April 22, 2015
A few weeks back I received notice of a piece of newly-published New Zealand research on digital proficiency in the NFP Sector. It came via my email inbox of course, and though I am no great shakes in computer literacy and technological competency I do know what a necessary asset these skills are for all things volunteering, and for volunteer organisations.
I have lamented for a long time about the often poor and inadequate use of technology. Goodness, it’s nearly five years since I wrote about making websites attractive for volunteers. And still I come across inadequate and out-of-date information, misleading links, and a sort of stone-walling that looks like the organisation has something to hide. I’ve preached about more effective use of social media too, and making space for volunteer on-line participation.
Anyway the analysis of digital proficiency in the research is pretty-much spot on. The report says the NFP Sector is under pressure to do more with less: Government wants to reduce spending; traditional sources of funding are shifting; and supporters want to see the impact of their investment. Organisations that are digitally proficient are better placed to respond in a challenging environment, and there are gains to be made across a range of NFP operations.
It is possible these findings could be extrapolated to a global sphere: “there is no significant difference between IT capability levels between metropolitan and regional-based organisations, or across Australia and New Zealand”. That is not to say Aussies and Kiwis are just the same: there are distinct cultural differences, despite our neighbourliness.
Other results show that less than half of research participants have an IT plan; that there is a positive correlation between IT capability and revenue generation; and that capability is not relevant to organisation size and complexity. And still 11% of organisations do not have or use a website. There’s a heap of challenges to make IT more productive of course, starting with affordable and skilled technical resources. Staff training is high on the list, and making the most of new IT developments is also important.
But wait, there is more. A Facebook link turns up: Tech is Everyone’s Job. Because Tech is also the space for innovation, and lack of staff training and opportunities to test new processes becomes a barrier to effective organisation progress. Right? Just see what Chief Executives are missing when they refuse to use social media.
There is a heap of stuff available urging digital proficiency. There’s also a deal of research and statistics on internet connectivity and use. What about volunteer involvement in their organisation’s on-line activity?
When the idea of volunteers being let loose on social media is raised I hear objections that come close to outrage. I sigh, for this indication of such a lack of trust, that volunteers will abuse the system and risk the organisation’s credibility – which I note is a slur rarely applied to paid staff. With a well-drafted policy to cover and manage perceived risks (and there are examples) volunteers could prove a real asset in promoting good news and even attracting donors’ attention.
Let’s make volunteers and volunteering digital-friendly, and up on the spectrum of technological competence – as well as getting some up-skilling in digital proficiency for organisations.
April 1, 2013
What do you reckon? How does your organisation rate for effectiveness in what it does? What is your performance rating? Can you ring the bell at the top of the scale? Bottom line question: what is the return to donors and funders for their investment in the services provided by your organisation?
There’s a global push these days to find answers to these questions, putting pressure on NGOs and NFPs to lift their game. Do not mistake me, I am all for demonstrating impact and effective social change, but why do I feel like a captured mouse being teased by the cat? Or like the caged big cats being whipped along by the circus ringmaster?
When you de-code the signals you can see how philanthropic donors and funder contracts are controlling and directing the community and voluntary sector environment. There’s a sinking lid on what we are allowed to do in the name of ‘charity’, as well as reduced funding. It’s like there is a takeover in progress, and we are letting it happen, being sucked into the ways and means of the public and private sectors. Corporate sponsorship and partnerships with business are attractive to get leverage and influence for social change, but how long before we are dancing to the whims of the corporation’s board? To the tune of the latest marketing programme? Or to the political good idea that gets turned into a statutory regulation?
The language of inputs / outputs / outcomes, of efficiency and effectiveness has been around in business for decades, and community and voluntary organisations have made efforts to record their work along these measures. But nothing is clear-cut, and I have yet to see a proven methodology for measuring outcomes and impact that works for the NFP sector.
Years ago I had to persuade a new manager who had come from a canning factory that disabled people were not cans of peas; they did not roll off an assembly line in neatly packaged ways; and really, there were multi-multiple factors to take into account in service planning and delivery, and in what could be counted as measures of ‘success’.
It’s still much the same these days. Consider Buddy or Befriending programmes for example – they are out there in organisations for the elderly, in mental health programmes, in services for disabled people, for de facto grand-parenting and parent support groups, and for disaffected youth. Think about the multiple stakeholders who could be involved in these services: funders and donors; the provider organisation; families; volunteers, and hello! the manager of volunteers who is responsible for making the programme work and best possible experience for the volunteer and for service users.
The impact of services like these goes in several directions. Families and individuals get support / advice / information to keep on keeping on and to take new leaps into the future. The organisation takes another step in fulfilling its mission, and maybe reporting to funders and donors on real achievements. Volunteers gain in their personal sense of well-being, and in health benefits. There are spin-off benefits for other health and welfare organisations, and for government services. Managers of volunteers can glow with pride when they see what a great team of volunteers they are leading and what they have achieved. The spread of impact goes way beyond performance indicators and a one-eyed review of measuring what the organisation does, even if we are not talking it up, or making formal assessment of achievements. That is Civil Society for you, a large amorphous collective that keeps on keeping our communities and societies keeping on.
We should not need to be reminded about the role and function of Civil Society. We should not need to recall there is a much larger view of the world than profit and loss accounts, of measuring outcomes and impact and social change. Civil Society is the third leg of the stool that vies for social harmony at local, national and global levels. As a significant part of Civil Society our community and voluntary sectors offer a countervailing force against the might and main of government and big business. Do not let us lose traction by succumbing to hard-nosed political dogma, nor in being seduced by the attractions of social enterprise or the lure of venture capital and other funding arrangements.
But do – please – let us work together to find ways to report on achievement, successes, volunteer stories, and what really works to create change. We – the community and voluntary sector, and the managers of volunteers – need to state our case, and to stake a claim in the politics of impact measurement.
March 17, 2013
The phenomenon of social media has spawned a raft of new ways to communicate, for business, for politicians, and for the voluntary sector – which has also generated significant commentary, on websites and in print.
In the on-line course Essentials of Volunteer Management participants are asked to comment on the advantages and disadvantages of using social media for recruitment. Mostly the responses are “we don’t”, and reservations are sometimes based on unfamiliarity with the facilities social media can offer.
Yes, as Susan J Ellis points out, social media is not always the ideal medium for recruitment messages: there are other fundamentals to take into account. And as we all know, it is word-of-mouth that proves the most effective tool for engaging new volunteers. Yet I am impressed with the promotional information and volunteer opportunities put up on Facebook by Volunteer Centres. In their role as brokers between organisations and prospective volunteers they are offering new opportunities for both parties. Mostly the messages are short and snappy and accompanied by a photograph, plus clear contact details.
Why should NGOs and not-for-profit organisations be bothering with social media? If you have a well-produced and inter-active web-site and regular e-newsletters what more do you need?
Well – social media is just the best communication tool for reaching the widest possible audience and for dispersing information and promoting organisational interests. Just think how popular crowd-sourcing and on-line fundraising has become. Notice how often a message or a video-clip can ‘go viral’ and become part of popular culture.
After all, says a UK fan, social media is designed to be fun, straightforward and easy to use, and with millions of potential supporters accessible online it’s too good an opportunity to miss.
Quite – especially when I want to keep in touch with Gen Y friends and find they are never checking their email inbox.
Of course, for all my enthusiasm there are still disadvantages to consider when thinking about using social media.
Here’s the advice from a for-profit business perspective * :
- It takes time: it’s a constant investment
- Target which channel you want to use, likely to be used by your consumers
- What are your objectives? To gain sales; build profile; communicate with members only?
- You need to have something interesting to say: be instructive, informative, controversial or humorous – otherwise your efforts will be simply social media white noise
- Is social media relevant to your target market? Test and measure its value to your business
For NGOs and Non-Profit organisations the best resource is the information offered by Jayne Cravens . Her advice and commentary, plus extra links, cover most of the points made above. There are risks to manage: you need a written policy on staff and volunteer online engagement as representatives of the organisation. It takes time to get results; you have to really get engaged with online supporters. Ultimately, Jayne says, online social networks are an important part of a mission-based organisation’s box of outreach tools.
And outreach, in my book, is all that marketing and promotion we need to do in this day and age. You might think it ironic that I am not a Tweeter, and a minimal contributor to Facebook – but I do know a good thing for community organisations when I see it. And I do like to push out boats on this blog.
* Drawn from an article in Dominion Post, Februay 25, 2013
August 28, 2011
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.