Tag Archives: telementoring

The future of virtual volunteering? Deeper relationships, higher impact

book coverIn May 2015, the book Volunteer Engagement 2.0 will be published by Wiley. The brainchild of VolunteerMatch, the book is meant to be a “what’s next” regarding volunteering, and features 35 different chapter contributors, including me.

I was asked to contribute a chapter on virtual volunteering and, initially, I said no. I said no at first for two reasons:

  1. Because, as Susan Ellis and I note in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, virtual volunteering should not be a separate topic amid discussions about volunteer engagement and management. Instead, virtual volunteering needs to be fully integrated into all such discussions and trainings. No more segregation at the end of the book or workshop! If a book talks about recruiting volunteers, for instance, it needs to include how the Internet plays a role in this. If a workshop explores ways to recognize volunteers, it needs to include how to leverage online tools for this.
  2. Because virtual volunteering is NOT “what’s next” in volunteering: it is NOW. It’s a practice that’s more than 30-years-old. There were already so many organizations involving online volunteers back in the late 1990s I quit trying to count them!

I ultimately agreed, instead, to write a chapter on what I think is “what’s next” regarding virtual volunteering. And, as usual, I went against the grain: while everyone seems to be saying that microvolunteering is what most volunteers really want, I think there are a growing number of people that, instead, want more meaningful, high-responsibility, high-impact roles in virtual volunteering.

I focused my chapter on direct service virtual volunteering. Using a variety of asynchronous and synchronous Internet tools, this type of virtual volunteering includes:

  • Electronic visiting with someone who is home-bound, in a hospital or assisted living facility
  • Online mentoring and instruction, such as helping young students with homework questions or supporting adults learning a skill or finding a job
  • Teaching people to use a particular technology tool
  • One counseling by volunteers, such as staffing online crisis support lines
  • Facilitating online discussion groups for people with specific questions or needs, on childcare, organic gardening, travel to a particular area, or most any subject humans are capable of discussion
  • Offering legal, medical, business, or other expertise to clients
  • Working on a project together with clients and other volunteers as a part of meeting the organization’s mission, such as writing about the news of their neighborhood, school, or special interest group

When volunteers interact with clients directly, it’s a highly personal activity, no matter the mission of the organization. These volunteer roles involve building and maintaining trust and cultivating relationships – not just getting a task done. It takes many hours and a real commitment – it can’t be done just when the volunteer might have some extra time. And altogether, that means that, unlike microvolunteering, these direct service virtual volunteering roles aren’t available to absolutely anyone with a networked device, Internet access and a good heart. These roles discriminate: if you don’t have the skills and the time, you don’t get to do them. And, believe it or not, the very high bar for participation is very appealing to a growing number of people that want to volunteer.

Of course, I’m not opposed to microvolunteering – online tasks that take just a few minutes or hours for a volunteer to complete, require little or not training of the online volunteer, and require no ongoing commitment. I’ve been writing about microvolunteering before it was called that – I gave it the name byte-sized volunteering back in the 1990s, but the name didn’t stick. I think, if you want to give lots of people a taste of your organization or program, with an eye to cultivating those people into longer-term volunteers, and/or donors, and you have the time to create microvolunteering assignments, great, go for it!

But I am hearing and seeing a growing number of comments from people, especially young people, saying they want more than just a “quickie” volunteering experience. They want more than number-of-hours volunteering. They want more than a list of tasks that need done. They want something high-impact. They want to feel like they have really made a difference. They want to make a real connection with the organization and those, or the mission, it serves. They want a deep volunteering experience. I fear that, in the rush to embrace the microvolunteering buzz, we’re ignoring those people that want something more. My chapter in Volunteer Engagement 2.0 is my plea to not ignore those potential volunteers.

vvbooklittleHow to create both online microvolunteering tasks and high-responsibility online roles, including direct service with clients, and everything in between, as well as how to recruit and support volunteers for those roles, is fully explored, in great detail and with a lot of examples, in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook.



Internet-mediated Volunteering in the EU (virtual volunteering)

paperAt long last, Internet-mediated Volunteering in the EU:  Its history, prevalence, and approaches and how it relates to employability and social inclusion, has been published. 

My research was for the ICT4EMPL Future Work project undertaken by the Information Society Unit of the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, and consumed most of my 2013.

As part of this project, I created a wiki of all of the various resources I used for my research, and it includes a list of online volunteering-related recruitment or matching web sties that are either focused on or allow for the recruitment of online volunteers from EU-countries, and a list of more than 60 organisations in EU countries that involve online volunteers in some way. The wiki offers many more resources as well, not all of which made it into the final paper.

I also blogged about what I learned from researching virtual volunteering in Europe, such as how much virtual volunteering is happening all over Europe, how Spain is, by far, the leader in Europe regarding virtual volunteering (particularly in Catalonia), how little the French seem to be doing with regard to virtual volunteering (tsk tsk), and that traditional volunteer centers in Europe are pretty much ignoring virtual volunteering – if it’s mentioned at all, it’s talked about in terms of being new and rare – which the research firmly established is not at all the case.

It would be amazing if this paper lead to significant change in the EU regarding volunteering: if volunteer centers – from the city level to the international level – fully acknowledged virtual volunteering at long last, and if detailed materials regarding how to create virtual volunteering tasks was written and published in all the various languages of Europe. It would be great if employers in Europe started valuing volunteer experience on people’s résumés, something they don’t seem to do currently. What would be particularly awesome would be the establishment of online discussion groups for managers of volunteers in European countries., something that, as far as I can tell, only exists for the UK (UKVPMs) and, to a degree, in Spain (E-Voluntas). People are hungry for virtual volunteering activities – particularly, but not limited to, people under 40 in the EU. I hear European-based NGOs and charities complaining about not being able to involve young people as volunteers – and then balk at the idea of creating online volunteering assignments. THIS HAS TO CHANGE.

Also, as a result of this and other research, I have a list of people based in Europe that I consider experts in virtual volunteering – in the U.K., in Spain (of course – mostly in Catalonia, in fact), in Germany, in Italy (met her after the research was turned in, unfortunately) and Poland, and if you are a researcher, journalist, or organization interested in virtual volunteering, and want to talk to an EU-based consultant, give me a shout and I’ll give you my list of contacts.

Also see this review of the paper by Ismael Peña-López.