Tag Archives: service

Anti-volunteerism campaigns

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Presidents’ Summit on America’s Future in Philadelphia, a three-day event that was aimed at boosting volunteerism and community service efforts across the USA. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, former Presidents George Bush, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and retired Gen. Colin Powell all participated. The original web sites of these campaigns are long gone, but I have screen captured them from archive.org and linked them from my web page tracking anti-volunteerism campaigns.

The summit resulted in a lot of press coverage, the launch of at least one nonprofit, and a huge boost for the Corporation for National Service, particularly AmeriCorps. But the summit also resulted in some anti-volunteerism campaigns, both on the political left and the political right.

I’ve been tracking campaigns against volunteer engagement since that time, and I’ve linked everything I’ve found from that aforementioned web page as well. These anti-volunteerism campaigns are not just in the USA: I have information about anti-volunteerism in Europe and elsewhere as well.

I track anti-volunteerism campaigns, and share what I find, for two reasons: (1) Those that promote volunteerism need to be aware of criticisms to their belief that volunteer community service is a great thing, and know how to counter such criticisms, and (2) Some of the complaints these campaigns have about volunteer engagement are absolutely legitimate, and also need to be addressed.

Actually, there is a third reason I share what I find: (3) I had someone that heads a major international organization that promotes volunteerism deny that these campaigns exist at all, particularly in Europe.

My only fear in sharing this information is that anyone would think I’m opposed to volunteer engagement! I hope that doesn’t happen…

One more thing: one of the most outspoken organizations against volunteering, which is cited on this page, is the Ayn Rand Institute. And, yet:

Yes, they are against volunteering UNLESS it’s for their organization.

Anyway… here is a long list of great reasons to involve volunteers.

National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership, July 26-28, 2017

Registration is now open for the 2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership, July 26 – 28, 2017 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) is hosting the first national conference in the USA in more than a decade for people in charge of supporting and involving volunteers. This will also be the first time in more than a decade the profession’s most well-known thought leaders, authors, and trainers will be together in one place.

The Summit will offer more than 100 workshops to increase knowledge and skills regarding the management of volunteers. There will also be plenaries and group discussions to determine how to build a new national presence for leaders of volunteer engagement, tackle the issues that affect this profession, and ultimately increase the community impact of the volunteers engaged. There will also be special sessions focusing on grant makers and other philanthropic organizations which support volunteer engagement with funding, providing a unique opportunity for funders and nonprofit leaders alike to learn more about each other’s perspectives, approaches to collaboration, and challenges.

With the budgets of so many nonprofits and community-focused government programs on the chopping block, I hope this conference will also talk about how to advocate for those programs to voters and legislators.

It’s really wonderful 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.

And, as I said the last time I blogged about this conference: 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.

20 Years Ago: The Virtual Volunteering Project

vvlogoThe Virtual Volunteering Project officially launched 20 years ago this month. It was the first attempt by anyone, anywhere, to research online volunteer service and document what works, and what doesn’t. I directed the initiative at its launch – and now, two decades later, I’m in a mood to reflect.

The Virtual Volunteering Project was the brainchild of Steve Glikbarg and Cindy Shove, co-founders of Impact Online (what became VolunteerMatch). In fact, Glikbarg probably originally coined the phrase virtual volunteering, back in the mid or even early 1990s. In its first two years, the Virtual Volunteering Project was funded primarily with the support of the James Irvine Foundation. Additional support in this first phase of the Project came from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Morino Institute and the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation. The Charles A. Dana Center, a research institute at the University of Texas at Austin, hosted the Project for most of its life.

How did I start on the road to becoming a virtual volunteering expert? In 1995, while working at Joint Venture: Silicon Valley, the two volunteer interns I’d taken on to build web sites for all of the initiatives we were managing said they would prefer to build the sites on their own computers back on campus, rather than at our office, because their computers were better and it was more convenient for them. They would bring their work to me on disks when they were finished. What a great idea! It worked out very well – they got to work on their own schedule, from their homes, on better computers, and I got what I needed. So I offered the option of working remotely part of the time, even most of the time, to every volunteer I recruited after that at Joint Venture. The next year, Cindy contacted me about running a new virtual volunteering initiative she and Steve had just gotten funded. “What’s ‘virtual volunteering?'” I asked. “It’s what you’ve been doing with your volunteers and talking about on USENET!” she replied.

The Virtual Volunteering Project officially launched in December 1996. It was quite rough at first; the vast majority of the programs that involved volunteers donating some or all of their time online never used the phrase virtual volunteering. In fact, that’s still true today! I remember thinking in those first several weeks that most online volunteers would be 20 something men living in Silicon Valley; imagine my surprise to find out, rather quickly, that most online volunteers were women living all over the USA – and beyond! I was also stunned at how quickly I found more than 100 virtual volunteering initiatives, most of which didn’t know about each other. With the help of online and onsite volunteers myself, I researched virtual volunteering activities, created and continually updated web pages about it, and marketed what I was learning, via both traditional press releases and frequent posts to various online discussion groups. I also involved online volunteers myself – more than 300 over more than four years. As a result, I was invited to speak at a lot of conferences and was quoted in a lot of traditional press, like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

I left the Virtual Volunteering Project in Janaury 2001, to prepare for my move to Germany to work for the United Nations to run the virtual volunteering component of NetAid, which became the stand-alone Online Volunteering service. I got that UN job because of my online activities, including participation in various online communities. In subsequent UN and international work, even when the focus isn’t virtual volunteering but, say, communications, I’ve found a way to inject at least a little virtual volunteering capacity building and involvement into the work.

Now, it’s 20 years after the launch of the Virtual Volunteering Project, which is archived here. Not much has changed in terms of best practices in virtual volunteering, the practices that make virtual volunteering effective for nonprofits, NGOs, government programs, schools and more, though there’s lots of new jargon now in the mix: micro volunteering, crowdsourcing, digital volunteering, the Cloud, etc.

vvbooklittle The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, by Susan J. Ellis and myself, is our attempt to document all these best practices over the more than three decades virtual volunteering has been happening, in a comprehensive, detailed way, so that the collective knowledge can be used with the latest digital engagement initiatives to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference. It’s a tool primarily for organizations, but there’s also information for online volunteers themselves. It’s available both in traditional print form and in digital version. Thanks to everyone who has purchased it so far! Bonus points if you can find the sci fi/fan girl references in the book…

Also see:

Early History of Nonprofits & the Internet

Al Gore Campaign Pioneered Virtual Volunteering

Lessons on effective, valuable online communities – from the 1990s

Online volunteers created a music festival in St. Louis

Updated: research regarding virtual volunteering

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.

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.

Online community service company tries to seem legit

Back in January 2011, I discovered a for-profit company called Community Service Help, Inc. that claimed it could match people that have been assigned court-ordered community service “with a charity that is currently accepting online volunteers” – for a fee, payable by the person in need of community service. But the “community service” is watching videos. Yes, you read that right: people assigned community service pay to get access to videos, which they may or may not watch, and this company then gives each a letter for their probation officers or court representatives saying that the person did community service – which, of course, the person didn’t. – he or she just watched videos.

While I have no issue with a nonprofit organization, or even a government agency, charging a volunteer to cover expenses (materials, training, staff time to supervise and support the volunteer, criminal background check, etc.), I have a real problem with companies charging people for freely-available information.

I also have a big problem with judges and probation officers accepting online community service that consists of a person watching videos. Watching a video is NOT community service. Listening to a lecture is NOT community service. Watching an autopsy is NOT community service. Courts can – and do – sentence offenders to watch videos or listen to a lecture or watch an autopsy, and that’s fine, but these activities are NOT COMMUNITY SERVICE.

My many blogs about this company, such as the first one, What online community service is and is not in (January 2011), as well Online volunteer scam goes global (July 2011), Courts being fooled by online community service scams (from November 2011), and Update on a Virtual Volunteering scam (November 2012), have lead to investigative TV reports on Atlanta Fox 5 and an NBC affiliate in Columbus, Atlanta. Just to show how unscrupulous this company is, after the NBC story, the scam company put a tag on its web site noting “as featured on NBC news!” Ugh.

The pressure hasn’t lead to the company folding, unfortunately. Instead, the company is now trying to go legit, paying for this press release on PR Web to encourage nonprofits to use its service to list virtual volunteering opportunities with the company, which it will then have its paying clients do. The company claims that it will provide “electronic supervision, volunteer hour tracking, time sheets and logging, court reporting, and any necessary phone calls and customer support” for the volunteers it provides to any nonprofit that signs up. Those services are free for the nonprofit, but the volunteers pay the for-profit company for the volunteering. So, now the company can claim that volunteers do real volunteering, provided by legitimate nonprofits.

My thoughts? I think any nonprofit staff that list opportunities with Community Service Help, Inc. should have their heads examined:

  • There is still no list on the company’s web site about what people do as online volunteers through the company, and no list of “charity partners” that use this service.
  • There is a list of testimonials from people who have supposedly used the service — testimonials which all sound amazingly the same, as though they were all written by the same person.
  • There is also still no listing of the names of the staff people and their credentials to show their experience regarding online volunteering or community service.
  • Its statement on its home page, The only place to complete your court ordered community service online!, is a blatant lie. There are many places to complete online volunteering for court ordered community service – where the volunteer pays NOTHING, or pays a tiny fee, much smaller than what Community Service Help, Inc. charges.
  • The company has no profile on Yelp.com.
  • So far, no online volunteering service has been performed at all through this company. None. The people who use this service do no activities other than watching videos as their “community service.” Through a nonprofit organization in Michigan, the company arranges for paperwork to be sent to the court or probation officer that says the paying customer has completed the “community service” and how many hours they spent doing such.

I really hope nonprofits continue to steer clear of this company. List your online volunteering opportunities with your local volunteer center, through VolunteerMatch, or through any other legitimate nonprofit service (all are free).

And for those of you that need to perform court-ordered community service, check out this  list of LEGITIMATE nonprofits that would be happy to involve you.

Still waiting for officials in Miami-Dade County, where this organization is based, any parole and probation associations, the Corporation for National Service and AL!VE to PLEASE investigate or, at least, take a stand regarding this and other companies.

July 6, 2016 update: the web site of the company Community Service Help went away sometime in January 2016, and all posts to its Facebook page are now GONE. More info at this July 2016 blog: Selling community service leads to arrest, conviction

volunteering in the digital age – cool, but not new

The timeless act of volunteering in the service of others has taken on new dimensions in today’s digital age. Anyone with an Internet connection or a mobile phone can make a difference.
– United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
5 December 2012, International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development Day

“New” is, of course, relative…

In 2001, I wrote about how people were using handheld technologies in community service, environmental and activist work, citing examples that went back to the 1990s (when we called them “PDAs” instead of “smart”). And, of course, the practice of virtual volunteering is more than 30 years old – as old as the Internet, and starting long before there was a World Wide Web (in fact, Tim Berners-Lee said in an October 2001 event with UN Volunteers that online volunteers played an essential role in his development of the Web).

But I’m glad, nonetheless, to see the head of the UN acknowledging virtual volunteering. His predecessor, Kofi Annan, certainly knew it was a force to be acknowledged and supported. Hope that recognition and promotion of volunteering, online or off, onsite or remotely, continues!

Volunteering in the digital age – it’s not new, but it’s most definitely cool, and worth continuing to talk about.

Also see:

Myths About Online Volunteering (Virtual Volunteering)

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

Make All Volunteering as Accessible as Possible

Recognizing Online Volunteers & Using the Internet to Honor ALL Volunteers

 

Excuses, excuses

Here’s a conversation I had this week as a member of a certain city’s citizen’s committee regarding bicyclists and pedestrians:

Me: “I’d like for this link to the state agency name redacted web site to added to this web page on the city’s site. I’ve sent two emails requesting it, but no one has responded.”

City representative: “We don’t have money in the budget to do that.”

Me: “You don’t have the money to add a link to a web page?!?”

City Rep: “Actually, it’s because the decision makers need to review that change first.”

Me: “Okay, who are the ‘decision makers’?”

City Rep: “Oh, we don’t have a policy yet on how those decisions will be made.”

THIS IS WHY I DON’T BELIEVE IN CONSPIRACY THEORIES INVOLVING THE GOVERNMENT.

This is also a perfect illustration of the change of mentality that’s needed for effective online communications. Using web pages and social media has nothing to do with budgets or policies – it has to do with mindsets.

Fear-based management – it’s a customer service KILLER.

Requiring jobless to volunteer – reality check

John Albers, a state lawmaker from the USA State of Georgia, wants people receiving government jobless benefits to have to put in 24 hours of community service a week (read more about the story here).

Did he talk to nonprofits and government programs that involve volunteers and ask if they could involve an influx of new volunteers, putting at least one person to work for 24 hours a week?

No.

Does he know how much staff time and resources are required for a program or agency to involve volunteers, that volunteers are never free – and, therefore, will the government be providing funding to nonprofits and other organizations in order to fund the staff time and resources to involve volunteers in such large blocks of time each week?

No.

Did he do any research on how difficult it is for people who want to volunteer to find opportunities, that people report applying for multiple assignments on web sites like VolunteerMatch, over a period of weeks , sometimes over a period of months, before they ever actually end up volunteering?

No.

I’m all for people who are unemployed looking into volunteering as a way to build their skills for employment, as a way to make contacts that might lead to employment, as a way to get some accomplishments under their belt that would look great on their résumé, and as a way to counter the negative emotional pressures of unemployment.

But finding volunteering activities is hard. VERY hard. Much of my web site has been primarily focused on the organizations that involve volunteers, but I had to create pages focused on people who want to volunteer because of the OVERWHELMING number of people that post again and again to places like YahooAnswers, people who are trying to find volunteering activities and cannot find such.

Why do I get hired again and again to do training on how to involve volunteers? Why does Susan Ellis keep writing and selling so many books on volunteer engagement? Because thousands and thousands of nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), schools, government programs and many others do not know how to involve volunteers.

So, reality check, Mr. Albers. If you want organizations to involve more volunteers – and to involve volunteers in such huge chunks of time (24 hours a week – three full work days a week!), then start looking for money to give to these organizations – they will need it to fund the time (and perhaps even the training) of a full-time manager of volunteers who will screen, train, support and supervise all these thousands of volunteers you want to send their way.

Courts being fooled by online community service scams

July 6, 2016 update: the web site of the company Community Service Help went away sometime in January 2016, and all posts to its Facebook page are now GONE. More info at this July 2016 blog: Selling community service leads to arrest, conviction

— Original blog from 2011 below —

As I’ve blogged about before, there is a for-profit company based in Florida, Community Service Help, Inc., that claims it can match people have been assigned court-ordered community service “with a charity that is currently accepting online volunteers” – for a fee, payable by the person in need of community service. But the community service is watching videos. Yes, you read that right: you pay to get access to videos, which you may or may not watch, and this company then gives you a letter for your probation officer or court representative saying you did community service – which, of course, you didn’t. – you watched videos.

Another of these companies is Community Service 101, which charges a monthly fee for users to track and report their hours – something they could do for free on a shared GoogleDoc spreadsheet. There’s also this nonprofit, Facing the Future With Hope, which also offers to find online community service, for a fee. And there’s fastcommunityservice.com, which claims that you can work off your court-ordered community service hours by taking an online “Caffeine Awareness Course.” It’s a $30 fee to take this “course” and get their letter saying you have done community service – which you have NOT, because taking an online course is NOT COMMUNITY SERVICE. And, not to be outdone is completecommunityservice.com, which follows the same model: pay a fee, get a letter that says you did community service.

At least one of these companies is affiliated with Terra Research Foundation; it didn’t have a web site when I first started blogging about this back in January, but it does now, and it’s now listed on Guidestar as “Terra Foundation”, however, the web site has no listing of staff or their qualifications, no listing of these offices they say they have all over the USA, no listing of board members, no listing of current projects, no testimonials from those benefiting from their projects, no listing of specific nonprofit organizations they have collaborated with/assisted, no annual report, no budget information, and on and on.

If it’s a for-profit company saying they can help you with community service for the court, you should be able to find on their web site:

  • A list of courts, by name, city and state, that have accepted community service arranged through this company (not just “courts in Florida”, but “the circuit court of Harpo County, Florida)
  • An official statement from a court – ANY court – saying, “We endorse such-and-such company for getting your court-ordered community service done”
  • A list of “charity partners” or nonprofit partners or government agency partners that use this service
  • The names of staff at the company and their credentials to show their experience regarding online volunteering or community service.
  • A list of all fees – specific dollar amounts – on the home page (not buried on the web site)
  • A scan of a letter they have provided to a court, a probation officer, a school, a university, etc. (with the contact name for the person blocked out, ofcourse), so you know exactly what the organization says to confirm community service.
  • A list of every court, school and university that has accepted the community service hours this company has ever arranged for anyone.

Good luck finding this information on the web sites I’ve mentioned in this blog. The information is NOT there.

If it’s a non-profit company, you should be able to find on their web site:

  • Their most recent annual report that notes their income and expenditures for their last fiscal year
  • The names of the board of directors
  • The names of staff and their credentials to show their experience regarding online volunteering or community service.
  • A list of courts, by name, city and state, that have accepted community service arranged through this company (not just “courts in Florida”, but “the circuit court of Harpo County, Florida”)
  • An official statement from a court – ANY court – saying, “We endorse such-and-such company for getting your court-ordered community service done”
  • A list about specific activities that people do as volunteers through the nonprofit organization
  • A list of “charity partners” or nonprofit partners or government agency partners that use this service
  • A list of all fees – specific dollar amounts
  • A scan of a letter they have provided to a court, a probation officer, a school, a university, etc. (with the contact name for the person blocked out, ofcourse), so you know exactly what the organization says to confirm community service.
  • A list of every court, school and university that has accepted the community service hours this company has ever arranged for anyone.

Again, this information is NOT THERE on the web sites I’ve already mentioned.

While I have no issue with a nonprofit organization, or even a government agency, charging a volunteer to cover expenses (materials, training, staff time to supervise and support the volunteer, criminal background check, etc.), I have a real problem with companies charging people for freely-available information.

I also have a big problem with judges and probation officers accepting online community service that consists of a person watching videos. Watching a video is NOT community service. Listening to a lecture is NOT community service. Watching an autopsy is NOT community service. Courts can – and do – sentence offenders to watch videos or listen to a lecture or watch an autopsy, and that’s fine, but these activities are NOT COMMUNITY SERVICE.

Sadly, courts are sometimes not catching the scam until it’s too late: I’ve been contacted by representatives of two different court systems, both in California, who had approved court-ordered community service by people who used one of these companies, not realizing that the people had just paid a fee for a letter and had not done any community service at all (and both representatives said watching a video or taking a course is NOT community service in the eyes of the court!).

You can read about what happened when I started investigating Community Service Help, Inc. in January and reported them to the proper authorities, and what the company’s reaction was (not good!). And you can read the nasty comments that are showing up on that original blog – the people who are running these unscrupulous companies are definitely feeling the heat!

I wish I could spend time reporting each of these companies to the State Attorneys General for each state where they reside, but I just do not have the time; it’s a lot of forms to fill out.

In that original blog, I asked if organizations that claim to represent the community service sector such as the Corporation for National Service or AL!VE would investigate and take a stand regarding these companies – to date, they have done nothing.

I’ve contacted the following organizations today about these unscrupulous companies, urging them to investigate. Let’s hope those who can really do something about these companies will do so!

American Probation and Parole Association

U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System

Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association (FPPOA)

National Association of Probation Executives

American Correctional Association

And one final note: I’ve been lucky enough to have involved some court-ordered folks as online volunteers – I say “lucky enough” because they have all of them have ended up volunteering for more hours than they were required to do, and been really great volunteers. And, no, I did not charge them!

Also, here’s free information on Finding Online Volunteering / Virtual Volunteering & Home-Based Volunteering with legitimate organizations.

November 6, 2012 update: I just got got email from a TV reporter in Atlanta, Georgia who used my blogs about this scam to create this excellent video about this scam and the people behind it. Thanks Atlanta Fox 5!

February 2013 update: Here’s the latest on what’s going on with this company.

July 6, 2016 update: the web site of the company Community Service Help went away sometime in January 2016, and all posts to its Facebook page are now GONE. More info at this July 2016 blog: Selling community service leads to arrest, conviction