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Learn tips and hints to use a variety of electronic and technical equipment to enhance work with volunteers.

~ August 2008 ~

Guide to Online Volunteer Management

Some organizations are trying to increase the online volunteering tasks and services provided by volunteers.  Two researchers provide suggestions on how to do it effectively in an article, ”A Nonprofit Manager’s Guide to Online Volunteering.”

The authors did an evaluation of online volunteering service, including two years of qualitative service data, followed by interviews with twenty online volunteers and more than twenty managers.  The study examined three hundred connected organizations with a pool of 10,000 potential online volunteers.  There were three clear recommendations based on the study.

Plan with Clarity

  • Those organizing online or virtual volunteering are urged to plan
  • Know what you want to accomplish
  • Make sure you can translate that into detailed assignments
  • Ask for a demonstration of the potential volunteer’s skill level (volunteers reported liking this step)
  • Know the motivation of the volunteer (volunteers base their choice of jobs on education, background, skills, things to be learned, etc.)
  • Volunteers appreciate project oriented projects, rather than the ongoing ones. (Volunteers want something limited in time and duration.)
  • Volunteers in the study provided between one and five hours per week for twelve weeks or less
  • Short, discrete assignments allow the opportunity to evaluate skills and temperament to do the job
  • Organize your recruitment and screening plan with an eye to matching people and their skills to the tasks

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

  • Regular communication motivates volunteers and clarifies tasks.  Slow responses to volunteers results in lost volunteers
  • Lack of communication is a source of dissatisfaction on the part of the volunteer
  • Volunteers want to hear about the “real” impact of their work.
  • Communication needs to be directly with the volunteer
  • Volunteers seem to appreciate the opportunity to do “trial” work as a way of evaluating their commitment, as well a qualifications.  Volunteers reported feeling they and their work was being taken more seriously
  • RESPOND to everyone.  Volunteer expressed great frustration at applying, having been accepted as volunteers and then no communication for weeks on end.
  • Volunteers report enjoyed working one-to-one with a person from the organization, although who worked in groups enjoyed that, too.
  • Most communication with volunteers is via email.  Consider other methods, such as the telephone
  • Good feedback is essential (Read article on Recruiting and Management page in Volunteer Today for help with this)

Monitor and Learn From Results

  • Gathering information needs to be intentional.  Informal information is easy to gather when one sees volunteers, but this is missing with virtual volunteers, so feedback needs to be planned in advance.
  • Regular and proactive assessment is recommended.
  • Volunteers were not given the opportunity to evaluate the program, and their performance was never assessed.
  • Retention is a problem in virtual volunteering, with few continuing for more than one assignment.  The authors suggest that more monitoring and feedback could reduce the turnover rate.
  • Maintain data on completion and retention rates.  Gather demographic and psychographic information to determine patterns.  (Completion rates in the study ranged from a low of 10% to 80%)
  • Develop a standard evaluation form for all volunteers when assignments are completed

The authors of this study acknowledge that this form of volunteering is in its infancy.  Of the 386 organization studied, 163 reported they had never listed more than two assignments for virtual volunteers.  Those organizations engaging in this type of volunteering (and managers of volunteers) should see their role as leaders in a new field of engagement for volunteers. 

Source:  Dhebar, Beatrice & Stokes, Benjamin. (2008) A Nonprofit Manager’s Guide to Online Volunteering, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 18 (4) pp497-506.


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