Using Internet & Smartphone Tools to Engage & Support Volunteers (April 2013,


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Thanks to the Internet and handheld computers like smart phones, it's never been easier for nonprofits, schools, libraries, government programs and other mission-based initiatives to keep volunteers feeling supported, informed and valued. But how do you communicate all you need to without overwhelming volunteers? How do you appeal to the many different communications styles among volunteers? How do you keep your messages from being drowned out from the growing volume of online "noise" and landslide of information and Internet memes? And how do you integrate online communications with your many different other priorities? This lively discussion will explore all this and more!

Jayne Cravens is an internationally-recognized trainer, researcher and consultant. She is a pioneer regarding the research and practice of virtual volunteering, and she is a veteran manager of various local and international initiatives. She has been quoted in articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press, as well as for reports by CNN, Deutsche Well, the BBC, and various local radio and TV stations. Resources from her web site,, are frequently cited in reports and articles by a variety of organizations, online and in-print. She is currently based near Portland, Oregon in the USA.

A recording from PDXTech4Good, a free monthly gathering of nonprofits, techies and activists in Portland, Oregon. More information:

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Using Internet & Smartphone Tools to Engage & Support Volunteers (April 2013,

  1. 1. TechTools 4 Good:Using Internet &Smartphone Toolsto Engage & Support VolunteersForJayne Cravens, MSc
  2. 2. Todays modus operandi● There are no stupid questions.● Please clarify jargon du jour.● Everyone in this room has knowledge worthsharing. Lets hear about it.● Everyone in this room is doing something well.Lets hear about it.● Not offering concrete, absolute blueprints. YMMV.● Conflict is healthy!● I dont have all the answers. No one does.● Please be present; please participate.
  3. 3. Tech During the WorkshopYou are free to tweet & micro-blog duringpresentation. HOWEVER, in the interest ofrespecting everyone in this room.● Please turn your phone off or to vibrate.● If you get a call during this presentation, or anemail that you need to respond to, please leavethe room to talk/respond.Please be present during the presentation. We loveto see your eyes.
  4. 4. All of todays resource materialsFound throughout:
  5. 5. Why listen to me?● I read & research re: volunteer/communityengagement, talent management,communications, and anything that might berelated to such.● I regularly write & train on volunteerengagement, including using the Internet tosupport and involve volunteers.● Im considered a pioneer!● I support and involve volunteers.● I volunteer.
  6. 6. What are volunteers?Volunteers are people who undertake tasks foryour organization but are not paid:● board members● committee members● pro bono consultants● employees on loan● people who are assigned community service● people who contribute to your online community● ushersYour definition can be different, but thispresentation uses this definition for volunteers.
  7. 7. Why involve volunteers?Say why, but with this restriction:You cant say its to save money.
  8. 8. Why involve volunteers?● Involving volunteers -- representatives of the community -- can helpeducate the community about what the organization does.● Volunteer involvement demonstrates that the community is invested in theorganization and its goals.● Involving volunteers can help your organization reach particulardemographic groups -- people of a particular age, in a particularneighborhood, of a particular economic level, etc., especially groups whomight not be involved with your organization otherwise.● Volunteers can provide additional evaluation of your organizationsoperations and services● Involving volunteers can be a reflection of your organizations mission.● Volunteers may become, or refer, financial donors.● Volunteers may become, or refer, clients.● Volunteers may have connections at companies or organizations you wantto work/partner with.● Volunteers may be the best people for the task.
  9. 9. Why not say volunteers save $$?Why do you think saying that you involvevolunteers in order to save money is a badidea?
  10. 10. Geesh, Jayne,when are yougoing to talk aboutTECH?!
  11. 11. Single most important element tokeeping volunteers & to their doingquality, much-needed work:great support
  12. 12. Volunteer support means:● Volunteer opportunities are easy for potential volunteersto review and apply for.● Expectations of the volunteer are clear to everyone.● Expectations of the organization are clear to everyone.● Tasks are detailed and well-communicated.● Questions are welcomed, responses are rapid.● Volunteer contributions are frequently recognized.● Volunteers see their contributions make impact.Volunteer Engagement fails without propersupport.
  13. 13. Techtools can be used for every stepof volunteering process● Identifying tasks/opportunities/roles for volunteers● Recruiting volunteers● Expressions of interest from potential volunteers● Screening volunteers● Orienting/training volunteers● Scheduling volunteers● Volunteers engaging in the task or role (virtualvolunteering)● Volunteers communicating/working with staff (and evenwith each other)● Tracking volunteer progress● Recognizing volunteer contributions
  14. 14. However...
  15. 15. Think beyond "Is there an app forthat?"Your techtool choice is less important than:● the support you have for staff & volunteers tounderstand how volunteer engagement issupposed to work at your organization● the ways you create commitment amongstaff & volunteers regarding communications& support● your understanding of the essentials ofsuccessful volunteer management
  16. 16. Bad news: not everyone is onlineEven in Oregon.Not everyone has a smart phone either.The less flexible you are in terms of two-waycommunications with volunteers, the lessdiverse your volunteer corps will be.
  17. 17. Differences among volunteers● What different demographics do theyrepresent?● Do they all do the same things at your org?● Do they all like the same kinds ofassignments?● Do they all communicate the same way?● Do they all have the same kind of computersand smart phones?
  18. 18. Making decisions on tech tools● Know how your volunteers prefer to communicate● Know how those that work with volunteers prefer tocommunicate● Look at whats working well offline, & think about how toreplicate that online● Have a plan for introducing the tech tool that sells it tovolunteers and staff● Have a plan for ongoing support, rewarding adopters,etc.● Have a plan for evaluating the success of the tech tool& identifying problems● Know your budget
  19. 19. Getting everyone to use a tech tool● You may require volunteers to use certaincommunications tools (online group, text messagingon a phone, Twitter) regularly (note there areconsequences of doing this).● YOU have to use all tools you want others to use.● In addition to requiring volunteers to use certain tools,you should reward them for using such.● Continual show VALUE of the tool (real, not justabstract).● Training & support, training & support, training &support.
  20. 20. Essential: online group(s) for yourvolunteers● Allows anyone to communicate, anytime● Allows for easy, quick sharing ofcommunications● Allows volunteers to reference documentsanytime● Creates an automatic, ongoing record ofexchanges
  21. 21. Options for onlinegroups/collaboration abound● YahooGroups (my fav)● GoogleGroups● Google docs/drive● MiniGroup (also a fav - very affordable)● Ning● Basecamp● Huddle● Wikispaces● Microsoft Sharepoint● & on and on....Which is "best"? Depends on YOU!What do you use?
  22. 22. Tools for screening potentialvolunteers● Email● LinkedIn profiles (but maybe not Facebook)● Skype, iVisit & Google Hangouts● Online tools for criminal background checks● Whether or not the candidate signs up foryour online groupWhat do you use?
  23. 23. Tools for orienting/trainingvolunteers● Email● Web-based material● YouTube● WebEx, AnyMeeting, other webinar software● Volunteer looking at something online whileyou talk on the phoneWhat do you use?
  24. 24. Tools for Scheduling Volunteers● GoogleDoc spreadsheet● Google or Yahoo Calendar● Twitter● Specialized software ( do you use?
  25. 25. Virtual Volunteering● Its a practice thats as old as the Internet● Volunteers undertaking assignments, in wholeor in part, via their computers, tablets, smartphones, etc.● Includes telementoring, microvolunteering,crowd-sourcing, pro bono telecommuting, etc.● Can be long-term assignments,microassignments, ongoing, short-term, requirelots of screening & training or none at all● Boundaries between online volunteering andtraditional volunteering are pretty much GONE
  26. 26. What do online volunteers do?● translate documents● research subjects● create web pages● edit or write proposals,press releases, articles,etc.● develop curriculum● design a database● design graphics● provide legal, business,medical, agricultural or anyother expertise● counsel people● tutor or mentor students● moderate onlinediscussion groups● write songs● create a podcast● edit a video● monitor the news● answer questions● tag photos and files● offer opinion or feedback● manage other onlinevolunteers
  27. 27. Let online volunteers decide whichdevice they will use● No need to say that an assignment is bestvia a computer versus a smart phone ortablet; offer the assignment and letvolunteers choose which they will use.● No need to ever say the word "virtualvolunteering" or "microvolunteering" -volunteers just want to VOLUNTEER. Theyrespond to the organizations mission andthe task (type of work, amount of timeneeded, etc.)
  28. 28. Virtual Volunteering - what are youdoing?
  29. 29. Social Media / Friend-to-FriendNetworksTwitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc. can be used for:● Recruitment● Communicating with volunteers & hearingfrom volunteers● Reminders to volunteers● Volunteer recognitionWhat do you use?
  30. 30. Volunteers sharing criticism iseasier than ever!● Theres no way to avoid it.● If you arent seeing/hearing criticism, you need to beVERY worried.● If you are seeing/hearing it, be glad - it meanscommunication lines are open.● How you handle criticism will either build or reduce trust.● See "How to handle online criticisms / conflict" for ideasthat work offline as well.(I could do an entire workshop JUST on thissubject!)
  31. 31. "I hear you"Volunteers may talk to you -but how do they knowthey are being heard?How can use tech to let them know they arebeing heard?
  32. 32. Communicating withoutoverwhelming● IMO, the more messages you send in a week, the lessimpact each message has.● People need to hear critical messages numerous ways(email, onsite meetings, etc.), but NOT every messageis critical.● People will almost always say they are receiving toomany messages.● Look at RESULTS of your messaging to determine if itstoo much or too little, adjust accordingly.● Adjustments must be made regularly.
  33. 33. Other volunteer support withTechTools● Using the Internet to Recognize Volunteers& Their Contributions● Using TechTools to Recruit Volunteers(recruitment is the easy part!)● Online safety, confidentiality, security, etc.● Evaluating volunteer contributions/impact● Evaluation your support for volunteersPlease see my web site:
  34. 34. REMINDER: Getting everyone to usea tech tool● You may require volunteers to use certaincommunications tools (online group, text messagingon a phone, Twitter) regularly (note there areconsequences of doing this).● YOU have to use all tools you want others to use.● In addition to requiring volunteers to use certain tools,you should reward them for using such.● Continual show VALUE of the tool (real, not justabstract).● Training & support, training & support, training &support.
  35. 35. Resources to check outSee their web sites, follow them on Twitter &/orFacebook, sign up for their email newsletters:NOVAAhttp://www.novaa.orgEnergize, Inc.http://www.energizeinc.comTechSoup Online Community Forum(lets continue the discuss here!)
  36. 36. Stay in Touch!My web site: coyotecommunications.comLinks there to my:● blog● Facebook page● Twitter feed (jcravens42)● email newsletter (Tech4Impact)Also, see you on the TechSoup.orgCommunity Forum for further discussions!