August 28, 2011

Volunteering: the Next Generation

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Technology, Yes but at 5:32 am by Sue Hine

Congratulations to Volunteer Wellington for offering an on-line recruitment process for member organisations.  There is an opt-out option, but the up-shot is a facility for direct communication between volunteer and organisation, without Volunteer Wellington’s intermediary role of screening volunteer interests and skills.  VW anticipate the majority of volunteers will continue to come through the current one-on-one interview process.

I sense a modicum of concern expressed in this announcement.  Maybe there is some residual anxiety about the business of real and effective communication.  Maybe there is a sense of responsibility to maintain established standards with member organisations.  By coincidence the newsletter also included an insert from my blog on volunteer-friendly websites, illustrating my views on what makes a website attractive for recruiting volunteers on-line.

The ‘next generation’ of volunteering has been around for some years, though it has not been taken up with the alacrity of a new App from Apple or Microsoft.  Volunteer Wellington has a presence on Facebook, and writes an occasional blog – cited recently as a good example in a US-based webinar for volunteer and community organisations on using social media.

Christchurch earthquakes, Queensland floods and Japan’s tsunami have shown us the utility of instant electronic communication for volunteering and for management of volunteers. The virtue of on-line volunteering is paraded around the world as a tool for enhancing the range of volunteer opportunities.  It is also welcomed by volunteers who seek time-limited do-it-from-home engagements. Micro-volunteering they call it.

Managers of volunteers are reaching beyond telephone conference calls, skype and video-conferencing: we can now engage in international seminars without leaving our desks.  (Just call them ‘webinars’.)  The savings on travel and accommodation to a conventional conference or training programme will not be escaping the budget manager’s eye.

Volunteering New Zealand offers an introductory course on managing volunteers, all on-line.  E-learning is nothing new these days.  In this programme there are six weeks of reading, video clips, weekly assignments and on-line forum participation finally a quiz to test student learning.  Tutor support and feedback is available throughout.  [Disclosure: I am the tutor for this course, and pleased to report student appreciation of content and learning.]

If people remain anxious about the quality and efficacy of communication without face-to-face interaction then let us remember the years that Youthline, Samaritans and Lifeline have been in the business of telephone counselling.  No problem in establishing working relationships here.  And if we have been communicating through the written word over centuries and continue to do so in book-publishing and newspapers, what is so different about ‘talking’ with each other through  the magic of modern technology?

Around the international traps there is much buzz about the new opportunities for volunteering, for managing volunteers and for management training.  This topic was explored last week in a webinar offered by Warrington Volunteer Centre (UK).  A summary is available here, with further links to more detailed information.  Or there is a wealth of good advice and encouragement available from US-based consultant and trainer Jayne Cravens who has been writing about effective utilisation of the internet for more than 20 years.

When you read the evidence, consider the examples, see how simple working on-line can be, you just have to grasp the nettle.  And really, it’s not so prickly.

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for your praise in today’s Blog Sue, for Volunteer Wellington’s new technological move. Direct on-line registration will no doubt appeal to many. I felt the ‘modicum of apprehension’ you picked up in our recent NEWS story was more about reassurance that people are still very welcome to come for one-on-one interview conversations. It is such a rewarding experience to introduce potential volunteers to the community sector, to actually discuss creative managers of volunteers when we know they are, and to do a bit more encouraging and describing of a role and an organisation. A sound knowledge base is our aim. Good to have both options though. We’ll let you know how things go. Pauline


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