Tag Archives: ngo

USAID / VISP invitation for concept papers on volunteer engagement

Via a tweet from a USAID office, I found out about an invitation for concept papers from non-governmental and voluntary service organizations for assistance awards “that achieve development impact in USAID focus areas through the inclusion of volunteers.”

The official announcement via grants.gov regarding this invitation is really hard to understand, even if English is your first language. For a better understanding, go to the grant announcement site and click on the “related documents” tab, and download either the zip file or each of the four files (two PDFs, a Microsoft Excel document and a Microsoft Word document) separately. The PDF file VISP APS 2017.pdf, the annual program statement (APS) for this invitation for concept papers, is MUCH more understandable, and I’ve used that paper to write this summary. And I’ve written this summary because I really, really want some of the great NGOs I know working to support volunteer engagement in a variety of countries all over the world to consider submitting a concept paper.

In summary:

This Annual Program Statement (APS), entitled Volunteers for International Security and Prosperity (VISP), is “a mechanism through which USAID will maximize development impact and efficient resource use by mobilizing the creative capacity of volunteers globally.” Under the APS, USAID intends to support a variety of creative approaches towards the design and implementation of activities addressing USAID Operating Units’ (OU) development objectives. This APS is meant to offer USAID OUs (Mission, Bureau, or Independent Office) “an easy-to-use mechanism to facilitate access to volunteers across any sector,” while also upholding U.S. foreign policy objectives of promoting national security, advancing American values, and supporting global prosperity and self- reliance. If I’m reading the paper correctly, the paper means both local, in-country volunteers and highly-skilled U.S. volunteers that are deployed under VISP, which is also sometimes called the Volunteers for Prosperity program.

Concept papers should support a process through which organizations can work with USAID to achieve economic, human, environmental and/or humanitarian development impact via:

  1. Increasing the number of volunteer-sponsoring organizations collaborating with the Agency;
  2. Increasing the number of development sectors using volunteers;
  3. Increasing the quality of services provided by volunteers supporting Agency objectives; and,
  4. Increasing the understanding within the Agency of the positive role volunteers play in supporting Agency objectives.

Buried in the ASP is a note that says the proposed approach outlined in the concept paper should show how the activities will integrate issues of gender equality and female empowerment.

Note: This is NOT a Request for Applications or a Request for Proposals. “Based on those Concept Papers, USAID OUs will determine whether to co-create an activity or set of activities with any applicant and then request a full application.” In fact, if you are thinking of submitting a concept paper, you should FIRST research the priorities, objectives, and strategies of the OU from which you would like support for your concept – and the OU can be a USAID mission, a regional bureau, or an independent office – and then you should reach out to that OU and get their approval prior to submitting a concept paper.

“USAID welcomes concept papers from any type of organization that has the capability to carry out international development programs utilizing volunteers. While not an exhaustive list and provided for illustrative purposes only, the following types of organizations are encouraged to participate: U.S. and non-U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations, foundations, cooperatives, international organizations, U.S. and non-U.S. colleges and universities, civic groups, regional organizations, U.S. and non-U.S. private businesses, and business/trade associations. USAID encourages applications from potential new partners. All applicants must be legally recognized organizational entities under applicable law. An individual cannot apply.”

Please note that I am not a representative of USAID and I know no more about this initiative than what I’ve read in the support materials and I may very well have interpreted this entire thing incorrectly.

That said, here is my opinion on this:

  • If you are an NGO that serves as a volunteer center in a country with a USAID OU, and that volunteer center not only helps recruit volunteers and match them to NGOs and community groups, but also involves volunteers themselves in the delivery of their services, you should consider submitting a concept paper.
  • If you are an international nonprofit or NGO that recruits and involves a significant number of volunteers in the delivery of whatever services your agency provides, you should consider submitting a concept paper.
  • You should not invent an activity at your organization or initiative only for this concept paper invitation. Build on something you have already talked about or are already doing, something you would want to do even if this invitation for concept papers had not been announced.

Please do NOT take the blog you are reading now as your only guidance for submitting a concept paper; please read all of the materials at the official announcement via grants.gov carefully, and after that, write up a very rough draft of what you might like to do. Then, as noted above, research the priorities, objectives, and strategies of the OU from which you would like support for your concept, and then reach out to that OU and meet with them, talk to them, and get their approval FIRST, prior to submitting a concept paper.

And don’t rush. Concept papers are being accepted until 29 August, 2018 – a year from now. That means you have plenty of time to do the reading and research you need to do, and have the conversations you need to do, to prepare a great concept paper.

Good luck – and let me know if you submit a concept paper, just because I’m curious and would like to know.

My web site: online for 20 years!

logoLast week, I celebrated the second anniversary of the publication of The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, (available for purchase in paperback or as an ebook (PDF) by Energize, Inc.). But there’s another anniversary as well that snuck up on me:

It’s the 20th anniversary of the launch of my own web site. The first version of my web site was uploaded on January 4, 1996.

Wow. 20 years. That’s centuries in terms of the Internet.

I began creating and posting tips on database management for nonprofits and other tech-related suggestions to the soc.org.nonprofit USENET newsgroup back in 1994 (see A Brief Review of the Early History of Nonprofits and the Internet for more about the early days of nonprofits and the Internet). Back then, questions about how to build and manage databases of volunteers, donors, clients and others was probably THE hot topic on any online discussion about nonprofits – not marketing (the other hot topic was, of course, how to raise funds). Two years later, I created my own web site to post my growing materials and favorite links, focusing on how nonprofits were, or could, use computer and Internet technologies. The earliest version of my web site that I can still access is at archive.org, from 1998. Super, duper simple design – like most of the web back then.

The original spirit of the Internet was to freely give information, as well as to take it, to make accessing information oh-so-easy, and to collaborate with anyone, anywhere. I got really caught up in that spirit. I was quite the Info Superhighway cheerleader back then. I still look at the 90s as a golden age, when sending just a few emails could double the amount of people that attended an event, when emailing a reporter or government official meant he or she would call you back, and when web sites downloaded oh-so-quickly. I wanted my web site to be a reflection of that, as well to promote my expertise and services as a new consultant, but back in the 1990s, it was online discussion groups, like USENET newsgroups, that got me jobs and built my professional reputation, not the web.

Why “Coyote” Communications as a name for my web site? Because I am quite partial to canines, and I think the coyote is unique among them, with qualities I greatly admire. Coyotes are amazingly adaptable to ever-changing surroundings – efforts to control or exterminate the coyote and the massive garbage-production of modern humans have produced an animal that is even more alert, opportunistic, and able to survive, even flourish. They are uniquely American creatures, incredibly misunderstood animals, much smaller than most people think, and often blamed for destruction not of their making. Coyotes are surprisingly, sometimes shockingly, intelligent, have the reputation of being “tricksters,” work well in groups, love to play, and have boundless love for their families. At night, to hear the high quavering cry or the short, high-pitched yips of coyotes is the most beautiful song you can hear outdoors. My only regret in choosing the name for my web site is that it is very hard for non-native English speakers to say, let alone spell, and most people abroad don’t know the word.

So, here I am, online for more than 20 years, and celebrating my two-decade-old web site. And this occurs within days of my 50th birthday. Wow. I’ had real champagne, not virtual bubbly, in case you were wondering.

Keynote speaking in South Carolina & Washington state!

logoCome here me speak this month or next!

Me in South Carolina Jan. 27 – 29, 2016
I’ll be the keynote speaker and presenting workshops at the South Carolina Association for Volunteer Administration (SCAVA) annual conference, January 27-29, 2016 in North Myrtle Beach! You do not have to be a member of SCAVA to attend. Join me!

Me in Vancouver, Washington (state – USA) Feb. 11, 2016
I’ll be the keynote speaker at the Nonprofit Network Southwest Washington / Directors of Volunteer Programs Association (DVPA) conference on Thurs., February 11 in Vancouver, Washington (state), USA.

You can book me for your conference or workshop! After February 2016, my consulting schedule is wide open. I am available for presentations, short-term consultations, long-term projects, part-time positions, and, for the right role, a full-time permanent position. Here’s what I can do for your organization/initiative.

There are free online workshops by me which you can view anytime, if you want to know more about my presentation style. Most are more than 45 minutes long:

I’m available for interviews on Skype or your preferred video conferencing tool, and, of course, by phone – I’m on West Coast time (the same as Los Angeles). I’m available for in-person, onsite interviews in and around Portland, Oregon (the area where I live), and am willing to travel most anywhere for an interview or as part of a short-term consultation.

Why I hate Flickr now

Why I hate Flickr now:

When I send people to look at an album on Flickr, they see only photos – no descriptions. There’s now no way to send them to a view that gives them lots of photos AND descriptions on a screen, as there was on the old, far superior Flickr. That means people don’t know anything about what’s happening in photos, other than what is seen. Something very big happened to me on my recent vacation, but unless you read the descriptions on some of the photos, you don’t know that. How many other big stories are missed because photo descriptions are now SO hidden? This is something nonprofits need to keep in mind if they are still using Flickr – it’s become a not-so-great way to tell your story.

What photo-sharing site do you use, and does it have a view where someone can see lots of photos AND descriptions on a screen?

(tried ipernity, but they don’t take American Express)

Without a Champion, Your Initiative Won’t Survive

In 1994 or so, while working with various community initiatives in San José, California, I was introduced to a concept I hadn’t heard before: that any project, initiative or program must have a champion in order to be sustainable and have real impact: a person who will advocate for that project or program with colleagues and potential supporters, that will fight for that project or program, that will argue for it, and that will be seen, through their actions, not just words, as a person absolutely committed to such. Without a champion, a project, initiative or program fails.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve seen this concept proven true again and again.

I’m not talking about causes – it goes without saying that a cause needs a champion. I’m talking about a project or program – it could be the introduction of a new database system, a reform of your human resources department, a program to bring theatre activities to classrooms, an HIV education program, an online discussion forum, an anti-bullying initiative, etc.

I have watched well-funded initiatives with a full team of staff fail because there was no champion. There might have been someone designated to be in charge of the initiative, or funded to work on such, but he or she wasn’t a champion, as I have defined it; rather, the person did basic things regarding the job – answering emails, generating reports, building a web site, supervising staff working on such, etc. – but nothing beyond that. The person might say he or she is committed to the project’s success, but the actions that demonstrate that kind of commitment aren’t there – the person rarely attends meetings or events regarding the project, he or she doesn’t participate in the project in some obvious, very visible way, the person doesn’t bring up the project frequently in meetings or presentations, he or she doesn’t push for an online or traditional marketing strategy to promote such, the person doesn’t link the project to other initiatives at the organization, etc. After a few months or a year or even a few years, when the money runs out, the person or team that worked on the project shrugs and says, oh well, sorry that didn’t work out. And the project ends and is forgotten.

I have seen fledgling, under-funded initiatives thrive because there was a champion – an employee, a volunteer, or a funder. I heard that person, that champion, talking about the initiative to others, frequently, I saw that person seeking out participation from others – other employees or volunteers, senior staff, clients, members, donors, the press, other organizations. I saw the importance of the program through that person’s actions. There was an obvious commitment to success for that program that could be seen just by watching that champion. The champion may not be the person working full-time on the project – it could be a senior staff person or other leader/decision-maker at the organization who ensures, through staffing and budget allocations and organizational strategies, that the project is going to happen, is going to be successful, and is seen as essential by the entire organization.

Consultants can’t be champions. They can be be essential contributors, they can undertake activities that are fundamental to a program’s success, and they can feel passion for a program or project. But, ultimately, they cannot be the project’s champion – they are short-term, part-time workers. They will be gone when the money runs out – and they may be heart-broken at not being able to participate in the project anymore, even weep for it (I have!). This isn’t a question of the value of consultants – there is NO question that consultants often play an essential role to a project or program’s success. But if there is no champion at the organization among staff – particularly staff that are in decision-making/leadership roles – it doesn’t matter how much a consultant cares or how hard he or she works: that project will fail.

There can be more than one champion for a project; the most sustainable projects and programs have more than one. Think of a nonprofit theatre; when you talk about the performances such an organization undertakes with any staff member, you will find champions throughout the organization. You will find people in almost every department that, if the entire executive staff left and the budget were cut in half, would step up to ensure that organization continues to produce performances. But that in-school outreach program the theatre undertakes might have just one or two true champions, and after 20 years of success, if those people leave and are not replaced with champions, the marketing and fundraising departments may suddenly start questioning whether or not that program should continue.

Not everyone working on the project has to be a champion. The web master doesn’t have to be a champion for the project. The administrative assistant doesn’t have to be. The database designer does’t have to be. Most of the staff on the project doesn’t have to be. But there MUST be a champion, someone internal, that is pushing the organization regarding the project, or it WILL fail.

When you want to start a project, program or initiative, or you start working on such, you can predict the success of such based on identifying the champion. If you can’t identify such – and if you cannot be such – then that project will be short-lived. I guarantee it. And when you are a consultant working on such, it’s particularly frustrating. And if you’re like me, you weep a lot.

Nonprofits *are* job creators!

Recently, I heard a man on the TV ranting about why people without private sector experience are bad to serve in government offices. “They’ve never balanced a budget, created a job or had to struggle to make payroll!” he said.

And my head exploded. KAPOW.

When you are working in government, or a nonprofit, balancing budgets and struggling to make payroll is often MOST of what you do!

In the nonprofit and public sectors, the pressure to balance a budget – one that has often been cut drastically with no input from you, the person expected to balance that budget – is far greater than the for-profit/business world. And the struggle to make payroll is something I’ve seen far too often in nonprofit organizations, often because a corporation has slashed its own budgets and cut funding to the organization or initiative that had been promised for months, or a government agency suddenly had its budget cut and, therefore, had to cut the budget of nonprofits it was supporting.

And nonprofit organizations are job creators. Funding nonprofits, which are focused on improving or preserving communities for EVERYONE, are not only job creators, but also, the people that make communities places where people actually want to live and work – which helps those that start businesses. Nonprofits:

  • help improve education (which creates better workers),
  • help preserve and improve environmental health (which helps organic farmers and fishermen have better products)
  • help improve children’s health (which allows parents to have the time to work instead of caring for sick children – time, perhaps, even to start businesses)
  • help promote bicycle use (which helps create more business for bicycle shops, creates more ways for workers to get to their jobs, contributes to a healthier workforce, and creates more parking spaces for cars)
  • build and promote community gardens (which helps those that sell gardening implements and other supplies)
  • fund and manager arts organizations (which create jobs for actors, production staff and administration staff, as well as enhancing the community and making it more attractive to employers to locate businesses there)
  • build, sustain and grow universities and colleges (which train people in various areas of expertise – and these people become workers, even job creators, themselves)

and on and on.

The amount of misinformation being promoted by so many pundits and even elected officials in the USA regarding the realities of the third sector is startling, disheartening and destructive. I have worked primarily in the nonprofit and government sectors, and in those sectors, I most certainly HAVE had to balance budgets, create jobs and struggle to make payroll. In fact, I have had to be far, far more creative with resources and efficient in the use of time and resources than I have ever had to be in a for-profit setting. By contrast, most people I’ve known who have worked primarily in the corporate sector have little understanding of how to do a lot with a limited amount of resources: they can’t believe most nonprofits don’t have fully staff IT departments or the latest computer technologies, and are stunned that volunteers are, in fact, not free at all.

Nonprofits and government agencies have GOT to do a better job of talking about what they accomplish, what it takes to make those accomplishments possible, and how they make those accomplishments happen. Every nonprofit has an obligation to show their transparency and credibility, and to teach the media and general public about the resources and expertise needed to address critical human and environmental needs. The Internet has made it oh-so-easy to do that!

Also see:

Share! Spout! Debate! Discuss!

You’re work or volunteer at nonprofit or an NGO or a government agency – some sort of mission-based organization. Or you want to.

Therefore, you have things to say, or ask, about the Internet, or computers, or smart phones, or any tech that plugs into those. YES, YOU DO!

There are some terrific threads on TechSoup awaiting your comments and questions, like:

GooglePlus – forcing users to use it?

UNV campaign: #actioncounts

Scheduling Volunteers for Therapeutic Riding Center

Library computer system needed for equipment reservations and checkout

Bohemian broadband & fossmaker culture

small nonprofit seeks affordable, reliable automated reminder call service

How to start a computer distribution program for low-income/needy people

Will Facebook kill your web-based online community?

Writing for the web

Which apps would people like?

what video conferencing tools have you really used.

Or start your own thread! You have things to say, to discuss, to share, to whine about when it comes to how you use the Internet, or computers, or smart phones, or any tech that plugs into those. YES, YOU DO!

You can also:

View the TechSoup community by subject matter/branch

View the TechSoup community by latest post


Recruit board members to be board members, nothing more

I have heard many representatives of nonprofit organizations say things like:

  • We need an attorney on our board, to take care of all our legal issues.
  • We need a PR person on our board, to help with marketing.
  • We need an IT expert on our board, to also help with IT issues.

In fact, there’s someone on the TechSoup community saying something like this now. And my response is: No, you do NOT. There are many reasons this is a BAD idea, and this article from Hildy Gottlieb, “Finding Pro Bono Help through Board Recruitment,” details why better than I can say myself!

Yes, it is a great idea to seek pro bono help for your nonprofit or NGO! By all means! You can get volunteers who are accountants, experts in public relations, and even lawyers to help your nonprofit organizations. But there is a BIG difference in recruiting a volunteer for his or her expertise, so that he or she will provide your organization that expertise, and recruiting a volunteer to serve on your board.

Board members are there to govern –

to lead and guide the organization towards the community’s highest

aspirations. Board members are not there to do the work that should be done by

staff and/or volunteers.

More at “Finding Pro Bono Help through Board Recruitment.”

Also see:

  • Pro Bono / In-Kind / Donated Services for Mission-Based Organizations:
    When, Why & How?

    There are all sorts of professionals who want to donate their services — web design, graphic design, human resources expertise, legal advice, editing, research, and so forth — to mission-based organizations. And there are all sorts of nonprofits and NGOs who would like to attract such donated services. But often, there’s a disconnect — misunderstandings and miscommunications and unrealistic expectations that lead to missed opportunities and frustrating experiences. This resource, prompted by the topic coming up at the same time on a few online discussion groups I read, is designed to help both those who want to donate professional services and those who want to work with such volunteers. It’s applicable to a variety of situations, not just those involving computer and Internet-related projects.
  • Short-term Assignments for Tech Volunteers
    There are a variety of ways for mission-based organizations to involve volunteers to help with short-term projects relating to computers and the Internet, and short-term assignments are what are sought after most by potential “tech” volunteers. But there is a disconnect: most organizations have trouble identifying such short-term projects. This is a list of short-term projects for “tech” volunteers — assignments that might takes days, weeks or just a couple of months to complete.
  • Recruiting Local Volunteers To Increase Diversity Among the Ranks
    Having plenty of volunteers usually isn’t enough to say a volunteering program is successful. Another indicator of success is if your volunteers represent a variety of ages, education-levels, economic levels and other demographics, or are a reflection of your local community. Most organizations don’t want volunteers to be a homogeneous group; they want to reach a variety of people as volunteers (and donors and other supporters, for that matter). This resource will help you think about how to recruit for diversity, or to reach a specific demographic.
  • Using Third Party Web Sites Like VolunteerMatch to Recruit Volunteers
    There are lots and lots of web sites out there to help your organization recruit volunteers. You don’t have to use them all, but you do need to make sure you use them correctly in order to get the maximum response to your posts.

Basic Fund-Raising for Small NGOs/Civil Society in the Developing World

Some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) to online forums for community-based organizations (CBOs) in developing countries, whatever the subject, are regarding funding.

In addition, the first impulse of many small non-governmental organizations (NGOs) seeking funding is to request the contact information for possible funders, and once they find the name of any company they think gives grants to NGOs, these NGOs often write immediately to the company with a desperate please for funds. This approach often harms the NGO, rather than garnering any support at all. Not only do these please rarely attract funding, they can turn funding sources against the NGO altogether.

After seeing these questions and messages again and again over several years (I’ve been on the Internet since about 1994) I drafted a list of basic tips for fund-raising for small NGOs – it was 15 pages long. Now, years later, it has evolved into 31 pages. It is a PDF file.

The document is meant to provide very basic guidelines for small NGOs in the developing world regarding fund-raising and adhering to the basic principles of good governance, and to point to other resources. By small NGOs, I mean organizations that may have only one paid staff member, or are run entirely by volunteers; and may or may not have official recognition by the government. These organizations are extremely limited in their resources, and are often in unstable environments and/or serving profoundly poor populations. Certainly medium-sized NGOs could use it as well – organizations that may have two or three paid staff members.

Please note that this document is NOT written for nonprofits serving the “developed” world — organizations serving communities in North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand or Japan would probably not find this document particularly helpful, as it has been prepared to make recommendations relevant for nonprofits serving in a developing country.

This document is also not for organizations that send volunteers into developing countries to work. This document will not help you fund the trips of such volunteers. If you are such a volunteer-sending organization, see funding your volunteering trip abroad and fund raising for a cause or organization for more helpful information.



It is, instead, a set of guidelines on how to prepare an organization in a developing country to be attractive to donors, how to search for potential donors and how to approach such potential donors.

The document includes:

  • A list of activities an NGO should NEVER do regarding fund-raising
    (& how I know if an NGO has actually read this document!)
  • How to network among various sectors in your country and establish credibility to insure fund-raising success
  • The absolute essential preparations to solicit donations, both locally and from international NGOs working in your geographic area
  • Establishing credibility and a reputation of integrity, transparency and accountability
  • How to find donors that would be interested in your NGO and how to make contact with them
  • A warning about fund-raising scams
  • Online resources for detailed tips on writing funding proposals
  • Suggestions regarding volunteers in other countries fund-raising on your NGO’s behalf (new chapter added October 2011)
  • Online resources for further information

Once you have received this document, please do NOT distribute the document via a web site or on an online discussion group without my written permission. I frequently update the document, and want to ensure people are getting the most recent version.

Here is the web page for more regarding: Basic Fund-Raising for Small NGOs/Civil Societ in the Developing World, including how to access the document.

CNN Recognizes Virtual Volunteering; Do You?

Virtual volunteering in all its forms – long-term service, online mentoring, online microvolunteering, crowdsourcing, etc. – has been around for more than 30 years, as long as the Internet has been around, and there are several thousand organizations that have been engaging with online volunteers since at least the late 1990s. While directing the Virtual Volunteering Project, I gave up trying to track every organization involving online volunteers in 1999, because there were just too many!

Virtual volunteering – people donating their time and expertise via a computer or smart phone to nonprofit causes and programs – has been talked about in major media, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the Associated Press, Deutche Welle, the BBC, even the Daily Show, for more than 15 years (I know because I’ve been quoted in a lot of those stories!).

But virtual volunteering has remained thought of as a fringe movement, or something brand new, by many, despite it being so well-established. Virtual volunteering still isn’t included in national volunteerism reports by any national or international body, such as the Points of Light Foundation, the Corporation for National Service or the Pew Research Center, Volunteering England, or Volunteer Australia.

Perhaps the last holdouts regarding virtual volunteering will finally give in and accept it as mainstream, now that an online mentoring program representative has been nominated as a CNN Hero.

I was introduced to Infinite Family in 2010, and was immediately impressed with its commitment to the fundamentals of a successful online mentoring program in its administration of the program, including the importance it places on site manager-involvement in its program. This is an online mentoring program absolutely committed to quality, to the children its been set up to support, and its online volunteer screening process is no cake walk – as it should be, as the children it supports deserve nothing less! Mentoring cannot be done whenever you might have some time, in between flights at an airport: it takes real time and real commitment, even when its online. Infinite Family gets that.

While all of the CNN Hero projects are worthy of attention and support, I am throwing my support to Infinite Family as the top CNN Hero for 2011.

If you want to volunteer online, here is a long list of where to find virtual volunteering opportunities, including long-term service, online mentoring, online microvolunteering, and crowdsourcing.

Also see the archived Virtual Volunteering Project web site, and resources on my web site regarding volunteer engagement and support.