Do You Remember 1983?
The year is 1983 Do You Remember...
July and August 21st Anniversary Celebration Sales
Check out this great opportunity to save 21% off publications from MBA Publishing. To order, go to the Volunteer Today Bookstore.
Return to the Menu
Technology Revolutionizes How We Work with Volunteers
by Nan Hawthorne, web content developer, and founder of CyberVPM and International Volunteer Manager Appreciation Day.
leader at one of Seattle's best-known human services organizations
once stated emphatically to a colleague, "Nobody will ever
donate money or volunteer via a web page." Here are the
facts about 2003 alone:
That's an awful lot of nobodies!
The Internet, a word which embraces both web sites and email as well as other less known electronic tools, is all about communication. While comparatively slow to catch on, people who work with volunteers have come to realize how handy it is not only for communicating about their volunteer programs and with the volunteers themselves, but in providing a profession already networking savvy with the most effective tool for learning, and connecting we ever had.
Although the Internet in general has been around in some form or another since 1959, it has been the growth of the web that has had the most impact on society at large and volunteerism in particular. The web was invented in the very early 1990s to provide easier document sharing between scientists. As it has developed, it has been used for everything from online shopping to reference material to company brochures to hobby enthusiast showpieces and as an outlet for personal creativity and communication. A report from the Pew Charitable Trusts estimated that 55% of Americans have Internet access and of these 58 million access the web at least once a day.
In terms of the use of the Internet to advance volunteerism, development of the tool has taken parallel paths. On one side is information on volunteering for those interested in lending a hand, and on the other tools for communications and learning for professional managers of volunteer resources.
Volunteer recruitment probably began before the 1990's with virtual "word of mouth" via email, newsgroups and the now mostly abandoned electronic bulletin boards. As the proliferation of the Internet is historically grassroots, similar organizations tended to make online connections, although on the whole technologically "progressive" has not coincided with politically or socially "progressive." For the more mainstream organizations the advent of the web and the ability to publish a "brochure" where anyone with access can view it has been productive for organizations as well as a time savings. Volunteers' questions are answered before they call, assuming the web information is complete and up-to-date.
The next stage of Internet-based volunteer recruitment was the development of volunteer clearinghouses with the potential for huge databases of opportunities for interested volunteers. One such, VolunteerMatch, allows visitors to search volunteer opportunities by zip code and with a number of filters (distance, frequency, cause) and allows them to signify interest on the site so the organizations may follow up.
The Internet itself has provided unique opportunities for "virtual volunteering," i.e. volunteering from one's own home or work computer. This has been a boon both for very busy individuals who must have the flexibility virtual volunteering offers and for people with disabilities or others with limited transportation options. It is a natural medium for "entrepreneurial volunteering" or volunteering independently outside the behest of an organization as groups such as charity crafters have been drawn together on online discussion groups to volunteer when they can and for whom they choose.
An oft-lamented aspect of the profession of volunteer resources management is that it is a profession no one seems to know exists. As a result a large number of people join it without knowing there is a body of knowledge they can tap into. Many new managers discover the profession, training, networking and other tools when they first sit down and Google "volunteer management." Numerous web sites have developed for the purpose of sharing these tools. A very early one was part of the Guardian Sad Lidem's pioneering web site, with articles by Steve McCurley and others. CyberVPM.com as a web resource followed the 1994 development of the first large professional networking tool online by the same name in 1995. Susan Ellis's Energize was close on CyberVPM's heels , and many others, including VolulnteerToday, have joined the community since those early days, including the ambitious and well-regarded subscription site, eVolunteerism.
How do volunteer programs use the Internet today? We conducted an informal, unscientific survey of members of the Association for Volunteer Administration's CyberVPM. All who responded use the web to recruit volunteers, through their own sites and most through the national clearinghouse sites. Several use the web to provide access to applications and other forms. Most use email to communicate with existing volunteers as well. Although a few recognize a lag between what they can provide online and whether their volunteers have Internet access in sufficient numbers. When they do communicate via email with volunteers it is for individual contact, event and other announcements and to distribute a more cost effective newsletter. We have seen volunteer recognition on many web sites, using the web to publish congratulations and photos and to attract media interest.
For their own career advancement, professionals in volunteer resource management turn to the Internet for answers to questions, for informal training, and for leads on resources they can use. Many visit volunteer management web sites on a regular basis for the new tools as well as for access to data and information on the sites. Web journals like Energize, eVolunteerism, Volunteer Management Review, Managing Volunteers and others and information sites such as Independent Sector all play a large role in informing the profession.
A third resource is community built on email, including smaller networking discussion groups and the international Yahoo group called CyberVPM. With nearly 1,000 subscribers from around the world the discussion group, now provided by AVA, gives managers of volunteers access to professionals at every level and with a broad variety of expertise. Many on the survey report satisfaction at being able to share their own knowledge and experience, and the rest list access to new ideas, an opportunity to get advice and bounce ideas off of others in their field as an invaluable tool. Many of the same people report that they have found out about books, conferences, other training, web sites, publications and other tools they may not have found anywhere but on CyberVPM. Finally, these professionals make interpersonal connections for moral support and career advancement and job leads.
Where do volunteerism, volunteer management and the Internet go from here? People are already well on the way to finding and making use of the potential of new media for community service. With more and more individuals, both in developed countries and in the rest of the world, joining the ranks of the "wired," the Internet can only continue to promote and foster connections between people and their communities, including the global. The challenge will be to embrace the tool and use it wisely so our programs neither lack nor are overwhelmed with the lightning speed of new technologies.
See our online bookstore for Nan Hawthorne's books: Building Better Relationships with Volunteers, Managing Volunteers in Record Time and Recognizing Volunteers: Right From the Start.
Return to the Menu
Words From the Past
WSU ONLINE CERTIFICATE IN VOLUNTEER MANAGEMENT
Washington State University offers a Volunteer Management Certification Program through the Internet. Individuals around the world can earn a certificate in managing or coordinating volunteers, without leaving home. For more information, visit Volunteer Today's Portal site, Internet Resources. Look for the Washington State University listing. There is a hot link to their Web site.
A Service of MBA
Publishing-A subsidiary of Macduff/Bunt Associates All materials copyright