Revised as of November 7, 2015

A free resource for nonprofit organizations, NGOs, civil society organizations,
public sector organizations, and other mission-based agencies

Jayne Cravens,

Why Every Staff Person Should Regularly Read
At Least One Online Discussion Group
So, what online discussion groups does your staff read regularly?

Hello? That's not e-crickets I hear, is it?

Each and every employee should be a part of at least one online discussion group, and subscribe to at least one email newsletter, relating to their job. Encourage it. REQUIRE it!!

Why? This activity offers a simple, easy way to get employees connected to important news and resources they need in their jobs, It's professional development right from a desktop! (or a smart phone)

For instance, a receptionist in charge of inputting information into a database could be encouraged to join a discussion group relating to the database software she or he is using. The employee can ask questions of other users and build his or her own capacity to better use the software and manage the data.

Another example: a manager of volunteers could use an online discussion group of other managers, or even HR managers from the private sector, to learn about screening potential candidates, or recruiting candidates from under-represented populations (teens, seniors, people with disabilities, etc.). The manager could also offer tips based on his or her own experience, highlighting best practices by your agency.

Online discussion groups and email newsletters offer both the new and veteran nonprofit employee and volunteer important resources that can help in the work place, and reminds staff that there is a big world out there with tools, information, people and ideas that can help support their work. It can reinforce what they learn in trade magazines, conferences, workshops and other traditional offline sources.

Another benefit is that online discussion groups help employees learn to communicate online, and this is a valuable skill in any profession, in any sector, as more and more business is conducted via the Internet.

And yet another benefit: employees can keep an eye out for discussions of your organization online. This can help your staff see how your work and the issues your agency is concerned with are perceived in the public.

If you trust your employees to attend workshops or conferences, take classes to support their work, participate in panel discussions, have lunch with business associates, etc. on company time, you should trust them to participate in online discussion groups.

The time spent on an online discussion group that supports an employee in his or her work is more than made up for in the time it saves employees in struggling by themselves with a particular issue that they and other staff do not have expertise in. Your organization also benefits in that staff are connected to knowledge and resources they can use in the work place almost immediately. Do NOT fear it! Encourage it! Provide guidelines for it!

Make joining an online discussion group part of each employee's professional development plan. Talk to each about areas he or she needs better support to meet expected goals, or professional areas he or she would like to grow in. Put a limit on the amount of time employees should spend lurking or posting to online discussion group each week (one hour is a good place to start). Require that employees submit the name and focus of any online discussion group they want to join to their supervisor, and to include, in their regular reports to supervisors, what they have learned from or contributed to online discussion groups.

And make sure you talk to employees about what is and isn't appropriate to discuss on an online discussion group, particularly if they are using an email address, computer and Internet access associated with your company.

You may require employees to put a signature on all of their online posts, to affirm that they are associated with your company and promote your organization's web address. You may also want to require employees to include some kind of disclaimer in their signature, such as "The views expressed here are not necessarily those of such-and-such company."

For advice on how to participate in online groups, see this resource, The dynamics of online culture & community.

Where to find appropriate online groups? Contact any professional association to which you belong, to find out if they have an online forum for members; some will be email-based, and others will be web-based. For other types of groups, try going to Google and typing in what you are looking for, such as:
-- human resources "online discussion"
-- shelter management online discussion group
-- nonprofit marketing "online discussion"

Also try keywords to search for groups hosted by:
-- Yahoogroups
-- Googlegroups (formerly DejaNews)
-- Official catalog of LISTSERV® discussion groups

LinkedIn has a growing number of online groups devoted to particular topics, and has the advantage that you can look up the profiles of people participating in a discussion, to see their credentials.

Facebook also has groups devoted to specific topics, including professional topics, but not everyone is comfortable mixing their professional activities with their social lives.

You can also see which online discussion groups to which I belong.

See more resources re: Community Relations, With and Without Technology

If you found this page helpful, let others know:

Also see

My academic / research work at my profile on Most of the academic articles that have cited my work regarding virtual volunteering are listed at my Google Scholar account.