Tag Archives: volunteerism

Volunteering, by itself, isn’t enough to save the world

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteers

Like so many communities across the USA, the town where I live has many, many homeless people: people, including children, who are couch surfing, living in cars, sleeping in public spaces or sleeping in shelters, because they have no space of their own. There is a patchwork of organizations trying to help them with basic, immediate needs, and I attended a presentation by one of the organizations trying to offer temporary shelter – and by temporary, I mean both temporary for people that will stay there and temporary in their own existence. One of the slides in her presentation had a list of all of the many things different agencies were doing to assist the homeless. But there was also this warning on the slide: None of which will go to preventing or ending homelessness. And that included the temporary shelter her organization was providing, and all of the volunteers helping in such.  

In Houston, we’ve seen all sorts of people volunteering to help people get to temporary shelters, to feed people in those shelters, to evacuate people from their flood ravaged homes and cars, to get animals to safety, and on and on. And that’s not just nice, that’s necessary, and I’m so grateful that I live in a country where people are so willing to donate their time. But volunteers could not do this alone, and eventually, disaster-response volunteers are going to go home, and there are going to be thousands of homeless people and animals who are going to need ongoing, continuing assistance, even as volunteers leave the area.

I love volunteerism, and I don’t trust nonprofits that don’t involve such. I think volunteers are critical for nonprofits, schools and government agencies – and not for saving money. I am passionate about the critical role volunteers can play in a range of issues and services. Again, they aren’t just nice – they are necessary.

However, I also believe we need more than only – solely – volunteers to keep schools open and of high quality, to keep water clean, to keep hike and bike trails safe, to help the homeless, to address drug abuse, to give children the safety nets they need to navigate their life into adulthood, to promote the arts, to address youth violence, to respond to disasters, and on and on. Full-time, fully funded experts are needed. Initiatives solely, completely dedicated to certain issues are needed – and these initiatives must have funding. I have been begging nonprofits and schools, for years, to tell government officials and corporate philanthropy folks explicitly that, while volunteers are great, money is ALSO needed, to meet the needs of the community. We cannot do all that needs to be done in our spare time, donating just a few hours a month. The last time I was fully on this soapbox on my blog was in 2011, regarding the UK’s “Big Society” movement.

I have often gotten a very cold reception because I don’t embrace the idea that serious community and environmental issues can be fully addressed by people giving a few hours whenever they might have some time to spare, as volunteers. I’ve even been accused of being anti-volunteer, which, given the amount of time and effort I give to promoting volunteer engagement and best practices for such, is ridiculous.

In July 2000, The New York Times published “The Vanity of Volunteerism,” by Sara Mosle. She taught public school for three years, and after she left that profession, mentored four of her former students for a few years. She writes about her experience in her Times’ piece and weaves into her account statistics and feedback about the growing expectation of the US government for volunteers to fill in the gaps in service left by the federal government withdrawing support for nonprofits, state governments and government social services. She quotes people and sources that note that the need for social services was increasing at the time, but donations and government financing didn’t increase, and volunteering wasn’t enough to fill the gaps. She also talks about the negative consequences for clients of nonprofits, schools and social service agencies of more and more people engaging in episodic volunteering – what we now call offline microvolunteering – instead of long-term, high-responsibility traditional volunteering.

The piece also references 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. I blogged about the 20th anniversary of that summit earlier this year.

Below is an excerpt from the 2000 New York Times article. Sara Mosle was singing the same song as me back in 2000, and I think her article’s statements, and the circumstances of nonprofits, need to be revisited. Note: the piece refers to Impact Online, and that is the original name of what is now VolunteerMatch. Also, the bolded text is my emphasis, not the article’s:

Excerpt:  

For more than a decade, politicians and civic leaders have been looking to volunteers like me to take over the government’s role in providing vital services to the poor. Although the movement arguably began in 1988 with the candidate George Bush’s invocation of ”a thousand points of light” as a response to Reagan-era cutbacks in social spending, it has been embraced by the current Democratic administration, which has continued those cutbacks, and culminated in the 1997 President’s Summit for America’s Future in Philadelphia, where President Clinton and Gen. Colin Powell touted the power of volunteerism. Now George W. Bush has picked up his father’s theme of ”a kinder, gentler” America by pushing ”charitable choice” — the provision in the 1996 welfare reform bill that allows faith-based organizations to contract with government to provide social services to the poor. (Al Gore supports it, too, though less vigorously.)

”Compassionate conservatives” would probably claim that I am the kind of ”caring adult” who can transform the lives of disadvantaged kids more effectively than any government program. I’m all for volunteering, but I would disagree. While I don’t doubt that I have had some positive effects on my kids’ lives — studies show that mentoring can reduce dropout rates and drug use among teenagers — they have mostly been of the ”boosting self-esteem” variety that conservatives, in other contexts, usually disdain. Besides, I’m not a very good volunteer. To work, mentoring has to be performed consistently, over a sustained period of time and preferably one on one. For the first couple of years, I saw my kids as often as twice a week. But now I’m lucky if I see them once a month, and I almost never see them individually. In their lives, I’m less a caring adult than a random one. And my failure is representative.

Although 55 percent of Americans reported that they volunteered at some point in 1998 — a 7 percent rise over 1995 — this jump does little more than recover ground that was lost in the early 1990’s and represents just a 1 percent increase over 1989. Moreover, the total number of hours that people are giving has actually declined. ”It’s a new trend,” says Sara Melendez, the president of Independent Sector, which compiled this data. ”People are volunteering, but when they do, it’s more of a one-shot deal — half a day one Saturday, instead of once a week for x number of weeks.” Overall, Americans donated 400 million fewer hours in 1998 than they did in 1995.

Consequently, while Powell has made recruiting 100,000 new mentors a top priority of America’s Promise, his volunteer outfit, there is little evidence that people are sufficiently answering his call. In New York, for instance, Big Brothers/Big Sisters receives just 4,000 inquiries each year from potential mentors. Of these, two-thirds never follow up once they learn they have to commit to seeing their kids at least twice a month. Another 700 lose interest after the initial training session or are eliminated through the program’s rigorous screening process. Only 600 people ever become mentors — this in a city with more than one million schoolchildren — and nationally, the program has a waiting list of some 50,000 kids.

To help nonprofits cope with this new unreliable work force, groups like Impact Online and New York Cares have sprung up that act like temp agencies, matching the interests (and busy schedules) of what might be called the impulse volunteer — someone with an urge to give but only a few hours to kill — with openings, arranged by time slot and geographical location. But this Filofax approach to giving often robs volunteerism of the very thing that was supposed to recommend it over government in the first place — namely, the personal connection that develops when you regularly visit, say, the same homebound AIDS patient.

And in a volunteer’s market, not every need has a buyer. ”People will come in and do a project — a school painting, a school wiring — and think they’ve done a good service and go away,” says Paul Clolery, editor of The NonProfit Times. ”But it’s not the type of traditional, week-in and week-out volunteering that a lot of organizations really need.”…

The experience of Meals on Wheels in Dallas is typical. It can’t find enough volunteers to commit to even a few hours a month to help deliver meals to the city’s elderly shut-ins. ”People can’t get away during the middle of the day,” says Helen Bruant, the program’s director. ”So, they ask, ‘Why don’t you deliver in the evenings?’ Well, we looked at that. But for a lot of our clients, this is their only meal. They eat half at lunch and save the other half for dinner. Plus, it’s not good for the elderly to eat a big meal at the end of the day.” Therefore, the program must hire 30 percent of its drivers. Even paying people, Bruant cannot find enough help. ”We can’t compete with McDonald’s,” she says…” Yet, if anything, the need is increasing. ”The aged population has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade,” Bruant says, ”but giving and government financing haven’t increased.”

As a result, the heads of some of the most reputable nonprofits — the United Way, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities — have reported that they can’t keep up with rising demand for their services. ”We’re having to turn people away, or ration portions, to stretch supplies,” says Deborah Leff, the president of America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest network of soup kitchens. And while charitable giving is up sharply, the growth has not kept pace with reductions in government aid to the poor. ”People have replaced some of it with volunteering, some of it with cash, but not all of it,” says Richard Steinberg, a professor of economics at the joint campus of Indiana and Purdue Universities in Indianapolis…

end of excerpt

September 14, 2017 update: wow, someone must have been inspired by my blog:
Bill Gates: Don’t expect charities to pick up the bill for Trump’s sweeping aid cuts.

Also see:

History & Evaluation of UNV’s Early Years

Whilst trying to make a list of all of the Executive Coordinators of the United Nations Volunteers program since UNV began in 1970, to update UNV’s profile on Wikipedia, I found quite a delicious document from 1974, which provides the most detailed history of the origins of the UNV program that I have ever read – origins I don’t think most people are aware of, including most staff at UNV – as well as an evaluation of UNV’s first three years of operation.

Some things have changed quite a lot at UNV since this document was published – but some have stayed the same.

The article is The Platonic Acorn: A Case Study of the United Nations Volunteer. It’s by Robert A. Pastor who, at the time of this paper’s publication in 1974, was a graduate student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Pastor was a former Peace Corps volunteer who went on to many high-profile international endeavors: he was a member of the National Security Council Staff during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, he was associated with various universities, and also served as a Senior Fellow at the Carter Center, where he established the programs on Latin America and the Caribbean, democracy and election-monitoring, and Chinese village elections. He died of colon cancer in 2014.

His paper about the first years of UNV was published in the journal International Organization, published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the International Organization Foundation. This article appeared in Volume 28, Issue 3 July 1974, pp. 375-397, and it’s accessible online, for free, from JSTOR. The Abstract for his paper:

This article presents both a history and an administrative analysis of the United Nations Volunteers, an international organization established by a General Assembly resolution in December 1970. The hope that the new organization would presage a new era of multinational volunteerism has proven groundless. In seeking to explain the ineffectiveness of the UN Volunteers, I look inside the organization and find that it has little or no control over its six principal functions. This extreme decentralization of responsibility is then explained not by a static description of the institutional but by focusing on the dynamic process by which state and transnational actors exercised influence during the different stages of the organization’s establishment and development. Those actors whose autonomy was most jeopardized by a new volunteer organization were most active in defining and limiting the scope of its operations. The relative lobbying advantages of state and transnational actors meshed with bureaucratic and budgetary constraints to ensure an enfeebled organization.

Whew!

Pastor is very critical of UNV’s recruitment and placement processes in particular, as it slowed volunteer placement to a crawl. The problem was that, in the 1970s, each stage in the UNV selection process was managed by a different organization in a different location, resulting in 11 different stages between the volunteer-involving organization and the applicant. As a result, as of March 1973, UNV had filled just 93 posts from approximately 400 requests. In addition, 85 percent of volunteers were from least developed countries (LDCs). Then, it was seen as a problem, because the program was supposed to be “universal”, with a significant number of young volunteers from industrialized countries:

The organizational process also helps to explain why there is such a high percentage of volunteers from LDCs, and may help predict why this is likely to continue. Many applicants from LDCs view the UNV as a step into the UN civil service, and thus they are willing to tolerate longer delays than their counterparts in the developed world who generally view volunteer service as precisely that. The result, that LCD volunteers currently count for nearly half of all volunteers, is a bit ironic since one of the original purposes of volunteerism was to exploit the skill surplus of the developed countries.

I have no idea what the timeline is now between the creation of a UNV assignment and placement of a person into that assignment, but mentalities regarding people from developing countries as UNV has greatly changed: UNV now prides itself on a high percentage of volunteers from developed countries, the idea being that it is a reflection of south-to-south cooperation. The average age of UNVs has also increased, from people in their 20s when the program started to 38 now – a program originally designed to channel the energies of youth has become something quite different.

Another criticism by Pastor is that “Although volunteers are supposed to work directly with host country people, they find themselves working with and accountable only to foreign experts.” In the last few years, UNV has focused on its capacity to be a low-cost staffing solution for UN agencies, so this criticism could still be made – and may become a greater issue.

Pastor questions UNV’s ability at the time to fulfill specialized requests for volunteers, and suspects the level of specialization requested is much higher than what is actually necessary. He provides imaginary, outrageous examples of such requests, such as for a “French-speaking sand dune fixation expert.” He says, “Assuming that these specialists exist, the likelihood of finding one who would volunteer is negligible, while the price of the search is exorbitant.” Pastor’s paper was written more than two decades before the Internet became widely used in the USA, and then grew exponentially globally; recruitment of highly-specialized candidates for volunteering is now easy for most situations, and the number of applicants for these assignments shows an abundance of experts willing to take on such volunteering roles.

Another criticism in the document is if the UNV program was, in fact, a volunteer program because of the “high professional calibre” of volunteers – meaning the degree of expertise of the volunteers somehow makes them not really volunteers anymore. He notes that UNV “insists on selling its product as an inexpensive substitute for experts.” Since then, thankfully, the understanding of the word volunteer has changed, and it does not mean amateur, unskilled, or inexperienced. But for UNV now, in 2017, what does volunteer mean? In the USA, a person is a volunteer at a nonprofit or other mission-based organization if he or she is not paid by that agency for services rendered. In fact, the federal agency in charge of regulating labor has strict guidelines on who may be called a volunteer – and who may not. As UNVs, especially national UNVs from the same country where they are serving, receive excellent compensation, called a stipend rather than a salary, what makes them a volunteer? That I cannot answer.

Pastor’s review of UNV is a fascinating document which offers a lot of challenging questions about UNV – and some of these questions, IMO, need to be asked again.  I’m so sorry I can’t thank him for his paper, and talk with him about how UNV has evolved. I would have loved to hear what he thought of the Online Volunteering service in particular, which I think meets many of the goals originally set out for UNV but not realized.

In the course of my research, I also found the book The Role and Status of International Humanitarian Volunteers and Organization: The Rights and Duty to Humanitarian Assistance by Yves Beigbeder, ISBN 0-7923-1190-6. It was published in 1991, and from the pages available on Google, it seems to also have some scathing analysis of UNV’s performance up to that date. It’s hard to find information about the author; there’s scant information online about him, though he seems to be a prolific writer. Online, it says he served at the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1946 and had a “long career in UN organizations as a senior official.” Beigbeder’s book is hard to get hold of; it is offered online for about $100, well beyond the budgets for most folks interested in evaluating volunteer placement agencies (and beyond my own budget as well).

In the book, Beigbeder says that the UNDP Governing Council asked the UNV administrator to undertake a review of the UNV program in 1986 and in 1987. The report was a mixed bag on UNV performance at that time: it was noted that, in Yemen, “UNVs are quickly operational, less demanding in support services and more adaptive to difficult, harsh and isolated working conditions than other technical assistance staff.” But In Papua New Guinea, results were good and bad. “When UNVs have not done well, the cause was either poor project design, noninvolvement by supervisors in developing the job description, job duties imprecise or modified after the arrival of the UNV, wrong selection, or language deficiencies.” All of those can still be problems with UNV assignments – or for any international placement organization, for that matter. Addressing those problems is an ongoing issue.

Finally, my search also lead me to the self-published book Not Only a Refugee: An American UN Volunteer in the Philippines by Eleanor Grogg Stewart, about her time in the early 1980s, specifically in and around 1982, when she worked in a refugee camp. Several pages from her book are available on books.google.com. It’s detailed account of the early days of UNV, as well as trying to navigate UN bureaucracy.

It’s a shame that early accounts and evaluations of nonprofit organizations, international aid agencies, government programs and other mission-based entities are forgotten. It’s so interesting to read how much has changed, how much has improved – and how far we still have to go. How can we know if we’re making a difference if we aren’t looking at what our agencies promised in the past?

One final note: On 31 May, 2017, the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS convened in New York to discuss the findings of an independent evaluation of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme and UNV’s new Strategic Framework goals and objectives for 2018-2021. Here is a press release about the meeting, which says Nina Retzlaff is the independent evaluator of the UNV Strategic Framework 2014-2017 and that she elaborated on key points and early findings from her evaluation at the New York meeting, noting that there was a high level of satisfaction from UN partners on the work of UN Volunteers and that “91% of UN partners confirm UNV responds to their needs, [and that] 92% of the UN Volunteers report a satisfactory experience.” She also said that “UNV’s programmatic niche is in Youth and Volunteer Infrastructure.” I would love to read the evaluation but, cannot find out if it’s even been finished, let alone published. It would be fascinating to read how it compares to these earlier aassessments.

Also see:

UN mobilizes volunteers to research contribution of volunteerism in fragile communities and post-conflict environments

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, in partnership with ActionAid, the Association of Voluntary Centres (in Russian), the Beijing Volunteer Federation, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO), is deploying 15 national and international volunteer researchers to collect evidence on the contribution of volunteerism in fragile communities and post-conflict environments.

The volunteer researchers are currently deploying to 15 countries to gather evidence for the 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report (SWVR) on the theme of “Resilient Communities: The Role of Volunteerism in a Turbulent World”. The volunteer researchers will spend up to six months living with different communities in Bolivia, Burundi, China, Greece, Guatemala, Egypt, Madagascar, Malawi, Myanmar, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Tanzania to generate evidence and data to inform the report.

More details of this deployment and research project.

Follow @UNVolunteers on Twitter to stay up-to-date on this project and know when the report will be released.

Previous reports from UNV include the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2015: Transforming Governance and the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2011: Universal Values for Global Well-being.

Also see:

2017 National Volunteer Weeks & Months

Energize, Inc. (Susan Ellis’ company) has compiled a list of designated volunteer weeks or months in 2017, mostly in English-speaking countries, when nonprofits, government agencies and others are supposed to honor volunteerism. These are celebrated annually:

Canada’s National Volunteer Week, April 23-29, 2017

USA’s National Volunteer Week, April 23-29, 2017

Australia’s National Volunteer Week, May 8-14, 2017

United Kingdom’s Volunteers’ Week, June 1-7, 2011

New Zealand’s National Volunteer Awareness Week, June 18-24, 2017

Singapore’s National Volunteer Month, December, 2017

During these weeks (and always!), remember to honor your online volunteers and to use the Internet to honor ALL volunteers, regardless of where service is performed. This resource can help, you do that, as can The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook.

There are also MANY days designated to encourage volunteer action. Energize has a terrific compilation of these as well on its web site. These are great days for creating one-time, short-term group volunteering activities, including one(-ish) day “tech” activities for volunteers, like hackathons and edit-a-thons.

Is there a Semana Nacional de Voluntarios in Mexico or Spain? Or Semaine Nationale des Bénévoles in France? If you know of other weeks meant to celebrate volunteers, let me know (please include a link to the official web site).

AmeriCorps, VISTA, other CNCS programs could soon be gone

On February 17, 2017, The New York Times reported that the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) may be among the federal programs being considered for elimination in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

As a federal agency, CNCS is the nation’s largest grant-maker in support of service and volunteering. The agency manages AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, the Social Innovation Fund, and the Volunteer Generation Fund. AmeriCorps alone engages more than 75,000 men and women in intensive service each year at more than 21,000 locations including nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country.

If you are a US citizen, I strongly encourage you to:

  1. Call your Congressional Representative and two US Senators and share your opinion about national service funding. Calling or sending a postal letter is most effective; emails are too easily ignored.
  2. Sign up to participate in the National Peace Corps Association’s National Days of Action, March 3-15, to convey to your elected leaders why these programs matter.
  3. Support the efforts of those speaking up for the Peace Corps nationwide on social media March 3 by joining the NPCA’s “thunderclap”, a coordinated social media blast.
  4. Contact your local newspapers with a letter to the editor in support of CNCS programs.

News stories & blogs re: AmeriCorps cuts:

Agencies in Oklahoma worry about fate of AmeriCorps

Denver schools brace for Trump’s proposed AmeriCorps cut

The Republican Case for Saving Americorps

Also see:

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.

Why I still don’t like “International Volunteer Manager’s Day”

logoNovember 5 is celebrated by some as International Volunteer Manager’s Day. And I’m not fond of it. I’ve said so in conversations, and in a post on OzVPM back in October 2009 . But I wanted to revisit why I’m not fond of it.

I call it “hug-your-volunteer-manager” day. I compare it to Mother’s Day.  And I don’t mean that as a compliment. 

Mother’s Day didn’t transform mothers’ lives. It didn’t elevate the status of mothers. It didn’t improve maternal health. It didn’t make women want to become mothers. It wasn’t transformative regarding how society thought about mothers. That’s what the founder of Mother’s Day wanted, and instead, she saw the day become a commercial celebration, a day of sweetness, but not substance. In fact, the person who led the campaign to adopt Mother’s Day in the USA later regretted it because of how empty and commercial the celebration was, in contrary to her intentions, and even filed a lawsuit to stop a Mother’s Day Festival.

Maybe I would be more attracted to the day if it was a day less about cute memes and inspiring quotes and was, instead, devoted to encouraging people that are in charge of the engagement of volunteers to:

  • go to their supervisors and ask for salary and budget increases
  • put themselves on the agenda to address their organization’s board of directors regarding the importance of quality volunteer support and ask for a larger budget for this support
  • write their local newspapers and blog in response to whatever the latest volunteerism campaign is (because there is ALWAYS one going on somewhere), debunking myths like “volunteers are free” and talking about why volunteer management is essential to such a campaign’s success (and writing the campaign leaders as well)
  • have a meeting with the person responsible for the annual report to present a proposal regarding how the contributions of volunteers will be noted in the next annual report, and absolutely refuse for that information to be presented in terms of money
  • launch a new, updated, detailed section of the organization’s web site that gives volunteers as high a profile as donors, and ensure that the link to “support us” doesn’t just link to a page on how to make a cash donation
  • use social media to promote the impact of volunteers at the organization, or to assert volunteers aren’t cost-free, or to push back against those that want us to value volunteers primarily in terms of money saved by not paying staff
  • develop an action plan for the next year with concrete actions to elevate the role of volunteers and volunteer management within the organization (the board, the staff, partner organizations, etc.)
  • present a strategy to expand the engagement of volunteers at the organization
  • present a strategy for training staff to work better with volunteers, create more assignments, etc.
  • vow to never, ever write another Facebook post or blog or online discussion comment whining about how overworked and underpaid they are – or at least not to write one for six months.

No pins. No mugs. No flowers. No posters. No t-shirts. No buttons. No badges. No memes. Not for this day. Instead, concrete, even provocative, action, by managers of volunteers – real activism – to elevate respect for their roles and their work, to increase the recognition of the vital importance of volunteerism specialists, so much so that people choose it as a career. To be transformative regarding how society thought about volunteer engagement and those in charge of such.

Wikipedia needs improvement re: volunteerism-related topics

wikipediaI’ve been updating Wikipedia again. I do that from time-to-time. This time, specifically, I’ve been updating information regarding days, weeks and months that have been designated for volunteers or about volunteerism by a major organization, a country or the United Nations, as well as updating information about organizations and associations for those that manage volunteers. You can see all my updates on Wikipedia, ever, here.

It’s unfortunate that there is no program or organization – not one – that sees what I’m doing on my own, when I have time, as an independent, lonely volunteer, as part of its own mission. The result of this lack of an official champion to mobilize contributors is that Wikipedia is severely lacking in accurate information related to volunteerism, and the volunteerism field is losing a lot of its history. For instance, many major events related to volunteerism aren’t mentioned on Wikipedia or are barely mentioned, like the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future, a major event in 1997 in Philadelphia headed by then President Bill Clinton and former President George H. Bush.

But I’m getting tired. Cleaning up Wikipedia and making it an accurate, content-rich resource regarding volunteerism should be a group effort – it shouldn’t just be me. Because I don’t have time and I don’t have all the knowledge! And it shouldn’t be ad hoc, because what’s happening is that people are going on to Wikipedia and changing content on pages related on volunteerism based on how they feel, not based on facts and cited sources, and they know that no one is going to find their edits, because no one is really watching.

There should be an official edit-a-thon to make Wikipedia an accurate, content-rich resource regarding volunteerism. And I just do not have the resources, on my own, to organize an edit-a-thon. I would love to be a part of such an effort – and with funding, I would be happy to organize it, to ensure a range of people and organizations are involved. An edit-a-thon would get a lot of pages created, updated, and linked together, as appropriate, in a two days. It would be a concentration of forces to get the bulk of the work done quickly. It would help people after the hack-a-thon keep contributing accurate, appropriate information. It would create benefits long after the edit-a-thon ended.

Oh, well… in the meantime, below is what I’ve outlined as needing to be done on Wikipedia regarding volunteerism, in case anyone out there wants to help.

Pages that need to be created on Wikipedia:

Pages related to volunteering that need updating, preferably from people intensely familiar with the organizations that are in charge of them (I created some of these pages, FYI, hence why they lack full info – much of what I wrote I had to track down on old web sites on archive.org because the associated web sites aren’t up-to-date for 2016):

June 20, 2017 update: I’ve created a Wikipedia page for National Philanthropy Day, November 15. It’s an observance designated by the Association of Fundraising Professionals – and AFP still doesn’t have a page, and I’ve done enough, someone else needs to create it.

Aug. 3, 2016 update: There is now an International Year of Volunteers – there is a Wikipedia page for IVY+10, and I’ve put on its “talk” page that it should be deleted, and remain a subsection of this main IYV page. I also note this on the IYV talk page. The IYV page needs much more information about national conferences that were held, publications that were made, and big events and activities that were organized in conjunction with IYV all over the world. It’s going to be a challenge, because all IYV web sites are long gone; if you remember the URL for an IYV-related initiative, you can type it into archive.org and review the old information. But do NOT cut and paste information from those sources onto the IYV page! You have to rewrite things and cite every source for every sentence or paragraph! Otherwise, the page will get deleted.

Pages that I consider a hot mess and in dire need of content improvement:

August 1, 2017 update: The Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future is currently a subsection of America’s Promise on Wikipedia. It should be its own page, with much more information.

Three pages that I’m not allowed to update anymore because other Wikipedia volunteers feel that my expertise gives me too much of a bias (oh, yeah, you read that right), but really need a cleanup:

There are Wikipedia pages regarding human resources management, but nothing on that page regarding how the management of volunteers is different, and there’s no page on the management of volunteers. There’s a page on virtual management but, again, no page on the management of volunteers. What I’m trying to say is that there needs to be a page about the management of volunteers!

One page that is decent, but needs to be reviewed to make sure it’s up-to-date: list of volunteer awards. Maybe there needs to be one page of days, weeks and years regarding volunteerism, like there is for this page for volunteer awards.

And then all of these pages need to be linked together appropriately and then be linked to and from other pages I haven’t mentioned here.

And all of that is just a START. My outline above isn’t comprehensive, and it is quite USA-centric. Volunteerism is a global phenomenon, yet you might not suspect such reading the aforementioned pages. And what are the Wikipedia pages like on these subjects in Spanish, German, French, Polish, Russian, and on and on?

Will anyone out there take up the call to host an edit-a-thon? Or will others with expertise in volunteerism join me in trying to improve these pages, without waiting for an edit-a-thon?

(Update July 21, 2016): If you decide to start helping with this effort, some advice:

  • Make sure the page you want to create doesn’t already exist under a different name.
  • Read carefully this official Wikipedia page: Wikipedia is not here to tell the world about your noble cause.
  • Make sure you keep information neutral. Write for an encyclopedia, not a brochure.
  • Use LOTS of citations for what you write, and don’t just use the official web site as your source material.
  • Look at similar pages as a template for the page you want to create or improve. For instance, I used existing pages regarding designated volunteering pages as a template to create new ones. A page on volunteer management should follow the style of the existing pages for human resources management and virtual management.
  • Once you create a page, make sure every Wikipedia page that mentions that organization or phrase links to it. For instance, whoever creates the United We Serve page needs to do a search on United We Serve on Wikipedia and make those phrases on other pages link back to the new page. Also, create links to the page under “See Also” on other pages, as appropriate. If you create a new page and don’t immediately create lots of links to it, it will be deleted.

If you decide to have an edit-a-thon to address these many problems on Wikipedia regarding its lack of accurate, complete information related to volunteering and national service, please carefully read these official Wikipedia guidelines on how to hold such.

Wikipedia has a guideline on conflict of interest that states, “You are discouraged from writing articles about yourself or organizations (including their campaigns, clients, products and services) in which you hold a vested interest.” If you represent the organization being talked about on a Wikipedia page, you are supposed to make any editing suggestions on the article’s talk page, using the template {{Request edit}}; supposedly, this will help draw attention to your request and some Wikipedian somewhere will make the edit. The reality is that this rarely happens, and your edit request may languish forever (mine do on the pages Wikipedia has decided I can’t edit anymore). By all means, use the Talk pages as recommended by Wikipedia, but once you do that, it’s best to mobilize your own volunteers that are familiar with Wikipedia and your organization to actually get these edits done.  Make sure those volunteers have user talk pages that provides full details on who they are, and their entirely volunteer, unpaid status with your organization.

volunteer engagement to promote social cohesion, prevent extremism?

social cohesionThere will be a conference in Brussels, Belgium on 13 October 2016 regarding the possible role of volunteer engagement in promoting inclusion and preventing extremism.

Examples from across Europe and beyond, such as from South Africa, Colombia and Algeria, will be reviewed to explore ways that volunteerism has contributed to building trust and social cohesion. The conference will also discuss elements and factors that are essential for success in such endeavors. The examples will be included in a publication that “will offer analysis of the challenges faced in Europe concerning social inclusion and the risks of extremism from different belief groups and explain how the volunteer projects contribute to addressing these issues.”

The conference is being promoted by the European Volunteer Centre (CEV), supported by the European Commission. The event will be organised in the framework of the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union and with the support of London House and Team London (European Volunteering Capital 2016).

There are lots of ways for an organization that involves volunteers to be thinking about inclusiveness in its volunteer engagement, even if social cohesion or community building isn’t explicitly stated in its mission. For instance:

Also see these related resources:

Firsts… or almost

logoI didn’t invent virtual volunteering. I started involving online volunteers in 1995, and did a workshop that same year about it for what was then the Nonprofit Center of San Francisco (now Compasspoint), but I didn’t know it was called virtual volunteering, a term coined by Steve Glikbarg at what was then Impact Online (now VolunteerMatch), until more than a year later. I know, and frequently remind people, that online volunteers have been providing services to various causes since the Internet was invented, long before I got online in the 90s. But I was the first to try to identify elements of successful engagement of online volunteers, via the Virtual Volunteering Project, I think I was the first to do a workshop on the subject, even if I didn’t call it that, and I’m very proud of that.

I didn’t write the first paper on using handheld computer tech as a part of humanitarian, environmental or advocacy efforts – I wrote the second. At least I think it was second. It was published in October 2001 as a series of web pages when I worked at the UN, at a time when handheld tech was called personal digital assistants, or PDAs. People are shocked that the predecessor to the smartphone and cellphone was used to help address a variety of community, environmental and social issues before the turn of the century, that apps4good isn’t all that novel of an idea.

And I probably didn’t write the first papers on fan-based communities that come together because of a love of a particular movie, TV show, comic, actor, book or genre and, amid their socializing, also engage in volunteering. Those kinds of communities played a huge role in my learning how to communicate online with various age groups and people of very different backgrounds, which in turn greatly influenced how I worked with online volunteers. In fact, I can still see some influences of that experience in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. But I stopped researching them in 1999. So I was quite thrilled to recently to find this paper, “The media festival volunteer: Connecting online and on-ground fan labor,” in my research to update a page on the Virtual Volunteering wiki that tracks research that’s been done regarding virtual volunteering. It’s a 2014 paper by Robert Moses Peaslee, Jessica El-Khoury, and Ashley Liles, and uses data gathered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, in September 2012. It is published on Transformative Works and Cultures, an online journal launched in 2009 that looks at various aspects of fan fiction (fan-created fiction inspired by their favorite movies, TV shows and books), comic book fandom, movie fandom, video game fandom, comic and fan conventions, and more.

It’s nice being a pioneer… though I don’t think my early contributions are much to brag about. But I do enjoy seeing things I thought were interesting back in the 90s finally getting the attention they deserve.

Also see

Early History of Nonprofits & the Internet.

Apps4Good movement is more than 15 years old

vvbooklittleThe Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, a book decades in the making, by Susan J. Ellis and myself. Tools come and go, but certain community engagement principles never change, and our book can be used with the very latest digital engagement initiatives and “hot” new technologies meant to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference.