Technology and Volunteers
Monday, 18th June 2007 at 4:31 pm
There’s no going back to pre-Web days. Email is here to stay, mobile phones are morphing into video centres and instant messaging is as ubiquitous as instant porridge. But what does all this mean to the Volunteer world right now? That’s the question being asked by international volunteer management organisation Energize Inc!
According to Energize Inc’ founder based in the US, Susan Ellis, the explosion of new technologies is an enormous opportunity for volunteerism and organisations should be making the most of it.
For many small to medium size organisations the message is that you don’t need your own IT department to use the latest technology to attract, inform and maintain your volunteer numbers.
Here are some ideas from Engergize Inc (www.energizeinc.com)
Digital photography is extremely popular, yet most of the Web sites related to volunteers have very few pictures and rarely ones that are current as of today. Yet the ease and almost no cost of digital photographs let you keep changing the visuals on your Web site as often as you wish.
Tip: Show volunteers in action, at a training session, or anything else that illuminates what it means to participate in your organization’s work.
Web sites such as Flickr (www.flickr.com) allow anyone to post photographs for public viewing free of charge.
Then, join the audio production craze. These days there are free programs that allow you to record digital sound directly onto your computer (though it helps to invest in a decent microphone) to produce podcasts.
Tip:Record training sessions, speeches, and other events. Then place snippets online – or even an entire presentation for those who could not attend in person.
Consider doing your own podcast to let volunteers and potential volunteers hear what’s happening in your organisation. Think beyond volunteer recruitment. Why not create a volunteer "podcast development unit" that works with each department in your organization to produce worthwhile public messages on all the aspects of your work?
Websites like Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net) off free, open source, cross-platform audio recording and editing software that is easy to use and is versatile enough for most situations.
(Be sure to also download the LAME mp3 encoder that is listed as an optional download so you can save your audio files in mp3 format.)
"Blogs" are logs or journals on the Web and have become both popular and easy to create. Sure a lot of them are private musings on arcane subjects, but there are also many that are truly informative.
In "A Nonprofit’s Guide to the Blogosphere" on TechSoup, ( http://www.techsoup.org/learningcenter/internet/page5509.cfm?cg=searchterms&sg=blogging) Willow Cook reports on how blogs can promote a cause and generate public awareness. The site lists free blogging tools and ways to get your blog noticed, even by the media (who go to blogs for up-to-date information they cannot find elsewhere).
Tip: What can you blog about? Anything that’s happening now: special events, conferences, volunteer projects. Volunteers can create blogs to discuss their volunteer experiences or, if privacy is a concern, you can set up an organization blog and be the one who posts comments from a variety of volunteers.
Blogs can be part of the organization’s formal Web site or can be hosted on any number of external sites. You can learn more about the ways that organizations are using blogs at the Nonprofit Blog Exchange ( www.nonprofitblogexchange.blogspot.com)
Sites like MySpace are called social networking and it’s a growing phenomenon. Most simply, social networking is posting personal or professional information about yourself to a Web site created for this purpose and then interacting online with like-minded people who find you through keyword searches (or you find them).
As always, this has captivated the young first, but all sorts of adult and professional sites are taking hold, too.
Tip: Ask volunteers whether they have posted themselves to such sites as MySpace. Then ask if they have ever mentioned the volunteer work they do with you – and, if not, would they be willing to?
See what happens if volunteers share something about why they love volunteering with your organization and mention that there are openings right now for people with X or Y skills.
Susan Ellis insists that you don’t have to learn everything in order to start testing the opportunities. You don’t even have to be the one who learns it at all.
She suggests you out a call for an "Online Test Pilot" and see if a knowledgeable and creative volunteer can 1) explain the potential of cyberspace developments, and 2) develop a strategy for trying a few new things that makes sense for your organisation.
Energize Inc has an online technology training program called Everyone Ready that is open to anyone in the world! Check it out at www.energizeinc.com/ener/everyoneready.html
For information on Australian volunteer management go to the Adelaide based organisation OzVPM (www.ozvpm.com)