrative characteristics and volunteer resource management practices” is by Melissa Intindola, Sean Rogers, Carol Flinchbaugh and Doug Della Pietra and the description never once mentions the value of volunteers as being a monetary value for their hours, money saved, employees replaced, or any other old-fashioned statements to tout why volunteers are involved. I haven’t read the entire paper (it’s $30 – not in the budget right now), and maybe they do talk about these values, but from the summaries of the paper, it sounds like they understand the far better reasons for volunteer engagement, and that this understanding guides their recommendationss.

I’m not opposed to using a monetary value for volunteer hours altogether, but it should never, EVER, be shown as the primary reason volunteers are involved, or even the secondary reason to involve volunteers. If a monetary value is used, it should always come with MANY disclaimers, and should follow all of the other, better, more important reasons the agency involves volunteers. It should come many pages after the mission statement for the volunteer program and the results of volunteer engagement that have nothing to do with money saved.

Years of whining about this has paid off: the Independent Sector noticed yesterday and tweeted some responses to me. Not sure why it took so many years for them to notice my oh-so-public whining, particularly since I tagged them on Twitter every now and again…

I guess it’s time to again recommend this new book, Measuring the Impact of Volunteers: A Balanced and Strategic Approach, by ChristineBurych, Alison Caird, Joanne Fine Schwebel, Michael Fliess and Heather Hardie. This book is an in-depth planning tool, evaluation tool and reporting tool. As I wrote in my blog about this book, “I really hope this book will also push the Independent Sector, the United Nations, other organizations and other consultants to, at last, abandon their push of a dollar value as the best measurement of volunteer engagement.”

Also see:

Contradicting myself?

In the same day, online, I applauded an organization that involved volunteers to help preserve historic sites on US public lands, and then questioned California for relying so much on volunteers to maintain state parks.

Am I a hypocrite?

No. Well, at least not about this.

The nonprofit HistoriCorps engages volunteers to work on historic preservation projects in USA. Individual projects might last from a week to more than two months. Cultural and historical sites in the USA are at risk because of drastic budget cuts by state and federal governments – many could already be beyond saving. This program could never repair everything that needs repairing, but what it can do, through volunteering, is educate people about those needs and about the consequences of those budget cuts. This program repairs a small number of sites every year, but maybe even more importantly, it also creates passionate advocates for US historical sites. It also is a way for historic sites to involve Americans in a deeper way than just as a visitor. This program builds job skills, gives people construction experience, and engages youth. From the web site: “Projects offer unending opportunities to tell America’s greatest stories, making historical connections real, and cultivating among those involved an appreciation of the heritage, balanced use and stewardship of our nation’s special places.” Even if there was enough money to hire paid staff to do all of the work needed to preserve these historic sites, it would be a great idea to reserve some work for volunteers, to keep those many benefits for historic sites and volunteers alike.

By contrast, this story from the Nonprofit Quarterly about volunteers in California state parks pretty much says, We don’t have enough money to pay people to do the work of keeping state parks open, so we need people to work for free. Ugh. Volunteer engagement in this case isn’t presented as building community or engaging under-served populations or building awareness or giving people a deeper experience at the parks – it’s presented as being about having an unpaid labor force to get the work done. I’m very grateful that volunteers are keeping California state parks open – I’m a California state park user. And just as with HistoriCorps, absolutely, let’s keep volunteers involved in trail repair, invasive plant removal, habitat restoration, rehabilitation of historic orchards, etc., so that not only can the work be done, but also, so volunteers can have a deeper relationship with the parks they love and become advocates for state parks – and state funds for those park.

In fact, I think that, in both these cases, volunteers are helping for the same reasons: their love of these sites. And I think the results are quite similar: volunteers get work done but, more importantly, volunteers are seeing first hand the consequences of cuts in government funding. The contrast really is a matter of language and attitude about volunteer engagement. So, let me say it again: watch your language regarding volunteer engagement. Saying,”If they don’t do this, we’ll close!” can also mean, “Volunteers are free! We don’t have to pay people! Hurrah!”

For more on the subject of the value of volunteer or community engagement:

What do NGOs understand that USA nonprofits don’t?

Last week, I got to be a part of the program for a group visiting Portland through the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). It was the fourth time I’ve gotten to be a part of the program over the years – the first time was in Austin, Texas, back in the 1990s. This time, visitors were from Egypt, Afghanistan, Liberia, Tunisia, Latvia, Greece, Mexico, El Salvador, Morocco, South Africa, Cameroon, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and more.

Talking with leaders of NGOs from all over the world is incredibly energizing – for me, it feels like coming home. Many are stunned that I’ve been to their countries – or that I even know where their countries are, what language they speak there, etc., in contrast to so many people in the USA. I’m sorry to sound the snob, but my fellow citizens are notorious worldwide for our ignorance about the rest of the planet, and not even having a passport, and I’m proud to be in contrast to that stereotype.

(just last week, I had to explain to a very close friend what the European Union was – she’s a very intelligent person, but if none of the news outlets ever mention the EU, how would she know what it is?).

This time with the IVLP, I was part of a small group of members from the Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association (NOVAA); instead of a traditional workshop, we divided up and each spent time with three people, for 20 minutes, talking about volunteer engagement, and would switch to a new group every 20 minutes. It allowed me to get one-on-one time with more than half the NGO representatives, and that’s always delightful. Many of the problems they face regarding volunteer engagement are the same as anywhere: trouble mainitaining volunteer motivation, volunteers not finishing assignments, too many volunteers one day and not enough another, etc. I hope they found my references helpful – hard to address everything in just 20 minutes!

One moment for me that I particularly loved: how integral social media is for many of these NGOs in working with volunteers. I loved hearing about all the ways they recruit, interact with and support volunteers using various social media tools, reaching volunteers via their phones as much, if not more, than via their computers – all said that, for the most part, email is dead for their young volunteers (people under 40) altogether. These NGOs haven’t needed workshops or conferences to convince them these tools are valuable; they’ve seen their value immediately. When I told them just how many nonprofits here in the USA refuse to use Facebook, Twitter, or other social media tools to work with volunteers, about how, if nonprofits here do decide to use such, they often give social media responsibilities to interns and senior management stays away from such, and how often I’ve had hostile reactions to the tech practices that these NGOs, by contrast, have fully embraced, they were floored. And they laughed. A lot. And when I told them that, in Oregon, in the supposedly oh-so-tech-savvy Portland area, I have had women younger than me say, “Oh, I don’t have email, so send that to my husband’s/daughter’s address, and he/she will print it out for me to read,” their jaws dropped.

True, many of these NGOs aren’t recruiting ethnic minorities, religious minorities and other marginalized groups as volunteers in their countries – and don’t see why they should have to make volunteering more accessible to such. They don’t see who they might be leaving out as volunteers by totally abandoning offline recruitment and support methods. In short, their volunteer engagement is not perfect and needs to further modernized, especially in terms of being inclusive – but what they are doing in terms of leveraging networked technologies in recruiting, involving and supporting volunteers is far, far ahead of what most nonprofits are doing in the USA. And all I can say is: WELL DONE. And keep teaching me!

Another big emphasis for these NGOs in particular is involving young people as volunteers – young people who are unemployed or under-employed, people under 40 with some education but who cannot find jobs. These NGOs see volunteer engagement with young people as a way not only to build the skills of those young people so that they can get jobs – or even start their own businesses – but also to give these young people a sense of civic responsibility and community connection beyond protesting in the streets. I was happy to help address some of these ideas in my very limited conversations, and welcomed their online inquiries so I can send them to further resources.

And, finally, I apologize to the guys from West Africa who were offended I hadn’t been to any of their countries yet (I’m trying!), and if the guy from the Philippines does not send me the photo he took of myself and the guy from Afghanistan wearing the cowboy that he bought in Texas, with both of us making the “hook ’em horns” sign, I will be DEVASTATED.

POSTSCRIPT: Not devastated.

For more information about my training.

Also see:

Striking a chord in 2012

My most popular blogs in 2012, based on visitor numbers, were all focused the points of view of volunteers:

  • I’m a Frustrated Volunteer, my confession at just how many of my blogs from the points of view of people that were trying to volunteer and weren’t able to were actually about my own attempts to volunteer since moving back to the USA in 2009. Got a lot of comments as well.
  • A missed opportunity with volunteers, which included this quote from a colleague (not me this time!!) about her volunteering experience at an un-named organization: “No one ever asked me for my name. They didn’t have a sign in sheet. They didn’t capture any of my information. And I have no idea what all this work that I did means to them.”
  • I’m a volunteer & you should just be GRATEFUL I’m here!, which quoted entitlement volunteers, those folks who think organizations should take ANY volunteer and whatever that volunteer offers, and simply be grateful for what they get, should not have standards, quality control or performance measurements when it comes to volunteers, and that to demand quality from volunteers is insulting.

I expected some defensive comments on these blogs, about how over-worked managers of volunteers are, about how they can’t be expected to respond somehow to every person that wants to volunteer or to ask volunteers about their experience, etc. That’s what usually happens when I try to talk about these subjects on online discussion groups for managers of volunteers. That didn’t happen (progress!), but the visitor numbers show that these blogs really did strike a chord!

Being a volunteer – or trying to volunteer – and talking to others volunteering or trying to volunteer, has taught me more about the essentials of volunteer engagement than any book, article or workshop!

I’m quite surprised that the blogs regarding the results of the volunteer management software survey that Rob Jackson (robjacksonconsulting.com) and I did this year didn’t get much more attention than they did – I fully expected the blogs about this survey to be the most popular of the year, but they weren’t! The purpose of the survey was to gather some basic data that might help organizations that involve volunteers to make better-informed decisions when choosing software, and to help software designers to understand the needs of those organizations. We also wanted to get a sense of what organizations were thinking about volunteer management software. I think we more than met those expectations! In addition to the main blog announcing the results in July 2012, there was also a blog about What’s so fabulous about software tools for volunteer management?, a blog about just how much managers of volunteers love spreadsheets, and a blog about What do volunteers do? The answer may surprise you, as reported by survey respondents, that turned out to be much more wide ranging than many volunteer management consultants and books would have you believe. In short, our survey provided a lot of in-depth information about not just software, but volunteer engagement in general.

In case you missed a blog this year: I’m retweeting two or three of my blogs a few times a week between now and the end of the year (follow jcravens42 for more!), and I’ve created this index of all my my blogs (indexed by date).

2012 isn’t over – I’ll be writing a few more entries in the waning days of the year. Stay tuned!


What do volunteers do? The answer may surprise you

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersLast week, Rob Jackson and I published the results of a survey (in PDF) regarding software used by nonprofits, NGOs, charities, schools, government agencies and others to manage volunteer information. The purpose of the survey was to gather some basic data that might help organizations that involve volunteers to make better-informed decisions when choosing software, and to help software designers to understand the needs of those organizations.

But we learned some things that had nothing to do with software.

We asked a lot of questions that didn’t related directly to software, like about how many volunteers these organizations managed, as well as what volunteers did.

We expected the percentage of volunteers that worked onsite to be huge. We were very surprised, and pleased, to find, instead, that so many organizations that responded to our survey involved volunteers that:

  • worked offsite, with no direct supervision by staff
  • worked directly with clients
  • worked directly with the general public
  • worked online from their home, work, school or other offsite computer or handheld device
    (virtual volunteering, including microvolunteering)
  • engaged in on-off activities, like a beach cleanup – otherwise known as episodic volunteering

You can see the breakdown for yourself here:

chart grouping responses

We believe this diversity of responses is enough to bust the long-held stereotype that most volunteers work only onsite, directly under staff supervision, or that the vast majority of volunteers undertake long-term responsibilities, and that episodic volunteering or microvolunteering is a radical new, untested concept.

May we say goodbye to those stereotypes at long last? There’s no one way to involve volunteers – there never has been! Let’s recognize the reality of the diversity of ways volunteers are supporting organizations!

See the rest of the results of our survey (in PDF).

I’m a volunteer & you should just be GRATEFUL I’m here!

On a LinkedIn group, someone asked for a resource to help with volunteer evaluations (forms, policies, etc.). A couple of folks, myself included, responded with some references/resources.

And then came these two comments:

    Volunteers generally do not expect to be evaluated, after all, they are doing the organization a favor.

    As someone who has volunteered in over 30 organizations in a large array of positions, some with intense responsibility, if I had to be vetted each time I volunteered, I would never do any of it. In fact, if I had been appraised, they probably would have disqualified me in the first place when in actuality, I did better than some of their paid and “experienced” staff. It is not worth my time to go through that nonsense, I am a volunteer for goodness sakes. Whenever someone imposes requirements, I just walk away. I have sat on advisory boards of non-profit organizations, as well, and have been entrusted with finances, operations, etc., if they had said you will have to go through some job interview hoops, I would have just laughed and also kept my wallet closed to any further contributions.

Volunteer managers have been working to raise the standards of volunteer involvement schemes for a few decades now, often with success. Yet, there are still oh-so-many entitlement volunteers, those folks who think organizations should take ANY volunteer and whatever that volunteer offers, and simply be grateful for what they get. No standards, no quality control, no performance measurements when it comes to volunteers. To demand quality from volunteers is insulting.

For me, as a volunteer management practitioner and someone who is committed to the success of nonprofit organizations and NGOs, I’m only to happy to show those people the door. I don’t need nor want their services as a volunteer. My organization — and those it serves — deserve better.

Nonprofit organizations are businesses. They aren’t there to be nice, they are there because they are necessary. A nonprofit has a mission — to house stray animals and reduce pet over-population, to present quality, professional theater performances, to educate people about HIV/AIDS, to provide care for victims of domestic violence, to keep a local environment clean, to help family farms survive even the worst economic times, to keep a state park clean and vibrant and accessible, and on and on. For a nonprofit, that mission trumps everything else — including the egos of entitlement volunteers. Nonprofit organizations have very limited resources to meet their mission, and they cannot waste those resources waiting and hoping entitlement volunteers maybe possibly might spare some time this week to staff the information booth at the local fair or come to the board meeting or counsel clients or attend a training or coach a youth soccer team or lead a childcare class or raise the money they have committed to raise or follow the rules.

Let’s say it again: volunteers are not free. An organization has to expend a lot of time and resources to involve volunteers. Organizations have to provide at least one staff member to supervise volunteer work and ensure volunteers don’t do any harm. Staff has to develop activities for volunteers to do — activities that often would be probably be cheaper and done more quickly by staff themselves. The organization has to monitor the volunteers and record their progress to the board and donors. And they must make sure the work volunteers undertake is of the quality and type the organization’s clients deserve.

Therefore, organizations want the people who volunteer to be worth all that investment of time and money. They want volunteers to take their commitment seriously, finish what they’ve started, and continue to support the organization, as volunteers and, maybe, as donors. They don’t want volunteers who aren’t going to show up, who do substandard work, who won’t be on time, who won’t follow policies and procedures, and who will reduce the trust and respect clients, donors and partner organizations have for the organization — those volunteers not only aren’t worth the effort, they aren’t worth the damage they may do.

When I am in charge of recruiting and screening volunteers, I have raised the bar high for applications – and the higher I have raised the bar for new volunteers, the more strict I’ve been regarding standards, the more hoops I’ve required volunteers to jump through with regard to reporting and work quality:

  • the less volunteer recruiting I have to do
  • the fewer conflicts among and with volunteers I’ve had to deal with
  • the fewer volunteers that drop out mid-assignment
  • the fewer volunteers I’ve had to let go (in fact, I’ve had to fire a volunteer just once)
  • the higher the quality of the volunteers contributions
  • the happier volunteers have been (based on their comments and how long they volunteer)
  • the less time I spend trying to put together reports showing volunteer effectiveness (because they provide the information automatically; I always have the information on hand, ready when needed)
  • the less time I have to spend trying to restore the faith of clients, staff and the general public in the work of the organization, and in volunteers in general, because of volunteer missteps

Nonprofit staff should never be afraid to say no to an offer of volunteer services. They should remember that their organizations and those they serve deserve the very best when it comes to services, including services provided by volunteers. And there are plenty of people out there ready to jump through your hoops and commit to quality volunteer service — and have their own service evaluated.

A version of this blog appeared 11 August 2010

Also see:

Corporate Volunteer Programs: What Do Nonprofits Want From Them?

In defense of skills over passion

No more warm, fuzzy language to talk about volunteers!

Answering tough volunteer involvement questions

Here are two questions regarding volunteer engagement I am seeing a lot through various channels… but not seeing many answers to:

Where can young children – children under 13, even as young as 6 – volunteer? What kinds of activities can they do and exactly where can they do these?


Where can people with diminishing mental abilities, or with mental disabilities, volunteer? What kinds of activities can they do and exactly where can they do these?

The first set of questions come from parents, as well as children under 13, on various online discussion groups, like YahooAnswers.

The second set of questions come primarily from volunteer managers – from those in charge of recruiting and involving volunteers at an organization – and are often the result of a long-time, beloved volunteer becoming less and less capable of helping, and requiring so much supervision and assistance that the organization feels the benefits of involving the volunteer are far below the costs. Or, that volunteer becoming verbally abusive, or saying inappropriate things to other volunteers, as a result of their diminished mental capabilities. But I’ve also seen the question asked by siblings, parents and other caretakers of people with mental disabilities.

I’m very disappointed not to see organizations that are supposed to have the promotion of volunteerism as the central focus of their mandate jumping in to answer these questions. Where are you, Points of Light Foundation? Hands On Network? Why aren’t you out there on various online fora, such as YahooAnswers, addressing these tough questions about volunteering?


I’m not at equating children and people with diminished mental capacities. These are two VERY different groups. But they do have one thing in common: they require much more planning, support and staff time to involve than adult volunteers. Hence why I’m discussing these two groups at once here in this blog.

The reality is that it’s more efficient, economical and immediately beneficial for most nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and charities to involve adult individual volunteers who can successfully complete a project, from start to finish, with minimum supervision. Also, most organizations do not have the money, staff, time and other resources to create volunteering opportunities focused primarily on fulfilling the needs of various types of volunteers, rather than creating volunteering activities that are focused primarily on fulfilling the needs of an organization (I’ve said this about microvolunteering as well!). For most organizations, volunteer engagement is primarily about fulfilling the organization’s mission, not fulfilling the wishes of volunteers.

If you think nonprofits, NGOs, charities and others should involve everyone who wants to volunteer, no matter the volunteers’ ages or abilities, then consider this: no matter what your job is, no matter what sector you work in (for-profit, government, nonprofit, whatever), could YOU come up with a safe, fun, meaningful hour-long activity for a 10 year old child to do in your office twice a week, or a two-hour weekly activity for a dozen 10 year olds to do in your office, and do you have time to supervise that child or those children during that activity? What about creating similar activities for someone who has severe short-term memory loss? If you could not do it in your own job at such-and-such corporation, why do you expect nonprofit organizations to do so?

Just as creating one-time, short-term group volunteering activities for adults is difficult, creating volunteering opportunities for children, or for people with diminished or diminishing mental abilities, is also difficult. Should a nonprofit, NGO or charity be spending time and resources to involve these groups? In some circumstances, yes.

First, think carefully about what is in it for you, the organization or program, to create opportunities for either of these groups. What benefit are you looking for?:

  • measurable results regarding participant or community awareness of a particular issue, program or your organization. Could the volunteering activity help children understand a particular issue? Could the activity help parents or family issues understand the issue more fully?
  • cultivation of donors who would be interested in funding this part of your organization’s program. The staff time to create opportunities and support these volunteers, the materials needed by volunteers, etc. all need funding. Are there foundations, corporate philanthropy programs, government agencies or individual donors who would be attracted to funding the resources required?
  • activities that fulfill your organization’s mission. The volunteering experience results in activities that reach part of your organization’s mission. For instance, if you work with seniors, particularly those with diminished mental faculties, then involving these seniors as volunteers would be a part of your mission. If your organization is focused on children under 13, then involving those children as volunteers would be a part of your mission.

I wrote a page on creating one-time, short-term group volunteering activities, and it includes a long list of activity suggestions. Some of those could be adapted as volunteering activities for children, or for people with very limited mental capacities – but not all of them. And to be honest, I’m stumped on creating voluntering activities for either of these groups.

Not every organization is going to be able to address any of those three bullet points – and, therefore, is not going to be in a position to create volunteering opportunities for either of these special needs groups. What I advise those organizations to do:

  • For those that are getting called by parents who want their children to volunteer, have a list of other organizations in your area to refer their child to. For instance, for girls, I recommend the Girl Scouts of the USA (or, in other countries, Girl Guides). I also have a web page of recommendations for family volunteering – specifically families that include children under 16 – note that many activities are home-based.
  • For those that ask about volunteers with diminished mental capacities – for instance, an organization that finds a long-term volunteer can no longer undertake any of the volunteering opportunities at the organization, could a placement be found elsewhere?  Is there a community theater that could involve him or her to hand out programs before a performance? Could the volunteer help serve refreshments at an event – just putting cups filled with a liquid, not doing any of the fillings of the cups him or herself? And does the family of this person understand that a family member will have to be with the volunteer at all times? Or is there an organization in your community that helps people with diminishing mental capacities that you could introduce the volunteer to, that could give that person meaningful activities to engage in – like going to community events in a group? Does this volunteer attend events by a community of faith (a church, temple, mosque, etc.), and could that community be called on to help in this situation?

What other advice do you have for parents seeking volunteering activities for young children, or nonprofit organizations that are going to have to let a volunteer go because of diminished mental capabilities? Leave your answers in the comments. What I’m particularly interested in: how did you go about letting a long-time volunteer go that you had to let go because of his or her diminished mental capabilties, and what did you learn from that expereince that you would like to share with others?

Also see:

Creating one-time, short-term group volunteering activities

Recommendations for family volunteering – specifically families that include children under 16


What is “too much” from an online contributor?

When a nonprofit, NGO or government agency starts an online community or hosts an online event, they envision questions being asked and the staff or event hosts answering such, all in an oh-so-orderly fashion. No arguments, no disagreements – just a reasoned exchange of online information by all participants.

However, online communities and events rarely work the way organizers or hosts envision. These communities or events have hardly any messages at all or an overwhelming number of such. They may be inactive for days, weeks, even months, and then suddenly, a lively debate may break out that sends message numbers through the roof and makes the organization feel uncomfortable. And on many communities, only a small percentage of members regularly share information or engage in discussions; the rest of the members, often 90% of such, are lurkers, reading messages but rarely responding to such.

Most users still get online community messages via email, so remind members, more than once, how to manage email – specifically, how to filter community or event messages automatically into a folder within their email program. The people who get the most upset about a surge in messages are people who subscribe via email digest, where all messages are put into one single email, so encourage members to change their subscriptions to individual messages and to filter these into a folder of their own, which makes it much easier to find the messages each person will want to read and to delete the messages a user doesn’t want to read.

Remember that lively debates are a natural, important part of a successful online community or event. Don’t panic when they happen: let them happen, think about why people are saying whatever it is they are saying, keep everyone fact-based, and let them run their course. Step in only if

  • someone says something that is not fact-based,
  • if arguments get personal,
  • if people are repeating themselves,
  • if your policies are violated, or
  • if the argument reduces down to a back and forth between just one or two people.

You can tell people to take the argument off the group if you truly believe the argument has run its course with other members, or even dismiss someone from the group if he or she has violated policy – but be ready to quote from their messages and your written policy to clearly show the violation.

When should you suspend or dismiss an online community member? If that person:

  • uses inappropriate language or images, as you define such (be ready to cite specific examples in your dismissal; inappropriate is a really vague term!)
  • makes false or misleading statements even after being cited for such (again, be ready to quote examples)
  • posts off-topic even after being warned not to
  • violates confidentiality rules
  • encourages illegal activity (if you are worried that your community could be held liable if a community member does, indeed, engage in that activity and get caught or hurt)
  • violates copyright or trademark laws such that your online community could be held liable
  • misrepresents himself or herself (for instance, as running a nonprofit organization that turns out not to exist, or as being a staff person from an organization when, in fact, he or she isn’t)
  • chronically posts inaccurate information (claims an organization engages in activities that it actually doesn’t, claims there are certain rules and regulations about an activity when, actually, there are not, etc.)
  • contacts community members or event participants off-list and engages in the aforementioned activities
  • tries to stifle views different from himself or herself (again, be ready to cite specific examples of such, with quotes)
  • threatens anyone


You may also have rules about advertising a business, but be careful; if a vendor answers a question like “Where can I find volunteer management software” with “Here’s our company’s product…”, that’s actually a helpful answer. Allow the posting of business information if it is truly on-topic for your group. You may also have rules about when it is appropriate or inappropriate to share information from an online event or an online community outside of that event or community.

Some organizations panic when an online community member that isn’t an employee starts engaging in leadership activities on a group or within an event – when the non-staff person answers questions before the official moderator gets to them, frequently shares events and resources that are on-topic to the community, and otherwise posts on-topic, but posts more than the moderators or facilitators. Don’t panic when you end up with a “super user” – celebrate it! When someone starts exhibiting leadership on your online community:

  • write or call the person directly and thank him or her for the contributions
  • ask the person where he or she heard of the community or the event
  • ask the person why he or she feels so motivated to share

If the person responds to every post to a community, then do likewise: “Thanks, Mary, for that information. Does anyone else have something they would like to add or share?” That encourages others to share as well.

If you want to limit community members to a certain number of posts a day, per person, that’s fine, but that means your staff, including your moderator, has to abide by the same rule!

You may want to approach a super-user about becoming the official moderator, freeing up your staff time for other activities; however, make it clear, in writing, if, as moderator, the person would then be prohibited from sharing opinions. You may also want to invite the person to create and host a specific online event!

By all means, if the person posts inappropriately, per your written policies, tell the person. But don’t reprimand someone for being an active community member!

Also, don’t let one community member dictate what makes your online community or event a success; if one person complains that your community has too many messages, that doesn’t mean everyone feels that way. Survey your community at least once a year so you can get everyone’s opinion.

And a final note: no super-enthusiastic online contributor lasts; it may take a few months, but every super-sharer on an online community eventually slows down. It’s impossible to maintain that kind of unofficial enthusiasm on an online community.