October 17, 2010

Webwatching

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Valuing Volunteers at 2:54 am by Sue Hine

The Internet is such a great invention.  All that information, that knowledge sharing, the marketing, the social media chatter – I can no longer enjoy the bliss of ignorance.  My daily newspaper gets thinner and thinner because the news is reported on a website as it happens.  I do not write letters to friends and family any more, I just stack up the emails.  But, I draw the line at reading an e-book – because how would I curl up in bed with a lap-top or a techno-gizmo like an I-pad, or whatever-you-call-it? 

Of course there are millions of trees saved from being turned into paper, and between Google and Wikipaedia I could become a walking encyclopaedia.  And when I want to do some volunteering I can let my fingers do the walking, researching organisations and finding out how to get involved.

It doesn’t always work like that however.  Every organisation urges me to sign up to their Face-book or Twitter page, or both.  They are very good in promoting themselves, but rather short on being inviting for volunteers.

I’ve got a few criteria for marking volunteer-friendly websites:

  • I want to know what the organisation stands for, so I can figure if I want to join their tribe.  I want to see an outline of vision, mission and values, to be found either on the Home Page, or the About Us Page.  If these are not up front I have to wonder if the organisation is clear about what it does.
  • I want to find information about volunteering without having to do a time-consuming search.  Ease of navigation is critical.
  • And beyond the hype of achievements and photos of happy volunteers I am looking for real information on what is expected, the range of jobs available, and details on training – an outline of the volunteer programme that indicates a good manager at work.  I know organisations that publish brochures to attract volunteers.  Why not, for goodness’ sake, reproduce the brochure on the website?
  • My pet peeve is being referred to a box at the bottom of the page to send an email or call a phone number if I am interested in volunteering and “we will contact you”.  Because too often that call-back does not happen. 
  • Why can’t organisations get their application forms up and on-line?  Get the process rolling, the information a manager and prospective volunteers want to see?  Avoid the time and energy spent in telephone-tag.

Here is what I have found in reviewing five different organisations, all engaging a significant volunteer population.

Organisation A

I picked up a brochure which told me how sensational it would be to visit this place.  There was no website reference, so I had to resort to a Google search.  Oooh, the website is full of enticing experiences, you just have to go there, as a visitor.  Anything related to the organisation’s mission, vision and values is buried in the promotional hype. 

On the plus side is a dedicated Volunteer page.  It lists a range of volunteering opportunities, each describing what the role requires.  If I am still interested I can send an email or make a phone call.  That lowers my rating quite a bit.       

Organisation B

The Home Page makes a good start with side-bar links under the heading How do I…?  But I find volunteering is tucked under the Get Involved page.  There is a brief description of volunteer roles and expectations, and then I can fill in the Volunteer Registration form.  In addition to personal contact details I am asked to ‘tell us about yourself’.  Well, I think, I would sooner you asked what you need to know about me.  And I would like to know more about training and support and how the volunteer programme works.  And how long do I have to wait to hear back from you?

Organisation C

I was given a hard copy of the Annual Report, and right inside the front cover is a list of statements: the organisation’s vision, key objective, principles and values.  Hurrah!  Now I can see what they are on about, and decide whether I want to be part of what they do.

As a national organisation it was a bit harder to navigate this website, made more difficult when the branch I was looking for was not identified by its city location.  Information about the volunteer role and expectations was reasonably clear.  But oh dear, the point of entry was, again, just an email address and a phone number.

Organisation D

This website was a bit weird.  Yes it had a whole lot about all the volunteer programmes, but when I went to look at what was involved in a particular programme I got shunted to something quite different. 

Finally I found an application form.  It put me off to start with, to find I had to reveal a clean record up front, and whether I had any limitations.  Eventually I got to the question where I could indicate what my interests were and what time I could commit and a tick-box list for different programmes.  I was surprised to find only four of the programmes required specific training.

On the plus side I did find an excellent page on the organisation’s philosophy and policy.  You can’t have everything, but better navigation tools and a less inquisitorial application form would help.

Organisation E

Finally, bingo!  Here’s the place to go.  Home page is up front with the organisation’s vision, and a big tick goes to having values translated into Maori – haven’t seen that anywhere else.  And from the Home Page I can go directly to information about volunteering and volunteers.   There is a good introductory paragraph and then a list of volunteer roles, each with a brief description of tasks.  And I can contact the Manager of Volunteer Services by name for more details and even get a job description sent to me.  Wow!  Then, oh joy, application forms are all there to download and submit. 

Ummm… the forms are asking much more than where I live and what my phone number is.  What personal qualities make me suitable for this work?  Why do I want to volunteer?  What previous experience is relevant?  Gulp – this is like a full-on job interview, but it makes me think, and when I send off the completed form I know that’s what I want to do and why I want to be part of this organisation.  Which gives me and the manager a head start when it comes to interview time.

There are some extra big ticks.  The application form also asks me to indicate which role(s) interest me, and what time I can give – which day of the week, morning or afternoon.  It’s looking more and more like a real commitment.  Especially when there is a description of the training programme, and why it’s important, and then what sort of support is available to volunteers.

But there is one more thing this organisation could do.  Just a simple message like: If you have other interests or skills you would like to offer please contact….  It’s a way to indicate the volunteer programme is not limited to all the traditional volunteer roles, that there is a creative and switched-on manager at work who is also savvy about current trends in volunteering. 

…….

When I read how the internet can be such a great tool for non-profit organisations and the voluntary sector I expect to see a better deal for prospective volunteers like me.  After all, if volunteers are integral to service provision they need to be integrated with the organisation, a feature on the website, adding value, not being an optional extra.  Get all this right and we are going to find great leadership and a really good deal for volunteers if they are coming to meet you via Twitter or Facebook.

 See the resources page for references and more good reading.

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5 Comments »

  1. Rebecca said,

    Can I just say: I wholeheartedly agree. ?
    🙂

    Like

  2. Alison said,

    like many others I looked long and hard at your examples to see which one would be me! A great timely prompt to update information and keep it real-thanks!

    Like

  3. Sue Hine said,

    Thanks Rebecca – I’m glad you can see what I’m talking about. Of course there are heaps of opportunities to attract volunteers through using Facebook (the Canterbury shake-up showed us that) and Twitter and even You-Tube videos, but let’s make sure we get it right.

    Like

  4. […] like to get a head start by asking searching questions on the application form, as I described in a previous blog. Get beyond contact details. Ask about motivation, personal qualities appropriate for the work of […]

    Like

  5. RC Lightning said,

    I have read soo many articles concerning the blogger lovers hwever this piece of writing is really a good article, keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person


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