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Author: Baughman, Nathan, L.
Title: Virtual Resources for Volunteer Managers to Connect with Volunteers
The accompanying research report is submitted to the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Graduate School in partial
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Graduate Degree/ Major: MS Technical and Professional Communications
Research Advisor: Dr. Daisy Pignetti
Submission Term/Year: Spring 2021
Number of Pages: 48
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NAME: Nathan Baughman DATE: 4/28/2021
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Baughman, Nathan L. Virtual Resources for Volunteer Coordinators to Connect with
Volunteers
Abstract
After completing a literature review that examined sources that discusses common strategies that
successful virtual leaders use, both a survey and interview-based research study were conducted.
Survey and interview questions were focused on asking participants--eight volunteer managers at
non-profit organizations in the state of Wisconsin with active volunteer programs--if they
followed these recommended strategies and the levels of virtual integration. Participants were
also asked to comment on their impressions of virtual volunteer management to assess the
efficacy of virtual leadership strategies and identify which aspects put volunteer managers at an
advantage or at a disadvantage. The results of this research indicate that this sample of volunteer
managers found the ability to send out information more frequently to volunteers living at greater
distances from the participants’ organization site, and thus removing physical travel to be an
advantage of virtual communication. Some aspects of connection to volunteers were viewed as
improved, including volunteers having access to other staff members and more impersonal
meetings. Aspects seen as disadvantages included barriers in forming personal connections to
volunteers, frequent technical difficulties, and fatigue from a completely virtual management
system.
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Acknowledgments
I would like to thank Dr. Pignetti’s advisement over the course this research project and
her feedback on its progress. Also, each participant provided valuable insight that contributed to
the overall conclusions of this study; their contributions were greatly appreciated.
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Table of Contents
Abstract............................................................................................................................................2
List of Tables ...................................................................................................................................6
Chapter I: Introduction.....................................................................................................................7
Purpose of the Study............................................................................................................8
Definition of Terms..............................................................................................................8
Limitations of the Study.......................................................................................................9
Methodology........................................................................................................................9
Chapter II: Literature Review........................................................................................................11
Digital Literacy..................................................................................................................11
Adopting Media Trends.....................................................................................................12
Personalized Communication ............................................................................................15
Self-Care ............................................................................................................................17
Clarity in Communication..................................................................................................18
Conclusion .........................................................................................................................20
Chapter III: Methodology ..............................................................................................................21
Subject Selection and Description .....................................................................................22
Instrumentation ..................................................................................................................22
Data Collection Procedures................................................................................................23
Data Analysis.....................................................................................................................23
Limitations.........................................................................................................................24
Chapter IV: Results........................................................................................................................25
Survey Responses ..............................................................................................................25
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Interview Responses ..........................................................................................................28
Chapter V: Discussion, Conclusion, and Recommendations.........................................................34
Conclusions........................................................................................................................34
Recommendations..............................................................................................................37
References......................................................................................................................................39
Appendix A: Sample Recruitment Email ......................................................................................42
Appendix B: Pre-Interview Survey................................................................................................43
Appendix C: Interview Questions..................................................................................................48
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List of Tables
Table 1: Participant Information....................................................................................................25
Table 2: Online Platforms..............................................................................................................26
Table 3: Communication Methods.................................................................................................27
Table 4: Online Training Methods.................................................................................................27
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Chapter I: Introduction
Over the past decade, many organizations with volunteer programs have begun to include
methods of communicating and training volunteers that are virtual through webinars, digital
documents, modules, or other mediums. Social media inclusion is common, but specific tactics
can vary. Also, for both physical and virtual volunteers, there are many different styles of
trainings that are online, in person, or hybrid. In the year 2020, many organizations did not have
a choice but to overhaul their volunteer program partially or completely online because of the
COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of this research study, organizations had been implementing a
nearly full year’s worth of virtual or hybrid working strategies, including organizations with
volunteer programs. This prompted a unique opportunity to examine the outcomes of a full year
of heavy virtual integration as the efficacy of this approach is unclear for volunteer programs.
In addition, a key aspect of volunteer management is keeping a substantial personal
connection to volunteers, which is especially true for smaller not for profit organizations such
those that offer homeless or animal services and sheltering, libraries, and museums. Also, for
these types of organizations, there are many aspects of volunteer activities that rely heavily on
physical contact. Volunteer managers in these situations often employ a leadership style defined
as coaching leadership, which promotes the development of new skills, revisits company
objectives and fosters a confident company culture. Leaders who coaches are often seen as
valuable mentors (Indeed, 2020). While some research shows that it is possible to maintain
meaningful online connections to people online, whether they are employees, coworkers, or
friends, research is lacking in how this translates to smaller physical-based volunteer programs at
non-profits where volunteers carry out many in-person tasks.
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Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this research project is to identify what virtual methods and platforms
volunteer managers or coordinators are currently employing at their non-profit organization to
communicate with their volunteers. Furthermore, this research aims to investigate what
characteristics of these virtual styles provide advantages and disadvantages, and which elements
are worth continuing in the future.
The results from this project will contribute to the greater knowledge of professional
leadership, volunteerism, and virtual management. It may bring to light the methods and styles of
online volunteer leadership that could be shared and employed at other organizations. It may also
pinpoint areas that volunteer leaders might be struggling at, which could warrant further research
and development.
Definition of Terms
This research is focused primarily on the field of non-profit organizational
communication and volunteerism. There may be some terms used to describe these organizations
and their volunteer programs that might be unclear.
Management
Management describes a contractual agreement between members of the organization. A
manager’s functions are more focused on setting clear rules, explaining responsibilities, and
providing information for their people. In this study, volunteer managers are also often referred
to as volunteer coordinators which is a common title for this type of role.
Leadership
Leadership includes roles that are focused on inspiring people and recognizing conflicts
that might be present. Management and leadership, while similar, describe slightly different roles
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of an organizational member. The two often work hand in hand, but leaders are not always
managers, though effective managers often possess leadership qualities.
Methods
In the context of this research paper, a communication method is a way in which virtual
communication is sent (e.g., an email).
Platforms
A platform is the medium the communication is sent through (e.g., Gmail, Facebook,
Twitter, etc.). Social media and email services are often considered communication platforms.
Limitations of the Study
This study was limited by a few factors. They were not major detriments to the research;
however, further research studies could be carried out which omit these limitations. They
include:
• One researcher to conduct interviews, transcribe interviews, and analyze data.
• Limited technology to record interviews. Camtasia was used to record interviews.
This worked fine for video conference interviews but did not produce the best audio
quality for phone interviews.
Methodology
The next section of this paper is a literature review of the current research that has
investigated effective qualities of virtual volunteer management. Following the literature review
are the results of a research study that examined volunteer managers in the state of Wisconsin
who are employed at non-profit organizations with active volunteer programs. These volunteer
managers completed surveys and participated in structured interviews that asked questions about
their use of virtual management strategies and their impressions of these strategies. Then,
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through analysis, conclusions were made to deduce what common strategies that are used and the
efficacy of these strategies.
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Chapter II: Literature Review
The literature selected for review was written by authors who investigate and discuss the
recommended practices for virtual or online leaders for both volunteer and employee managers.
Throughout the literature selection, the amounting recommendations shaped five general themes
for virtual leadership integration, which included digital literacy, emerging media adaptation,
personalization, self-management, and clear communication.
Digital Literacy
The first theme, digital literacy, is defined as “Theory and practice that focus on digital
technology, including the ability to read, write, and communicate digital technology” (Spilka,
2010, p. 25). The cornerstone of working from home is its dependency on growing digital
technology. Leaders of virtual workers ought to possess some level of competency in being able
to use and navigate digital mediums. Whether they have been trained officially or not, leaders
must take initiative to develop their digital literary skills as it allows them to operate efficiently
and emulate competency. In a survey analysis conducted by Kane et al. (2019) about digital
leadership, the authors claim that, “Understanding technology is the third most important skill”
(p. 36) for leaders, whether the leader is among a virtual team or not. Most organizations rely on
technology to function. The ones that flourish are the ones that understand technology and
implement it effectively. A team that is not virtual will still use digital technology in some way.
A leader will then still need to understand how to use the technology that is relevant to their
work. In a blog post written on Vomo.org, the author wrote that volunteer-based organizations
use many types of technologies including Zoom platforms to hold meetings, social media for
fundraising and recruiting, and many others (Cherry, 2020). When the team is virtual, one
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change, among many other changes, is that communication then becomes exclusively virtual,
which only raises the need for digital literacy.
Acquiring digital literacy, though, is not a simple task. For some who are considered
digital natives, meaning that they were born having access to digital technology their whole
lives, digital literacy is nearly a fundamental skill. For others, who might be from older
generations or who did not have access to digital technology growing up, digital literacy is not as
intuitive and acquiring it could be challenging. However, there are still some steps that any
leader, at any level of digital literacy, could take. This could be setting aside extra time to attend
trainings for digital technology, engaging in independent research or exercise, or collaborating
with other staff members to understand the organization’s methods when it comes to using
technology. In the previously mentioned survey analysis, the authors recommended that
executives should “have ongoing continuing education sessions with your organization’s
leadership” (Kane et al., 2019, p. 38). If it is in their power, leaders themselves can facilitate
learning sessions to enhance their learning as well as others in the organization.
Adopting Media Trends
Beyond having a baseline digital literacy, it is important for leaders to be opened to
accept emerging trends in digital media. A 2017 study that examined a virtually based volunteer
onboarding program found that their participants, a group of 166 4-H volunteers, elicited positive
responses to the new program. The volunteers shown that “online education was readily
accepted” were able to articulate “concrete things learned and ideas for incorporating what they
learned,” and maintained a higher retention rate after completing the onboarding (Hein et al.
2017, p. 9). This is one example of how the shift to virtual methods is indeed beneficial for
leaders; in this context, it is for onboarding processes. Embracing the rapid changes that occur
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with technology and the uses of different mediums like social media and acknowledge their
dominance and their power to allow communication is frequently recommended by authors. In a
study conducted on organizational social media perception and integration, the authors found
that, “leaders adopt social media to engage with both internal and external audiences to
‘strengthen and leverage relationships’” (Jiang et al., 2016, p. 494). In an organizational
capacity, social media can serve as a tool to strengthen the relationship between an employee and
a supervisor. The first step is to acknowledge and accept its use, rather than dismissing it as
recreation. Then, as Jiang et al. (2016) explain, it can be used both internally and externally. It
can be used internally to connect an employee to an employee or an employee to a supervisor.
Whether it is acceptable for different workers to connect on social media, however, might
depend on the type of organization, specific roles of the workers, and which social media site is
being used. Generally, LinkedIn connections are acceptable and even encouraged between
employees, for example. Other sites including Facebook or Instagram are potentially useful.
Leaders can adopt social media for external engagement by using social media to present
information about the organization, recruit personnel, highlight specific employees or
organization affiliates, or as general advertising.
In a sense, any business or organization is comprised of bodies of both people and
knowledge. Social media could be seen as a way to “aggregate people and knowledge” (Pigg,
2014, p. 70). It serves to represent a company and create a brand. Networking happens both
within a company and from company to company through social media. In addition to a leader
adopting their own social media awareness and strategies, they must also recognize that their
workers can engage in social media activities that are productive work tasks. This could include
things like researching about another organization or contacting another organization through
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social media. Many positions have been cultivated that specifically assign individuals to working
on strategizing social media tactics. These positions have been around for around for quite a
while, and new ones will likely continue to arise as technology develops. A leader who accepts
these new responsibilities associated with emerging technology is likely to gain respect from
their workers who carry out these tasks and will allow their organization to develop overall.
All of these new abilities and trends rapidly become standard and new ones arise. A leader then
must consistently seek out new trends and coordinate its integration. For example, many
professional and non-profits organizations are creating Tik Tok accounts, a video-sharing social
network service, to promote their organization due to the rise in popularity of the service from
2019 to 2020. Non-profits especially can use Tik Tok to spread information, advertise, and raise
funds for causes (Schechter, 2020, para. 2). One organization, Oregon Zoo, used TikTok in 2020
to promote Earth Day during that year. In an article that describes the success of the video, Baker
(2020) explains, “by associating the emotive, trending song with the hashtag #EarthDay, Oregon
Zoo created viral content that resonates with animal lovers and environmentalists far beyond the
Portland, Oregon metropolitan area” (para. 3). Their video garnered 4.7 million views, 861,000
likes and 2,561 comments, which indicates that the use of emerging media sites such as TikTok
can garner attention.
Leaders might find it beneficial to assign individuals to research strategies for using this
app and coordinate projects. Kane et al. (2019) suggest that “senior leaders can enhance the
quality and speed of these expanding networks by opening doors” (p. 38). This could mean to
adopt flagship company digital products if they appear useful to the organization or allowing
new ideas to be explored and finding ways that they can be integrated into the organization.
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Personalized Communication
Understanding the grand scheme of evolving digital trends and maintaining competency
is critical for leaders. Likewise, it is equally important to recognize the details of each employee
and to know their strengths, goals, and how to motivate them. Keeping methods of
communication personalized and genuine for each employee, as much as possible, is an effective
way for a leader to guide their virtual workers.
Each person has their own approach to their work, their own motivations, and their own
responses to types of directions. In short, each team member has their have their own set of
needs in order to work comfortably and productively. A leader who takes time to ensure most, if
not all, of their team members’ needs are met is likely to motivate their employees and allow
them to succeed in their personal goals while also meeting the goals of the organization. In
guiding leaders for online volunteers, authors Dhebar and Stokes (2008) explain that, “the
motivations of the applying volunteer are often quite personal yet understanding them is critical
for the host organization’s success” (p. 500). An effective leader might make efforts to
understand these motivations intrinsic in their volunteers and assign them tasks that are,
“consistent with their education, background, or experience” (p. 500). That way, the volunteers
feel not only an obligation but a desire to carry out their tasks when it aligns with their own
motivations.
One way to carry this out is to foster interactivity with communication efforts to
employees. This could be through social media, where leaders create posts that encourage
followers to interact, including internal members. Also, interactivity and personalization could
take place during video conferences. Leaders could facilitate icebreaker or catch-up style
conversations where the team is encouraged to engage with one another personally and converse
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on informal non-work topics. In an article from the Harvard Business Review, Larson et al.
(2020) interview experienced remote leaders who reported, “virtual events help reduce feelings
of isolation, promoting a sense of belonging” (para. 18). The sense of belonging is an important
aspect of being a team member because reinforces the personal connection a worker has to their
team and their responsibilities especially during times of extensive social isolation.
In the same way that a leader addresses the personal needs for their employees, it also
beneficial for the leader to have their own personal persona in front of their team. In a study that
examined a team of participants in massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG)
situations, Lee et al. (2018) analyzed that, “online leadership influences offline leadership
through the mediating effects of game achievement and character identification” (p. 558). The
participants of the study were teams comprised of individuals with select leaders. They reported
that leaders who spent time customizing their characters and immersing themselves in the game,
allowing their personalities to show while guiding their team resulted in effective and desirable
leadership. This can be carried over to organizational leadership in that workplace leaders that
show their personalities to their employees and perhaps make use of customizable options on
different digital communication platforms and establish more desirable interactions with their
employees. The authors of the MMORPG study explain that, “participants were likely to be
immersed in games when player interactions were desirable” (Lee et al., 2018, p. 558), where
“immersion” in games could be likened “engagement” to organizational members.
Furthermore, it is just as important to give attention to workers’ responsibilities and
motivations as it is to provide emotional support. In a 2020 Harvard Business Review article, the
authors explain that effective leaders acknowledge, “the stress and anxiety that employees may
be feeling in difficult circumstances,” in addition to “providing affirmation of their confidence in
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their teams” (Larson et al., 2020. para. 20). Stress and anxiety are likely to result from major
changes with underlying challenges. A leader’s responsibility is to guide their team in
overcoming those anxieties so that they can then overcome the challenges.
Self-Care
While it is important to focus on managing a team’s productivity and checking on their
health, it is equally crucial for a leader to not neglect their own needs during their daily work life.
There are many challenges that are faced from working virtually; compounded with leadership
responsibilities, these could lead to a stressful and unhealthy working environment. A leader can
hone self-management by targeting a few specific areas.
One of these areas is concentration. A description of the virtual working environment is
offered by Cal Newport (2020) in his article published by The New Yorker, which reads, “Work
time becomes more scattered, and leisure time less pure” (para. 6). Focusing becomes more
difficult when the sense of time is distorted, and the separation of work and leisure is unclear.
Thus, authors recommend that a leader places extra imperative on cultivating a focused virtual
working environment. Having this prioritized, a leader could then help their workers develop
their own concentration strategies. In a Wall Street Journal article, the author makes several
suggestions which include, “block out times (…) to devote to finishing a task,” “taking breaks,”
and “to make your environment as work-like as possible” (Smith, 2020, para. 6). Making
intentional decisions to remove distractions and create as close to a physical workplace
environmental as possible are all methods that can be practiced helping with concentration but
keeping in mind that it might not be always possible.
It also important to practice overall healthy lifestyle patterns that help to maintain good
physical, emotional, and mental health. Continuing exercise routines, scheduling time for family
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interactions, and spending time with other personal activities are integral for good health. While
some of these might be affected greatly by travel or proximity differences when working
virtually, a good leader will make efforts to maintain a self-managed lifestyle to inspire their
team to follow their lead.
Social media, while it can be used for productivity, can also easily become a distraction.
This means that leaders need to make mindful and intentional decisions when choosing to use it
for work related purposes. Keeping in mind clear goals and objectives will help to streamline
social media use. Also, practicing time-blocking and setting deadlines, will also help. Using
time-blocking strategies can, “add structure to otherwise chaotic workdays, and can significantly
increase the amount you’re able to do in a limited time” (Newport, 2020, p. 9). While initially it
can be tiresome to employ these methods, the longer outcomes are rewarding.
Clarity in Communication
Another responsibility of leading is being able to provide direction to workers, whether
that is for everyday tasks or training programs. The literature indicates that while it is important
to provide directions that are clear and easy to follow, this might prove to be an extra challenge
for a virtual leader as communication is no longer in person and is affected by digital barriers.
However, there are certainly ways to maintain clear communication while working with
technology.
At a fundamental level, to be able to communicate clearly, a leader should consider the
overall goals of an organization, and the individual goals of each position and task. Then, clearly
defining those goals will help a leader come to a better understanding of what they need to
communicate. Dhebar and Stokes (2008) in their article implore online volunteer leaders to
“know what your organization wants to accomplish through an online volunteering program” (p.
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499). Consider what the overall mission of the organization is. Then, think about what tasks the
volunteer, or worker, will be doing virtually that will further that mission, whether it is on the
administrative side or is directly related.
Another way to enhance clarity in communication is keeping it consistent and repeated.
This means keeping up regular contact with each individual worker. This could be from any
method of contact including email, phone, or facetime; however, authors from the Harvard
Business Review explain, “Email alone is insufficient (…) Video conferencing has many
advantages, especially for smaller groups: Visual cues allow for increased ‘mutual knowledge’
about coworkers and also help reduce the sense of isolation among teams” (Larson et al., 2020,
para. 11). While email might provide less consequential functions, video conferencing is a
necessity for maintaining a strong connection to workers for the reasons listed in the article.
Programs including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Skype all offer a functional platform to
facilitate video conferencing.
These moments of contact should also be regimented. Having a set time and frequency
will ensure that the meetings are held, and that workers cultivate it into their schedule. Preparing
an agenda or list of topics will ensure that the meeting is productive or at least meaningful. The
authors from the Harvard Business Review describe these as ‘rules of engagement,’ and say,
“Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers set expectations for the
frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams” (Larson et al., 2020, para.
14). Having these expectations will motivate team members to participate in the meeting and
avoid initial confusion or ambiguity as to the purpose of the meeting.
Finally, having ways to monitor results and productivity is another way to maintain clear
communication. This could be through contact through employees, having them self-report their
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accomplishments or send in data, or other ways. However, if employees are to present their work
or results, it should not involve cumbersome or superfluous procedures. There should be some
justification for the need to report and it should be done efficiently as possible. Volunteers
especially might become discouraged when they are passionate and motivated to work on a
specific task but are slowed down by superficial procedures.
Conclusion
In summary, the authors of the selected literature recommend that leaders employ tactics
foster digital literacy, emerging media adaption, personalization, self-management, and clear
communication to succeed in the organization. Organizations that are already technology-based
appear to elicit positive responses from these tactics and are usually the ones making the
recommendations. Whether volunteer leaders for small brick and mortar organizations use these
tactics and find them to be successful remains to be investigated.
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Chapter III: Methodology
For this research project, an initial survey was sent to eight individuals who agreed to
participate in the research study. These participants all worked as volunteer leaders in some
capacity (e.g., volunteer coordinators). These participants all were employed at organizations
within the state of Wisconsin. Their identities and the name of their organizations were kept
anonymous, but the nature of their organization (e.g., animal sheltering, vocational services, etc.)
was recorded taken in their survey as well as the number of volunteers. Volunteer base for the
participants ranged from 75 to 1200 volunteers active in their volunteer program. Initial contact
with participants was made with the recruitment email shown in Appendix A. Questions in the
survey included a mixture of numerical and short answer questions and are framed at identifying
the types of digital tools that are used and how the individual rates their training. Twelve
questions were included in the survey. The survey was sent via Google Forms. Data from the
survey was then exported to Microsoft Excel so that tables could generated to examine
characteristics of each organization. An example of the survey can be found in Appendix B.
Following the survey, participants engaged in an interview to glean further information
about their online connectivity with their volunteers and impressions of using virtual
communication methods. The literature reviewed in this research paper revealed that strategies
effective virtual leaders implement include adopting media trends and personalizing
communication. The questions in the interview were framed so that participants would discuss
the degree that they followed these strategies and their overall impressions of them. Interviews
were carried out by phone or via Zoom video conferencing. Lengths of the interviews varied
across the participants but ranged from approximately 20 to 45 minutes. A sample of the
interview question template can be found in the Appendix C.
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For survey data, responses were organized into tables to characterize each participant to
describe their type of organization, the size or their volunteer base, and how much of their
program was virtual (i.e., not at all, optionally, partially, or fully). Then, mode of responses
about what methods of communication and training and platforms were examined to conclude
the common methods and platforms used by this sample. Then, once the interviews were
conducted, responses were qualitatively analyzed. An inductive coding method was used to
analyze the response.
Subject Selection and Description
All participants in this study were volunteer coordinators or managers at their non-profit
organization. Each were part of an active volunteer program, which incorporated various levels
of virtual volunteering and in-person volunteering. For example, one participant managed some
volunteers who taught online classes to youths. However, the focus was to locate organizations
that facilitated mostly in person volunteering. All participants worked at organizations located in
the state of Wisconsin. Contact information was acquired through United Way of the Chippewa
Valley’s 2020 Volunteer Guide, Volunteermatch.org, and Volunteerwisconsin.org.
Instrumentation
Surveys were distributed through Google Forms that were created by the author of this
study. The questions in the survey were reviewed by the researcher’s faculty advisor and the
Institutional Review Board staff at UW Stout. Interview questions were similarly created by this
author but were spoken during interviews on Zoom or over the phone. For Zoom interviews,
Camtasia, a screen recording software, ran during the interview to record the audio of the
interview. For phone interviews, the phone used by this interviewer was put into speaker mode
and placed the interviewer’s computer. Camtasia was used to record microphone audio.
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Participants were sent a copy of the interview questions to review if desired to prepare some
answers.
Data Collection Procedures
First, a potential participant from the United Way of the Chippewa Valley’s 2020
Volunteer Guide, Volunteermatch.org, and Volunteerwisconsin.org lists received a recruitment
email, shown in Appendix A. Once a response was given confirming a desire to participate,
individuals were sent a link to the Google Forms survey to consent to participate, complete the
survey, and provide availability for an interview. Once completed, this researcher proposed a
time to the participant for the interview to take place via email. Once a time was confirmed, this
researcher shared a private Zoom meeting link to the participant or confirmed a phone number to
call. During the interview, Zoom’s record feature recorded the researcher’s computer video and
audio to capture the interview for Zoom interviews, along with the screen recording software
Camtasia as a backup which ran simultaneously during the interview. For phone interviews,
Camtasia captured microphone audio while the phone was put on speaker during the interview.
Finally, each interview was reviewed and transcribed into Microsoft Word.
Data Analysis
For survey data, responses were organized into tables to characterize each participant to
describe their type of organization, the size or their volunteer base, and how much of their
program was virtual (i.e., not at all, optionally, partially, or fully). Then, the mode of responses
for what methods of communication and training and platforms were examined to conclude the
common methods and platforms used by this sample.
To analyze the interview data, an inductive coding analysis approach was adopted. After
all interviews were conducted and transcribed, the author searched through the content to
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identify common themes within the response. As the interviews were semi structed with the
same questions being asked in every interview (as seen in Appendix C), the responses were
grouped into three main themes, which include dispositions towards volunteer online connection,
disposition towards online volunteer training, and disposition towards work environment. Then,
for each area, the themes of participant responses were categorized to whether they learned more
positive or negative towards the virtual approach and were finally categorized into finer codes
that can be found in section two of the results.
Limitations
This study was limited to the scope of non-profit organizations in the state of Wisconsin
and ones listed on United Way of the Chippewa Valley’s 2020 Volunteer Guide,
Volunteermatch.org, and Volunteerwisconsin.org by the choice of the author. Further studies
could examine a wider range of organizations. Due to time constraints, the author was able to
recruit eight participants. Further studies could include a larger sample size. One other limitation
was that the type of participants’ non-profit organization included a majority of human-service
organization, as opposed to animal services or agriculture. While there are no assumptions made
that this had a major effect on the results, there is a chance that this limitation had some affect.
One possible speculation is that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were different for
human-services organizations as roles for volunteers sometimes involve direct contact with other
people and are often indoors, while animal services and agricultural organizations involve less
human contact and can be outdoors. Therefore, the latter two types of organizations could
potentially retain more volunteers during this time.
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Chapter IV: Results
The purpose of this research was to investigate the virtual resources and methods
volunteer managers use at their non-profit organizations, and the quality of connection it fosters
with their volunteers. The first method of inquiry was a survey, where each participant answered
questions about their type of organization, the types of tools each uses, and their perceptions of
the quality of their trainings and overall connections. The second method of inquiry was through
structured interviews, where participants answered questions that were intended to reveal more
personal testimony on the participants experiences and observations with using virtual resources.
Survey Responses
Table 1 displays the general overview of each participant and their organization, each
designated by a reference number. The most common type of organization was human services,
which encompassed a broader group of organizations with volunteer programs that served
homeless, runaway youth, elderly, and other populations. The sizes of the organizations’
volunteer count ranged from 75 to 1,200 volunteers.
Table 1
Participant Information
Number Organization Type Volunteer Count
Volunteer Training
Format
1 Human Services 200 Online options
2 Animal Services 850 Partially online
3 Human Services 150 Partially online
4 Human Services 75 All in person
5 Agricultural 1200 All in person
6 Education 700 Partially online
7 Animal Services 400 Partially online
8 Human Services 250 Partially online
26
Further questions in the survey asked about specific platforms and methods of
communication the participant used. Platforms included Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, Facebook, or
any other type of service or application that would act as a medium for communication. Table 2
displays how many participants reported using each platform. Microsoft Outlook and Facebook
where the top two most used platforms. Instagram and other social media (unspecified) were the
least two used.
Table 2
Online Platforms
Platform
Number of participants
who use it
Gmail 2
Microsoft Outlook 6
Other Email Services 2
Facebook 6
Instagram 1
Other Social Media 1
Zoom 2
Communication methods include the method or type of communication such as an email
or text as shown in Table 3. Communication methods are not inherently associated to a specific
platform; for example, an email could be sent through Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, or another
email service. However, some methods are not possible on some platforms. Emails, for example,
cannot be carried out via Facebook. Table 3 shows that the volunteer managers in this study use
a wide variety of communication methods. All participants used phone calls and personal emails.
Most, seven out of eight, use group emails, video conferencing, and texting. Instant messaging
was the least used method.
27
Table 3
Communication Methods
Method
Number of
participants who use it
Group Emails 7
Personal Emails 8
Video Conferencing 7
Phone Calls 8
Texting 7
Instant Messaging (e.g., Facebook Messenger) 3
Other 1
For all the volunteer programs managed by the participants, each required some degree of
training. In the survey, participants were also asked to report their online training methods, if
online training was an element of their volunteer program. As table 1 shows, no volunteer
program was completely online, though most had partial online training or online training
options. There are many ways that online training can be provided, but common ones include the
ones listed in Table 4. Of this sample of volunteer managers, live classroom trainings (i.e.,
through Zoom) were the highest used method.
Table 4
Online Training Methods
Method
Number of participants
who use it
Live Virtual Classroom
Trainings
5
Pre-recorded Webinars 4
Training Modules 2
Digital Instruction
Manuals/Guides
3
Video Tutorials 4
Video Conferencing Training
(e.g., Zoom)
4
28
Interview Responses
A template of the interview questions can be found in Appendix C. These questions were
asked to each participant while the conversation between this author and the participant was
recorded.
The first set of questions (questions one through five in Appendix C) were focused on the
participants’ engagement with volunteers using online platforms. Participants were asked to
explain with more specificity than on the survey what changes in regard to virtual adaptation for
volunteer management. Many participants reported switching normal in-person meetings, such as
orientations or social events, to Zoom meetings, which was also evident in survey responses
shown in Tables 2 and 3 above:
• “We did some social events on Zoom. We did our recognitions online via Zoom.”
(Participant 8)
Some participants reported that one benefit of having meetings and orientations virtual
was time being saved. This was the case because meetings often were either shorter or pre-
recorded and did require the participant’s attendance.
Regular types of communication, service reporting, and demonstrations were switched to
some kind of virtual method, which participants reported:
• “A majority of my conversations are over the email or phone as opposed to in
person.” (Participant 3)
• “Volunteers report their services more online […] volunteer orientations were moved
to zoom […] assessments are over the phone.” (Participant 4)
• “Our interns did quite a few videos on our Instagram page […] We use it more as
advertising.” (Participant 5)
29
Participants were also asked to comment on overall positives with using virtual platforms
and methods to connect with volunteers, as many organizations had a greater virtual approach to
connecting with volunteers over the last year. One recurring benefit was that volunteer
coordinators/managers could send out a greater amount of information to volunteers at a higher
frequency with a variety of options to present:
• “It has been much more efficient and easier to communicate with people because
everything is in one place information-wise.” (Participant 3)
• “I switched to weekly updates. It was great because I could add videos of volunteers
[…] it is way easier for people to absorb information that way in one page that they
can control and click through, rather than having a whole page that they must scan
and look at. I’ve gotten a better response in that change in style.” (Participant 7)
• “One of the positives is we now have a variety of ways to deliver a program. We can
provide it recorded. We have the tools and technology to be live.” (Participant 6)
Participants explained that they still felt confident that their volunteers remained
competent and on task despite greater levels of virtual communication and physical separation.
One participant explained specifically that the volunteers at their organizations had shown even
higher levels of competency doing virtual tasks as a result of a greater virtual approach to
volunteer management:
• “There are a lot of things that volunteers could do […] I have now shown it can be
done, and we can trust volunteers to work remotely.” (Participant 8)
In terms of engagement, many participants responded that overall, they observed a
greater number of volunteers willing to participant and over a larger radius then they would have
otherwise throughout the past year:
30
• “A lot more volunteers stepped up because people wanted to help during the
pandemic.” (Participant 4)
• “You are able to reach a greater number of volunteers at one time.” (Participant 6)
• “One of the positives was being able to get that initial hook and overall cohesion”
(Participant 1)
For the participants’ own level of digital literacy and access to use virtual technologies,
most participants who used a substantial amount of virtual communication felt that they
themselves were competent enough to use their resources. While trainings were not necessarily
provided by each participant’s organization, participants felt they had independence to locate
trainings online which adequately served their needs:
• “I feel pretty comfortable with my digital literacy” (Participant 6).
• “The online systems I am using are sufficient to what I need.” (Participant 7)
• “If I want to go to a training, [my boss] will let me go.” (Participant 2)
In addition to being able to send out information, some participants felt that in some
ways, their abilities to form personal connections and bonding with volunteers had improved:
• “Staff really loved the dialogue with volunteers […] staff gained some perspective on
how invested our volunteers are […] It gave people a chance to meet people they
wouldn’t normally meet.” (Participant 8)
• “While we don’t get the intimate connection of being in the same room, we get the
connection of seeing a kid hop on the lap of their mom” (Participant 3)
In other ways, however, the ability to bond and form personal connections was not
always viewed as an improvement when communication was mostly virtual. When asked to
comment on some of the negatives of having more of a virtual approach, other participants
31
reported that not having face to face interactions was an impediment to being able to connect
with a volunteer and form a relationship:
• “When I see someone in person, you get way more info about the feel of who they are
which you can’t get over the screen.” (Participant 4)
• “One of the biggest challenges is that [personal] connection in the classroom”
(Participant 6)
Another common negative was a mixed response in the levels of comfort some
participants felt that their volunteers felt with operating virtual platforms:
• “Not everyone on the team felt comfortable doing things online.” (Participant 4)
• “Some are not comfortable and have a mixed bag of computer skills” (Participant 1)
• “Any one mode is going to work for a fraction of the volunteers. This is pre-internet;
it’s really hard to get everybody in on the same page.” (Participant 8)
In addition to comfort levels, another recurring negative was either a lack of access to
technology or general technical difficulties:
• “Some people do not have access to a computer at home, so that creates somewhat of
a barrier.” (Participant 2)
• “Schools might have different preferences for platform. Sometimes firewalls don’t
allow them to have access to the technology […] sometimes technology doesn’t work
very well.” (Participant 6)
For some participants, access to technology was especially important for their volunteers.
Participant 6, for example, lead an education-based volunteer program where volunteers would
normally facilitate education programs in schools but were consequently switched to virtual
classrooms due to the pandemic.
32
The last set of questions (questions six and seven in Appendix C) asked more closely
about the participants’ work environment. Namely, whether they worked in an office, from
home, or in a hybrid style environment. Reponses revealed a mixture of working environments.
Each participant was asked what challenges their environment may have caused in them being
able to connect with volunteers online, whichever work environment they had. For participants
who worked mostly from home, some of the challenged were related to staying focused on their
work:
• “You never know what you are going to feel.” (Participant 3)
• “I feel like I am more focused when I’m in the office.” (Participant 6)
“You hear about Zoom fatigue […] when I’m working from home, half that time was
caring for my 3-year-old, half the other time was being strict to myself.” (Participant
7).
Other challenges were related to how the participant felt they were able to effectively
direct their volunteers and overcoming the physical separation between them and their work:
• “I think the biggest struggle is managing staff and feeling unconnected that they are
completing their tasks […] managing staff and talents remotely is a new talent.”
(Participant 6)
Participants who felt they experienced some struggles initially having switched to mostly
remote worked did find they were able to develop strategies to combat the struggles. These
included methods of self-motivation, self-care, and ways to simulate a workplace setting:
• “I try to get outside as much as I can and not to let everything fester […] knowing the
importance of not saying sorry.” (Participant 3)
33
• “I would get up and get dressed like I was going to work, and be at my computer by 8
o’clock” (Participant 7)
However, working from home, whether completely or partially, was not wholly seen as a
negative. The participants did find some benefits to working from home. There were some
workplace distractions that were avoided by working at home, as well as some advantages
ergonomically:
• “Working from is helpful because I don’t have people stopping by my office and
getting me distracted.” (Participant 7)
Overall, the research revealed participants who may have experienced struggles initially
were able to develop strategies to continue their volunteer management, which in turn allowed
them to find some benefits out of the aspects of working and communicating with volunteers
virtually.
34
Chapter V: Discussion, Conclusion, and Recommendations
The goal of this research was to determine what major changes volunteer managers at
non-profits organizations made in their volunteer program to include more virtual integration.
Survey questions were sent to ask what methods volunteer managers use to communicate with
volunteers, and what platforms are used to communicate through. Then, through interviewing,
these changes were assessed to shed light on what aspects are advantageous and what aspects
posed challenges to these individuals.
In the literature review, it was found that productive leaders who implement several
strategies, which include digital literacy, adopting media trends, personalized communication,
self-care and clarity in communication. In the responses given by the participants in this research
study, many of their techniques are indicative of these strategies. For example, many participants
used Zoom as a resource to communicate with their volunteers. Zoom was one resource that
grew in usage over the past year. Similarly, the participants made efforts to personalize
communication such as facilitating informal social events over Zoom or making one-on-one
phone calls or emails. The participants felt that some of these approaches had advantages, while
other aspects were a disadvantage to being able to manage their volunteers.
Conclusions
It is clear that the volunteer managers in this study use a variety of communication
methods. All (8 out of 8) participants use personal emails and phone calls to communicate with
volunteers, and most (7 out of 8) send group emails, use video conferencing, and texting.
Training methods specifically were less uniform. The types of platforms used were not as
uniform, but participants did commonly use Microsoft Outlook and Facebook (6 out of 8). These
participants were seen to have adopted media trends, which is one of the recommendations in the
35
literature. When asked about what changes were made, the topic of Zoom conferencing came up
with almost all participants. Participants also frequently mentioned making phone calls,
switching some functionality and reporting to being online, and for social media to be used to
draw in new volunteers or other external members. Unsurprisingly, notable changes were made
as a result of the pandemic and the participants appeared to be actively observing the quality of
these changes and making note for what worked well and what could use improvements.
In the literature review, it was found that authors recommend that leaders maintain a
sufficient level of digital literacy, which may include taking steps to engage in digital literacy
trainings through work or independently. Through interview responses, the participants reported
that they either felt comfortable using their digital systems (i.e., having an acceptable level of
digital literacy), or had enough independence to find additional trainings or information if it was
needed. Digital literacy posed no barriers to implementing a smooth virtual communication
network among volunteers on the volunteer managers end, falling in line with what authors Kane
et al. (2019) state to be an essential skill for virtual leadership.
The ability to disperse information was generally seen to be able to be done at higher
frequencies and with greater ease; in other words, there was a greater attention to clarity in
communication when most communication was done virtually. Whereas some information in the
past had been sent out physically, orally, or not often virtually, participants noticed that with the
majority of communication being virtual, there were factors that allowed this to happen. For
example, one participant was able to include videos and links to other sources in weekly
newsletters that her volunteers found to be highly informative. The participants also generally
found that while they may have overlooked that volunteers did not feel up to date on information
in the past, they felt more up to date with greater frequencies of communication being sent out,
36
whether it was through organizational updates or personal contact. Also, some participants found
that volunteers now have more choices in how they interact with the organization.
Another major advantage was that using virtual methods to communicate removed
commuting needs and the need for a physical space to meet. This allowed the participants during
the recruitment and onboarding phase of volunteer management to reach a greater number of
people who would no longer be deterred by needing to drive, find childcare, or other physical
needs. Also, participants were able to reach people at greater distances away from their
organization site by using virtual communication.
In some ways, the personal one-to-one connection participants felt they had with
volunteers had improved with more virtual integration. There are different personal aspects that
can be presented and acknowledged through different methods of communication. Through
video conferencing, for example, participants would be able to see parts of their volunteer’s
homes or their family members. Participants also facilitated more informal meetings or social
events very similarly to the style of meetings recommended by the Harvard Business Review
(Larson et al., 2020). In these meetings, volunteers could interact with each other, their manager,
and/or other organizational members, thus reinforcing their bond with the organization.
In other ways, however, participants felt a greater disconnect with their volunteers. While
the literature indicated that it is important for leaders to maintain personalized communication
with the people they lead, doing so completely virtual for volunteer engagement can pose some
problems. Many non-verbal or interpersonal aspects of communication are not present when
communicating virtually, which hindered participants ability to fully connect with volunteers
whom they only had virtual contact with. Another common disadvantage included technical
difficulties or disparities in access to technology for volunteers. Despite the participants’ level of
37
digital literacy, many of them reported that they felt a handful of their volunteers possessed less
than sufficient levels of digital literacy which posed some challenges. Other challenges where in
mental and emotional health such as staying focused and avoiding fatigue, especially for
participants who mainly worked from home or where mostly virtual in their communication with
volunteers. Participants appeared to have developed self-care strategies Comparable to the
recommendations made by Smith in 2020 The Wall Street Journal to confront the latter problems
including having emotional outlets and taking steps to retain a work structure and simulate a
work environment if working from home.
Overall, there are some aspects of virtual volunteer management that this sample of
participants revealed would be worth keeping. Having a longer range to contact people, being
able to contact multiple people at once, having increased frequency in communication all justify
keeping some form of virtual communication going forward. Other aspects, including technical
difficulties, barriers in being able to fully connect with volunteers, and some negative effects on
health shown that a completely virtual program may not be the best approach. Instead, keeping
some aspects virtual, perhaps recruiting and onboarding phases or regular meetings, while having
other be in person may allow for the greatest success in leading and managing volunteers.
Recommendations
To further this research, a large sample size would surely bring to light more evidence on
the advantageous and disadvantages of virtual communication. Including a larger sample with
different types of organizations (e.g., human services, environmental), would also reveal more
information. There might be differences in how an organization that works primarily in human
services uses virtual communication versus an organization that is more environmentally based.
38
A different research approach to investigate this topic could include a case study on a
group of organizations that switched their volunteer management to completely or mostly virtual
and compare it to a control group that maintains in-person communication. This study could take
place over a longer period of time and include multiple interviews for each participant. A study
similar to this could also compare and contrast how volunteer programs are managed before and
after the COVID-19 pandemic to investigate what virtual methods were kept and which were
omitted.
Other research could include volunteers themselves and investigate their impressions and
experiences using digital resources to communicate with their volunteers’ managers. They could
be asked similar questions to the ones included in this survey, and perhaps be further asked how
this type of communication affects their work and overall connection with the organization in
which they volunteer.
39
References
Baker, S. (2020, October 16). 5 Inspiring nonprofits that are using TikTok to fundraise.
MobileCause. https://www.mobilecause.com/5-inspiring-nonprofits-that-are-using-tiktok-
to-fundraise-success/
Cherry, K. (2020, July 18). Technology is changing volunteer engagement in 2020.
https://vomo.org/blog/is-technology-changing-the-way-we-volunteer/
DiSanza, J., Legge, N. (2017). Business and professional communication plans, processes, and
performance (6th ed.). Pearson.
Dhebar, B. B., & Stokes, B. (2008). A nonprofit manager's guide to online volunteering.
Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 18(4), 497-506. https://doi.org/10.1002/nml.200
Eden Project. (n.d.). What is coaching leadership? https://www.edenproject.com/learn/for-
organisations/creative-leadership/what-is-coaching-leadership
Hein, W., White, T., & Williams, J. (2016). Successful use of extension and online training
modules in mandatory biennial volunteer recertification. Journal of Youth Development,
11(3), 105-115. https://doi.org/10.5195/jyd.2016.464
Indeed. (2020, December 2). 10 common leadership styles (plus ways to develop your own).
Retrieved January 08, 2021, from https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-
development/10-common-leadership-styles
Jiang, H., Luo, Y., & Kulemeka, O. (2016). Leading in the digital age: A study of how social
media are transforming the work of communication professionals. Telematics and
Informatics, 33(2), 493-499. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tele.2015.10.006
40
Kane, G., Phillips, A., Copulsky, J., & Andrus, G. (2019). How digital leadership is(n’t)
different. MIT Sloan Management Review, 60(3), 34-39.
https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/how-digital-leadership-isnt-different/
Larson, B. Z., Vroman, S. V., & Makarius, E. E. (2020, March 18). A guide to managing your
(newly) remote workers. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/03/a-guide-to-
managing-your-newly-remote-workers
Lee, Y.-H., Hsieh, Y.-C., Hsiao, C., & Lin, C.-H. (2018). From virtual worlds to reality
moderating and mediating mechanisms between online and offline leadership. Information
Technology & People, 31(2), 557-577. https://doi.org/10.1108/ITP-05-2017-0156
McKinsey & Company. (2020, October 28). The path to true transformation.
https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/transformation/our-insights/the-path-to-
true-transformation?cid=soc-web
Newport, C. (2020, May 26). Why remote work is so hard—And how it can be fixed. The New
Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/can-remote-work-be-fixed
Pigg, S. (2014). Coordinating constant invention: social media’s role in distributed work.
Technical Communication Quarterly, 23(2), 69-87.
https://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2013.796545
Schechter, S. (2020, June 29). What is TikTok and should your nonprofit be using it? Classy.
https://www.classy.org/blog/what-is-tiktok-should-nonprofit-use/
Smith, R. A. (2020, August 30). Leadership: How to stay focused while working from home:
Limit surfing online and have a defined workspace to boost your concentration, experts
say. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-stay-focused-while-
working-from-home-11598814000
41
Spilka, R. (2010). Introduction. In Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century
theory and practice (pp. 1-19). Routledge
42
Appendix A
Sample Recruitment Invitation
Subject: Invitation to Graduate Research Study Survey and Interview - UW Stout
Dear [insert name],
My name is Nathan Baughman, and I am student from the University of Wisconsin, Stout in the
Technical and Professional Communication Graduate Program. I am writing to invite your
organization to participate in my research study about online resources and techniques for
volunteer leaders at non-profit businesses. The study will be used in a field research project
which will result in a research article. Your organization is eligible to be in this study because of
your volunteer program. I obtained your contact information from [source].
If your organization decides to participate in this study, your organization’s volunteer manager or
coordinator will participate in a survey and a follow-up interview covering topics on online
connectivity for leaders of volunteers. The answers both for the survey and the interview will be
kept anonymous in the final article. A consent form will be included in the survey to be reviewed
and a sign. The interview will be conducted via phone or video conferencing. I would like to
audio record the interview and use the answers to determine what resources volunteer leaders are
using to connect with their volunteers and their levels of confidence in those resources.
Participation is of course completely voluntary. If you would like to participate, please respond
to this email or contact me at baughmann5482@my.uwstout.edu.
I appreciate your consideration to participate in this study. If you have any questions, feel free to
respond to this email.
Sincerely,
Nathan Baughman
43
Appendix B
Pre-Interview Survey
44
45
46
47
48
Appendix C
Interview Questions
UW Stout – M.S. Technical and Professional Communications Program
1. How would you describe your ability to maintain personal connections with volunteers
using virtual platforms?
2. Over the last year, what changes (if any) have been made to incorporate more or less
virtual aspects to your volunteer management?
3. What have been the results from this change, both positive and negative?
4. If you provide virtual training for your volunteers, in what ways do you feel your online
volunteer training succeeds? In what ways do you feel it is lacking?
5. Describe the amount of digital literacy training that you participate in through your
organization.
6. Describe your working environment for managing volunteers at your organization.
7. What types of struggles do you face from your working environment and how might you
try to combat them?

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Virtual Resources for Volunteer Managers.pdf

  • 1. 1 Author: Baughman, Nathan, L. Title: Virtual Resources for Volunteer Managers to Connect with Volunteers The accompanying research report is submitted to the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Graduate School in partial completion of the requirements for the Graduate Degree/ Major: MS Technical and Professional Communications Research Advisor: Dr. Daisy Pignetti Submission Term/Year: Spring 2021 Number of Pages: 48 Style Manual Used: American Psychological Association, 7th edition I have adhered to the Graduate School Research Guide and have proofread my work. I understand that this research report must be officially approved by the Graduate School. Additionally, by signing and submitting this form, I (the author(s) or copyright owner) grant the University of Wisconsin-Stout the non-exclusive right to reproduce, translate, and/or distribute this submission (including abstract) worldwide in print and electronic format and in any medium, including but not limited to audio or video. If my research includes proprietary information, an agreement has been made between myself, the company, and the University to submit a thesis that meets course-specific learning outcomes and CAN be published. There will be no exceptions to this permission. I attest that the research report is my original work (that any copyrightable materials have been used with the permission of the original authors), and as such, it is automatically protected by the laws, rules, and regulations of the U.S. Copyright Office. My research advisor has approved the content and quality of this paper. STUDENT: NAME: Nathan Baughman DATE: 4/28/2021 ADVISOR: (Committee Chair if MS Plan A or EdS Thesis or Field Project/Problem): NAME: Dr. Daisy Pignetti DATE: April 28, 2021 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This section for MS Plan A Thesis or EdS Thesis/Field Project papers only Committee members (other than your advisor who is listed in the section above) 1. CMTE MEMBER’S NAME: DATE: 2. CMTE MEMBER’S NAME: DATE: 3. CMTE MEMBER’S NAME: DATE: --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This section to be completed by the Graduate School This final research report has been approved by the Graduate School. Director, Office of Graduate Studies: DATE:
  • 2. 2 Baughman, Nathan L. Virtual Resources for Volunteer Coordinators to Connect with Volunteers Abstract After completing a literature review that examined sources that discusses common strategies that successful virtual leaders use, both a survey and interview-based research study were conducted. Survey and interview questions were focused on asking participants--eight volunteer managers at non-profit organizations in the state of Wisconsin with active volunteer programs--if they followed these recommended strategies and the levels of virtual integration. Participants were also asked to comment on their impressions of virtual volunteer management to assess the efficacy of virtual leadership strategies and identify which aspects put volunteer managers at an advantage or at a disadvantage. The results of this research indicate that this sample of volunteer managers found the ability to send out information more frequently to volunteers living at greater distances from the participants’ organization site, and thus removing physical travel to be an advantage of virtual communication. Some aspects of connection to volunteers were viewed as improved, including volunteers having access to other staff members and more impersonal meetings. Aspects seen as disadvantages included barriers in forming personal connections to volunteers, frequent technical difficulties, and fatigue from a completely virtual management system.
  • 3. 3 Acknowledgments I would like to thank Dr. Pignetti’s advisement over the course this research project and her feedback on its progress. Also, each participant provided valuable insight that contributed to the overall conclusions of this study; their contributions were greatly appreciated.
  • 4. 4 Table of Contents Abstract............................................................................................................................................2 List of Tables ...................................................................................................................................6 Chapter I: Introduction.....................................................................................................................7 Purpose of the Study............................................................................................................8 Definition of Terms..............................................................................................................8 Limitations of the Study.......................................................................................................9 Methodology........................................................................................................................9 Chapter II: Literature Review........................................................................................................11 Digital Literacy..................................................................................................................11 Adopting Media Trends.....................................................................................................12 Personalized Communication ............................................................................................15 Self-Care ............................................................................................................................17 Clarity in Communication..................................................................................................18 Conclusion .........................................................................................................................20 Chapter III: Methodology ..............................................................................................................21 Subject Selection and Description .....................................................................................22 Instrumentation ..................................................................................................................22 Data Collection Procedures................................................................................................23 Data Analysis.....................................................................................................................23 Limitations.........................................................................................................................24 Chapter IV: Results........................................................................................................................25 Survey Responses ..............................................................................................................25
  • 5. 5 Interview Responses ..........................................................................................................28 Chapter V: Discussion, Conclusion, and Recommendations.........................................................34 Conclusions........................................................................................................................34 Recommendations..............................................................................................................37 References......................................................................................................................................39 Appendix A: Sample Recruitment Email ......................................................................................42 Appendix B: Pre-Interview Survey................................................................................................43 Appendix C: Interview Questions..................................................................................................48
  • 6. 6 List of Tables Table 1: Participant Information....................................................................................................25 Table 2: Online Platforms..............................................................................................................26 Table 3: Communication Methods.................................................................................................27 Table 4: Online Training Methods.................................................................................................27
  • 7. 7 Chapter I: Introduction Over the past decade, many organizations with volunteer programs have begun to include methods of communicating and training volunteers that are virtual through webinars, digital documents, modules, or other mediums. Social media inclusion is common, but specific tactics can vary. Also, for both physical and virtual volunteers, there are many different styles of trainings that are online, in person, or hybrid. In the year 2020, many organizations did not have a choice but to overhaul their volunteer program partially or completely online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of this research study, organizations had been implementing a nearly full year’s worth of virtual or hybrid working strategies, including organizations with volunteer programs. This prompted a unique opportunity to examine the outcomes of a full year of heavy virtual integration as the efficacy of this approach is unclear for volunteer programs. In addition, a key aspect of volunteer management is keeping a substantial personal connection to volunteers, which is especially true for smaller not for profit organizations such those that offer homeless or animal services and sheltering, libraries, and museums. Also, for these types of organizations, there are many aspects of volunteer activities that rely heavily on physical contact. Volunteer managers in these situations often employ a leadership style defined as coaching leadership, which promotes the development of new skills, revisits company objectives and fosters a confident company culture. Leaders who coaches are often seen as valuable mentors (Indeed, 2020). While some research shows that it is possible to maintain meaningful online connections to people online, whether they are employees, coworkers, or friends, research is lacking in how this translates to smaller physical-based volunteer programs at non-profits where volunteers carry out many in-person tasks.
  • 8. 8 Purpose of the Study The purpose of this research project is to identify what virtual methods and platforms volunteer managers or coordinators are currently employing at their non-profit organization to communicate with their volunteers. Furthermore, this research aims to investigate what characteristics of these virtual styles provide advantages and disadvantages, and which elements are worth continuing in the future. The results from this project will contribute to the greater knowledge of professional leadership, volunteerism, and virtual management. It may bring to light the methods and styles of online volunteer leadership that could be shared and employed at other organizations. It may also pinpoint areas that volunteer leaders might be struggling at, which could warrant further research and development. Definition of Terms This research is focused primarily on the field of non-profit organizational communication and volunteerism. There may be some terms used to describe these organizations and their volunteer programs that might be unclear. Management Management describes a contractual agreement between members of the organization. A manager’s functions are more focused on setting clear rules, explaining responsibilities, and providing information for their people. In this study, volunteer managers are also often referred to as volunteer coordinators which is a common title for this type of role. Leadership Leadership includes roles that are focused on inspiring people and recognizing conflicts that might be present. Management and leadership, while similar, describe slightly different roles
  • 9. 9 of an organizational member. The two often work hand in hand, but leaders are not always managers, though effective managers often possess leadership qualities. Methods In the context of this research paper, a communication method is a way in which virtual communication is sent (e.g., an email). Platforms A platform is the medium the communication is sent through (e.g., Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Social media and email services are often considered communication platforms. Limitations of the Study This study was limited by a few factors. They were not major detriments to the research; however, further research studies could be carried out which omit these limitations. They include: • One researcher to conduct interviews, transcribe interviews, and analyze data. • Limited technology to record interviews. Camtasia was used to record interviews. This worked fine for video conference interviews but did not produce the best audio quality for phone interviews. Methodology The next section of this paper is a literature review of the current research that has investigated effective qualities of virtual volunteer management. Following the literature review are the results of a research study that examined volunteer managers in the state of Wisconsin who are employed at non-profit organizations with active volunteer programs. These volunteer managers completed surveys and participated in structured interviews that asked questions about their use of virtual management strategies and their impressions of these strategies. Then,
  • 10. 10 through analysis, conclusions were made to deduce what common strategies that are used and the efficacy of these strategies.
  • 11. 11 Chapter II: Literature Review The literature selected for review was written by authors who investigate and discuss the recommended practices for virtual or online leaders for both volunteer and employee managers. Throughout the literature selection, the amounting recommendations shaped five general themes for virtual leadership integration, which included digital literacy, emerging media adaptation, personalization, self-management, and clear communication. Digital Literacy The first theme, digital literacy, is defined as “Theory and practice that focus on digital technology, including the ability to read, write, and communicate digital technology” (Spilka, 2010, p. 25). The cornerstone of working from home is its dependency on growing digital technology. Leaders of virtual workers ought to possess some level of competency in being able to use and navigate digital mediums. Whether they have been trained officially or not, leaders must take initiative to develop their digital literary skills as it allows them to operate efficiently and emulate competency. In a survey analysis conducted by Kane et al. (2019) about digital leadership, the authors claim that, “Understanding technology is the third most important skill” (p. 36) for leaders, whether the leader is among a virtual team or not. Most organizations rely on technology to function. The ones that flourish are the ones that understand technology and implement it effectively. A team that is not virtual will still use digital technology in some way. A leader will then still need to understand how to use the technology that is relevant to their work. In a blog post written on Vomo.org, the author wrote that volunteer-based organizations use many types of technologies including Zoom platforms to hold meetings, social media for fundraising and recruiting, and many others (Cherry, 2020). When the team is virtual, one
  • 12. 12 change, among many other changes, is that communication then becomes exclusively virtual, which only raises the need for digital literacy. Acquiring digital literacy, though, is not a simple task. For some who are considered digital natives, meaning that they were born having access to digital technology their whole lives, digital literacy is nearly a fundamental skill. For others, who might be from older generations or who did not have access to digital technology growing up, digital literacy is not as intuitive and acquiring it could be challenging. However, there are still some steps that any leader, at any level of digital literacy, could take. This could be setting aside extra time to attend trainings for digital technology, engaging in independent research or exercise, or collaborating with other staff members to understand the organization’s methods when it comes to using technology. In the previously mentioned survey analysis, the authors recommended that executives should “have ongoing continuing education sessions with your organization’s leadership” (Kane et al., 2019, p. 38). If it is in their power, leaders themselves can facilitate learning sessions to enhance their learning as well as others in the organization. Adopting Media Trends Beyond having a baseline digital literacy, it is important for leaders to be opened to accept emerging trends in digital media. A 2017 study that examined a virtually based volunteer onboarding program found that their participants, a group of 166 4-H volunteers, elicited positive responses to the new program. The volunteers shown that “online education was readily accepted” were able to articulate “concrete things learned and ideas for incorporating what they learned,” and maintained a higher retention rate after completing the onboarding (Hein et al. 2017, p. 9). This is one example of how the shift to virtual methods is indeed beneficial for leaders; in this context, it is for onboarding processes. Embracing the rapid changes that occur
  • 13. 13 with technology and the uses of different mediums like social media and acknowledge their dominance and their power to allow communication is frequently recommended by authors. In a study conducted on organizational social media perception and integration, the authors found that, “leaders adopt social media to engage with both internal and external audiences to ‘strengthen and leverage relationships’” (Jiang et al., 2016, p. 494). In an organizational capacity, social media can serve as a tool to strengthen the relationship between an employee and a supervisor. The first step is to acknowledge and accept its use, rather than dismissing it as recreation. Then, as Jiang et al. (2016) explain, it can be used both internally and externally. It can be used internally to connect an employee to an employee or an employee to a supervisor. Whether it is acceptable for different workers to connect on social media, however, might depend on the type of organization, specific roles of the workers, and which social media site is being used. Generally, LinkedIn connections are acceptable and even encouraged between employees, for example. Other sites including Facebook or Instagram are potentially useful. Leaders can adopt social media for external engagement by using social media to present information about the organization, recruit personnel, highlight specific employees or organization affiliates, or as general advertising. In a sense, any business or organization is comprised of bodies of both people and knowledge. Social media could be seen as a way to “aggregate people and knowledge” (Pigg, 2014, p. 70). It serves to represent a company and create a brand. Networking happens both within a company and from company to company through social media. In addition to a leader adopting their own social media awareness and strategies, they must also recognize that their workers can engage in social media activities that are productive work tasks. This could include things like researching about another organization or contacting another organization through
  • 14. 14 social media. Many positions have been cultivated that specifically assign individuals to working on strategizing social media tactics. These positions have been around for around for quite a while, and new ones will likely continue to arise as technology develops. A leader who accepts these new responsibilities associated with emerging technology is likely to gain respect from their workers who carry out these tasks and will allow their organization to develop overall. All of these new abilities and trends rapidly become standard and new ones arise. A leader then must consistently seek out new trends and coordinate its integration. For example, many professional and non-profits organizations are creating Tik Tok accounts, a video-sharing social network service, to promote their organization due to the rise in popularity of the service from 2019 to 2020. Non-profits especially can use Tik Tok to spread information, advertise, and raise funds for causes (Schechter, 2020, para. 2). One organization, Oregon Zoo, used TikTok in 2020 to promote Earth Day during that year. In an article that describes the success of the video, Baker (2020) explains, “by associating the emotive, trending song with the hashtag #EarthDay, Oregon Zoo created viral content that resonates with animal lovers and environmentalists far beyond the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area” (para. 3). Their video garnered 4.7 million views, 861,000 likes and 2,561 comments, which indicates that the use of emerging media sites such as TikTok can garner attention. Leaders might find it beneficial to assign individuals to research strategies for using this app and coordinate projects. Kane et al. (2019) suggest that “senior leaders can enhance the quality and speed of these expanding networks by opening doors” (p. 38). This could mean to adopt flagship company digital products if they appear useful to the organization or allowing new ideas to be explored and finding ways that they can be integrated into the organization.
  • 15. 15 Personalized Communication Understanding the grand scheme of evolving digital trends and maintaining competency is critical for leaders. Likewise, it is equally important to recognize the details of each employee and to know their strengths, goals, and how to motivate them. Keeping methods of communication personalized and genuine for each employee, as much as possible, is an effective way for a leader to guide their virtual workers. Each person has their own approach to their work, their own motivations, and their own responses to types of directions. In short, each team member has their have their own set of needs in order to work comfortably and productively. A leader who takes time to ensure most, if not all, of their team members’ needs are met is likely to motivate their employees and allow them to succeed in their personal goals while also meeting the goals of the organization. In guiding leaders for online volunteers, authors Dhebar and Stokes (2008) explain that, “the motivations of the applying volunteer are often quite personal yet understanding them is critical for the host organization’s success” (p. 500). An effective leader might make efforts to understand these motivations intrinsic in their volunteers and assign them tasks that are, “consistent with their education, background, or experience” (p. 500). That way, the volunteers feel not only an obligation but a desire to carry out their tasks when it aligns with their own motivations. One way to carry this out is to foster interactivity with communication efforts to employees. This could be through social media, where leaders create posts that encourage followers to interact, including internal members. Also, interactivity and personalization could take place during video conferences. Leaders could facilitate icebreaker or catch-up style conversations where the team is encouraged to engage with one another personally and converse
  • 16. 16 on informal non-work topics. In an article from the Harvard Business Review, Larson et al. (2020) interview experienced remote leaders who reported, “virtual events help reduce feelings of isolation, promoting a sense of belonging” (para. 18). The sense of belonging is an important aspect of being a team member because reinforces the personal connection a worker has to their team and their responsibilities especially during times of extensive social isolation. In the same way that a leader addresses the personal needs for their employees, it also beneficial for the leader to have their own personal persona in front of their team. In a study that examined a team of participants in massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) situations, Lee et al. (2018) analyzed that, “online leadership influences offline leadership through the mediating effects of game achievement and character identification” (p. 558). The participants of the study were teams comprised of individuals with select leaders. They reported that leaders who spent time customizing their characters and immersing themselves in the game, allowing their personalities to show while guiding their team resulted in effective and desirable leadership. This can be carried over to organizational leadership in that workplace leaders that show their personalities to their employees and perhaps make use of customizable options on different digital communication platforms and establish more desirable interactions with their employees. The authors of the MMORPG study explain that, “participants were likely to be immersed in games when player interactions were desirable” (Lee et al., 2018, p. 558), where “immersion” in games could be likened “engagement” to organizational members. Furthermore, it is just as important to give attention to workers’ responsibilities and motivations as it is to provide emotional support. In a 2020 Harvard Business Review article, the authors explain that effective leaders acknowledge, “the stress and anxiety that employees may be feeling in difficult circumstances,” in addition to “providing affirmation of their confidence in
  • 17. 17 their teams” (Larson et al., 2020. para. 20). Stress and anxiety are likely to result from major changes with underlying challenges. A leader’s responsibility is to guide their team in overcoming those anxieties so that they can then overcome the challenges. Self-Care While it is important to focus on managing a team’s productivity and checking on their health, it is equally crucial for a leader to not neglect their own needs during their daily work life. There are many challenges that are faced from working virtually; compounded with leadership responsibilities, these could lead to a stressful and unhealthy working environment. A leader can hone self-management by targeting a few specific areas. One of these areas is concentration. A description of the virtual working environment is offered by Cal Newport (2020) in his article published by The New Yorker, which reads, “Work time becomes more scattered, and leisure time less pure” (para. 6). Focusing becomes more difficult when the sense of time is distorted, and the separation of work and leisure is unclear. Thus, authors recommend that a leader places extra imperative on cultivating a focused virtual working environment. Having this prioritized, a leader could then help their workers develop their own concentration strategies. In a Wall Street Journal article, the author makes several suggestions which include, “block out times (…) to devote to finishing a task,” “taking breaks,” and “to make your environment as work-like as possible” (Smith, 2020, para. 6). Making intentional decisions to remove distractions and create as close to a physical workplace environmental as possible are all methods that can be practiced helping with concentration but keeping in mind that it might not be always possible. It also important to practice overall healthy lifestyle patterns that help to maintain good physical, emotional, and mental health. Continuing exercise routines, scheduling time for family
  • 18. 18 interactions, and spending time with other personal activities are integral for good health. While some of these might be affected greatly by travel or proximity differences when working virtually, a good leader will make efforts to maintain a self-managed lifestyle to inspire their team to follow their lead. Social media, while it can be used for productivity, can also easily become a distraction. This means that leaders need to make mindful and intentional decisions when choosing to use it for work related purposes. Keeping in mind clear goals and objectives will help to streamline social media use. Also, practicing time-blocking and setting deadlines, will also help. Using time-blocking strategies can, “add structure to otherwise chaotic workdays, and can significantly increase the amount you’re able to do in a limited time” (Newport, 2020, p. 9). While initially it can be tiresome to employ these methods, the longer outcomes are rewarding. Clarity in Communication Another responsibility of leading is being able to provide direction to workers, whether that is for everyday tasks or training programs. The literature indicates that while it is important to provide directions that are clear and easy to follow, this might prove to be an extra challenge for a virtual leader as communication is no longer in person and is affected by digital barriers. However, there are certainly ways to maintain clear communication while working with technology. At a fundamental level, to be able to communicate clearly, a leader should consider the overall goals of an organization, and the individual goals of each position and task. Then, clearly defining those goals will help a leader come to a better understanding of what they need to communicate. Dhebar and Stokes (2008) in their article implore online volunteer leaders to “know what your organization wants to accomplish through an online volunteering program” (p.
  • 19. 19 499). Consider what the overall mission of the organization is. Then, think about what tasks the volunteer, or worker, will be doing virtually that will further that mission, whether it is on the administrative side or is directly related. Another way to enhance clarity in communication is keeping it consistent and repeated. This means keeping up regular contact with each individual worker. This could be from any method of contact including email, phone, or facetime; however, authors from the Harvard Business Review explain, “Email alone is insufficient (…) Video conferencing has many advantages, especially for smaller groups: Visual cues allow for increased ‘mutual knowledge’ about coworkers and also help reduce the sense of isolation among teams” (Larson et al., 2020, para. 11). While email might provide less consequential functions, video conferencing is a necessity for maintaining a strong connection to workers for the reasons listed in the article. Programs including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Skype all offer a functional platform to facilitate video conferencing. These moments of contact should also be regimented. Having a set time and frequency will ensure that the meetings are held, and that workers cultivate it into their schedule. Preparing an agenda or list of topics will ensure that the meeting is productive or at least meaningful. The authors from the Harvard Business Review describe these as ‘rules of engagement,’ and say, “Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers set expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams” (Larson et al., 2020, para. 14). Having these expectations will motivate team members to participate in the meeting and avoid initial confusion or ambiguity as to the purpose of the meeting. Finally, having ways to monitor results and productivity is another way to maintain clear communication. This could be through contact through employees, having them self-report their
  • 20. 20 accomplishments or send in data, or other ways. However, if employees are to present their work or results, it should not involve cumbersome or superfluous procedures. There should be some justification for the need to report and it should be done efficiently as possible. Volunteers especially might become discouraged when they are passionate and motivated to work on a specific task but are slowed down by superficial procedures. Conclusion In summary, the authors of the selected literature recommend that leaders employ tactics foster digital literacy, emerging media adaption, personalization, self-management, and clear communication to succeed in the organization. Organizations that are already technology-based appear to elicit positive responses from these tactics and are usually the ones making the recommendations. Whether volunteer leaders for small brick and mortar organizations use these tactics and find them to be successful remains to be investigated.
  • 21. 21 Chapter III: Methodology For this research project, an initial survey was sent to eight individuals who agreed to participate in the research study. These participants all worked as volunteer leaders in some capacity (e.g., volunteer coordinators). These participants all were employed at organizations within the state of Wisconsin. Their identities and the name of their organizations were kept anonymous, but the nature of their organization (e.g., animal sheltering, vocational services, etc.) was recorded taken in their survey as well as the number of volunteers. Volunteer base for the participants ranged from 75 to 1200 volunteers active in their volunteer program. Initial contact with participants was made with the recruitment email shown in Appendix A. Questions in the survey included a mixture of numerical and short answer questions and are framed at identifying the types of digital tools that are used and how the individual rates their training. Twelve questions were included in the survey. The survey was sent via Google Forms. Data from the survey was then exported to Microsoft Excel so that tables could generated to examine characteristics of each organization. An example of the survey can be found in Appendix B. Following the survey, participants engaged in an interview to glean further information about their online connectivity with their volunteers and impressions of using virtual communication methods. The literature reviewed in this research paper revealed that strategies effective virtual leaders implement include adopting media trends and personalizing communication. The questions in the interview were framed so that participants would discuss the degree that they followed these strategies and their overall impressions of them. Interviews were carried out by phone or via Zoom video conferencing. Lengths of the interviews varied across the participants but ranged from approximately 20 to 45 minutes. A sample of the interview question template can be found in the Appendix C.
  • 22. 22 For survey data, responses were organized into tables to characterize each participant to describe their type of organization, the size or their volunteer base, and how much of their program was virtual (i.e., not at all, optionally, partially, or fully). Then, mode of responses about what methods of communication and training and platforms were examined to conclude the common methods and platforms used by this sample. Then, once the interviews were conducted, responses were qualitatively analyzed. An inductive coding method was used to analyze the response. Subject Selection and Description All participants in this study were volunteer coordinators or managers at their non-profit organization. Each were part of an active volunteer program, which incorporated various levels of virtual volunteering and in-person volunteering. For example, one participant managed some volunteers who taught online classes to youths. However, the focus was to locate organizations that facilitated mostly in person volunteering. All participants worked at organizations located in the state of Wisconsin. Contact information was acquired through United Way of the Chippewa Valley’s 2020 Volunteer Guide, Volunteermatch.org, and Volunteerwisconsin.org. Instrumentation Surveys were distributed through Google Forms that were created by the author of this study. The questions in the survey were reviewed by the researcher’s faculty advisor and the Institutional Review Board staff at UW Stout. Interview questions were similarly created by this author but were spoken during interviews on Zoom or over the phone. For Zoom interviews, Camtasia, a screen recording software, ran during the interview to record the audio of the interview. For phone interviews, the phone used by this interviewer was put into speaker mode and placed the interviewer’s computer. Camtasia was used to record microphone audio.
  • 23. 23 Participants were sent a copy of the interview questions to review if desired to prepare some answers. Data Collection Procedures First, a potential participant from the United Way of the Chippewa Valley’s 2020 Volunteer Guide, Volunteermatch.org, and Volunteerwisconsin.org lists received a recruitment email, shown in Appendix A. Once a response was given confirming a desire to participate, individuals were sent a link to the Google Forms survey to consent to participate, complete the survey, and provide availability for an interview. Once completed, this researcher proposed a time to the participant for the interview to take place via email. Once a time was confirmed, this researcher shared a private Zoom meeting link to the participant or confirmed a phone number to call. During the interview, Zoom’s record feature recorded the researcher’s computer video and audio to capture the interview for Zoom interviews, along with the screen recording software Camtasia as a backup which ran simultaneously during the interview. For phone interviews, Camtasia captured microphone audio while the phone was put on speaker during the interview. Finally, each interview was reviewed and transcribed into Microsoft Word. Data Analysis For survey data, responses were organized into tables to characterize each participant to describe their type of organization, the size or their volunteer base, and how much of their program was virtual (i.e., not at all, optionally, partially, or fully). Then, the mode of responses for what methods of communication and training and platforms were examined to conclude the common methods and platforms used by this sample. To analyze the interview data, an inductive coding analysis approach was adopted. After all interviews were conducted and transcribed, the author searched through the content to
  • 24. 24 identify common themes within the response. As the interviews were semi structed with the same questions being asked in every interview (as seen in Appendix C), the responses were grouped into three main themes, which include dispositions towards volunteer online connection, disposition towards online volunteer training, and disposition towards work environment. Then, for each area, the themes of participant responses were categorized to whether they learned more positive or negative towards the virtual approach and were finally categorized into finer codes that can be found in section two of the results. Limitations This study was limited to the scope of non-profit organizations in the state of Wisconsin and ones listed on United Way of the Chippewa Valley’s 2020 Volunteer Guide, Volunteermatch.org, and Volunteerwisconsin.org by the choice of the author. Further studies could examine a wider range of organizations. Due to time constraints, the author was able to recruit eight participants. Further studies could include a larger sample size. One other limitation was that the type of participants’ non-profit organization included a majority of human-service organization, as opposed to animal services or agriculture. While there are no assumptions made that this had a major effect on the results, there is a chance that this limitation had some affect. One possible speculation is that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were different for human-services organizations as roles for volunteers sometimes involve direct contact with other people and are often indoors, while animal services and agricultural organizations involve less human contact and can be outdoors. Therefore, the latter two types of organizations could potentially retain more volunteers during this time.
  • 25. 25 Chapter IV: Results The purpose of this research was to investigate the virtual resources and methods volunteer managers use at their non-profit organizations, and the quality of connection it fosters with their volunteers. The first method of inquiry was a survey, where each participant answered questions about their type of organization, the types of tools each uses, and their perceptions of the quality of their trainings and overall connections. The second method of inquiry was through structured interviews, where participants answered questions that were intended to reveal more personal testimony on the participants experiences and observations with using virtual resources. Survey Responses Table 1 displays the general overview of each participant and their organization, each designated by a reference number. The most common type of organization was human services, which encompassed a broader group of organizations with volunteer programs that served homeless, runaway youth, elderly, and other populations. The sizes of the organizations’ volunteer count ranged from 75 to 1,200 volunteers. Table 1 Participant Information Number Organization Type Volunteer Count Volunteer Training Format 1 Human Services 200 Online options 2 Animal Services 850 Partially online 3 Human Services 150 Partially online 4 Human Services 75 All in person 5 Agricultural 1200 All in person 6 Education 700 Partially online 7 Animal Services 400 Partially online 8 Human Services 250 Partially online
  • 26. 26 Further questions in the survey asked about specific platforms and methods of communication the participant used. Platforms included Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, Facebook, or any other type of service or application that would act as a medium for communication. Table 2 displays how many participants reported using each platform. Microsoft Outlook and Facebook where the top two most used platforms. Instagram and other social media (unspecified) were the least two used. Table 2 Online Platforms Platform Number of participants who use it Gmail 2 Microsoft Outlook 6 Other Email Services 2 Facebook 6 Instagram 1 Other Social Media 1 Zoom 2 Communication methods include the method or type of communication such as an email or text as shown in Table 3. Communication methods are not inherently associated to a specific platform; for example, an email could be sent through Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, or another email service. However, some methods are not possible on some platforms. Emails, for example, cannot be carried out via Facebook. Table 3 shows that the volunteer managers in this study use a wide variety of communication methods. All participants used phone calls and personal emails. Most, seven out of eight, use group emails, video conferencing, and texting. Instant messaging was the least used method.
  • 27. 27 Table 3 Communication Methods Method Number of participants who use it Group Emails 7 Personal Emails 8 Video Conferencing 7 Phone Calls 8 Texting 7 Instant Messaging (e.g., Facebook Messenger) 3 Other 1 For all the volunteer programs managed by the participants, each required some degree of training. In the survey, participants were also asked to report their online training methods, if online training was an element of their volunteer program. As table 1 shows, no volunteer program was completely online, though most had partial online training or online training options. There are many ways that online training can be provided, but common ones include the ones listed in Table 4. Of this sample of volunteer managers, live classroom trainings (i.e., through Zoom) were the highest used method. Table 4 Online Training Methods Method Number of participants who use it Live Virtual Classroom Trainings 5 Pre-recorded Webinars 4 Training Modules 2 Digital Instruction Manuals/Guides 3 Video Tutorials 4 Video Conferencing Training (e.g., Zoom) 4
  • 28. 28 Interview Responses A template of the interview questions can be found in Appendix C. These questions were asked to each participant while the conversation between this author and the participant was recorded. The first set of questions (questions one through five in Appendix C) were focused on the participants’ engagement with volunteers using online platforms. Participants were asked to explain with more specificity than on the survey what changes in regard to virtual adaptation for volunteer management. Many participants reported switching normal in-person meetings, such as orientations or social events, to Zoom meetings, which was also evident in survey responses shown in Tables 2 and 3 above: • “We did some social events on Zoom. We did our recognitions online via Zoom.” (Participant 8) Some participants reported that one benefit of having meetings and orientations virtual was time being saved. This was the case because meetings often were either shorter or pre- recorded and did require the participant’s attendance. Regular types of communication, service reporting, and demonstrations were switched to some kind of virtual method, which participants reported: • “A majority of my conversations are over the email or phone as opposed to in person.” (Participant 3) • “Volunteers report their services more online […] volunteer orientations were moved to zoom […] assessments are over the phone.” (Participant 4) • “Our interns did quite a few videos on our Instagram page […] We use it more as advertising.” (Participant 5)
  • 29. 29 Participants were also asked to comment on overall positives with using virtual platforms and methods to connect with volunteers, as many organizations had a greater virtual approach to connecting with volunteers over the last year. One recurring benefit was that volunteer coordinators/managers could send out a greater amount of information to volunteers at a higher frequency with a variety of options to present: • “It has been much more efficient and easier to communicate with people because everything is in one place information-wise.” (Participant 3) • “I switched to weekly updates. It was great because I could add videos of volunteers […] it is way easier for people to absorb information that way in one page that they can control and click through, rather than having a whole page that they must scan and look at. I’ve gotten a better response in that change in style.” (Participant 7) • “One of the positives is we now have a variety of ways to deliver a program. We can provide it recorded. We have the tools and technology to be live.” (Participant 6) Participants explained that they still felt confident that their volunteers remained competent and on task despite greater levels of virtual communication and physical separation. One participant explained specifically that the volunteers at their organizations had shown even higher levels of competency doing virtual tasks as a result of a greater virtual approach to volunteer management: • “There are a lot of things that volunteers could do […] I have now shown it can be done, and we can trust volunteers to work remotely.” (Participant 8) In terms of engagement, many participants responded that overall, they observed a greater number of volunteers willing to participant and over a larger radius then they would have otherwise throughout the past year:
  • 30. 30 • “A lot more volunteers stepped up because people wanted to help during the pandemic.” (Participant 4) • “You are able to reach a greater number of volunteers at one time.” (Participant 6) • “One of the positives was being able to get that initial hook and overall cohesion” (Participant 1) For the participants’ own level of digital literacy and access to use virtual technologies, most participants who used a substantial amount of virtual communication felt that they themselves were competent enough to use their resources. While trainings were not necessarily provided by each participant’s organization, participants felt they had independence to locate trainings online which adequately served their needs: • “I feel pretty comfortable with my digital literacy” (Participant 6). • “The online systems I am using are sufficient to what I need.” (Participant 7) • “If I want to go to a training, [my boss] will let me go.” (Participant 2) In addition to being able to send out information, some participants felt that in some ways, their abilities to form personal connections and bonding with volunteers had improved: • “Staff really loved the dialogue with volunteers […] staff gained some perspective on how invested our volunteers are […] It gave people a chance to meet people they wouldn’t normally meet.” (Participant 8) • “While we don’t get the intimate connection of being in the same room, we get the connection of seeing a kid hop on the lap of their mom” (Participant 3) In other ways, however, the ability to bond and form personal connections was not always viewed as an improvement when communication was mostly virtual. When asked to comment on some of the negatives of having more of a virtual approach, other participants
  • 31. 31 reported that not having face to face interactions was an impediment to being able to connect with a volunteer and form a relationship: • “When I see someone in person, you get way more info about the feel of who they are which you can’t get over the screen.” (Participant 4) • “One of the biggest challenges is that [personal] connection in the classroom” (Participant 6) Another common negative was a mixed response in the levels of comfort some participants felt that their volunteers felt with operating virtual platforms: • “Not everyone on the team felt comfortable doing things online.” (Participant 4) • “Some are not comfortable and have a mixed bag of computer skills” (Participant 1) • “Any one mode is going to work for a fraction of the volunteers. This is pre-internet; it’s really hard to get everybody in on the same page.” (Participant 8) In addition to comfort levels, another recurring negative was either a lack of access to technology or general technical difficulties: • “Some people do not have access to a computer at home, so that creates somewhat of a barrier.” (Participant 2) • “Schools might have different preferences for platform. Sometimes firewalls don’t allow them to have access to the technology […] sometimes technology doesn’t work very well.” (Participant 6) For some participants, access to technology was especially important for their volunteers. Participant 6, for example, lead an education-based volunteer program where volunteers would normally facilitate education programs in schools but were consequently switched to virtual classrooms due to the pandemic.
  • 32. 32 The last set of questions (questions six and seven in Appendix C) asked more closely about the participants’ work environment. Namely, whether they worked in an office, from home, or in a hybrid style environment. Reponses revealed a mixture of working environments. Each participant was asked what challenges their environment may have caused in them being able to connect with volunteers online, whichever work environment they had. For participants who worked mostly from home, some of the challenged were related to staying focused on their work: • “You never know what you are going to feel.” (Participant 3) • “I feel like I am more focused when I’m in the office.” (Participant 6) “You hear about Zoom fatigue […] when I’m working from home, half that time was caring for my 3-year-old, half the other time was being strict to myself.” (Participant 7). Other challenges were related to how the participant felt they were able to effectively direct their volunteers and overcoming the physical separation between them and their work: • “I think the biggest struggle is managing staff and feeling unconnected that they are completing their tasks […] managing staff and talents remotely is a new talent.” (Participant 6) Participants who felt they experienced some struggles initially having switched to mostly remote worked did find they were able to develop strategies to combat the struggles. These included methods of self-motivation, self-care, and ways to simulate a workplace setting: • “I try to get outside as much as I can and not to let everything fester […] knowing the importance of not saying sorry.” (Participant 3)
  • 33. 33 • “I would get up and get dressed like I was going to work, and be at my computer by 8 o’clock” (Participant 7) However, working from home, whether completely or partially, was not wholly seen as a negative. The participants did find some benefits to working from home. There were some workplace distractions that were avoided by working at home, as well as some advantages ergonomically: • “Working from is helpful because I don’t have people stopping by my office and getting me distracted.” (Participant 7) Overall, the research revealed participants who may have experienced struggles initially were able to develop strategies to continue their volunteer management, which in turn allowed them to find some benefits out of the aspects of working and communicating with volunteers virtually.
  • 34. 34 Chapter V: Discussion, Conclusion, and Recommendations The goal of this research was to determine what major changes volunteer managers at non-profits organizations made in their volunteer program to include more virtual integration. Survey questions were sent to ask what methods volunteer managers use to communicate with volunteers, and what platforms are used to communicate through. Then, through interviewing, these changes were assessed to shed light on what aspects are advantageous and what aspects posed challenges to these individuals. In the literature review, it was found that productive leaders who implement several strategies, which include digital literacy, adopting media trends, personalized communication, self-care and clarity in communication. In the responses given by the participants in this research study, many of their techniques are indicative of these strategies. For example, many participants used Zoom as a resource to communicate with their volunteers. Zoom was one resource that grew in usage over the past year. Similarly, the participants made efforts to personalize communication such as facilitating informal social events over Zoom or making one-on-one phone calls or emails. The participants felt that some of these approaches had advantages, while other aspects were a disadvantage to being able to manage their volunteers. Conclusions It is clear that the volunteer managers in this study use a variety of communication methods. All (8 out of 8) participants use personal emails and phone calls to communicate with volunteers, and most (7 out of 8) send group emails, use video conferencing, and texting. Training methods specifically were less uniform. The types of platforms used were not as uniform, but participants did commonly use Microsoft Outlook and Facebook (6 out of 8). These participants were seen to have adopted media trends, which is one of the recommendations in the
  • 35. 35 literature. When asked about what changes were made, the topic of Zoom conferencing came up with almost all participants. Participants also frequently mentioned making phone calls, switching some functionality and reporting to being online, and for social media to be used to draw in new volunteers or other external members. Unsurprisingly, notable changes were made as a result of the pandemic and the participants appeared to be actively observing the quality of these changes and making note for what worked well and what could use improvements. In the literature review, it was found that authors recommend that leaders maintain a sufficient level of digital literacy, which may include taking steps to engage in digital literacy trainings through work or independently. Through interview responses, the participants reported that they either felt comfortable using their digital systems (i.e., having an acceptable level of digital literacy), or had enough independence to find additional trainings or information if it was needed. Digital literacy posed no barriers to implementing a smooth virtual communication network among volunteers on the volunteer managers end, falling in line with what authors Kane et al. (2019) state to be an essential skill for virtual leadership. The ability to disperse information was generally seen to be able to be done at higher frequencies and with greater ease; in other words, there was a greater attention to clarity in communication when most communication was done virtually. Whereas some information in the past had been sent out physically, orally, or not often virtually, participants noticed that with the majority of communication being virtual, there were factors that allowed this to happen. For example, one participant was able to include videos and links to other sources in weekly newsletters that her volunteers found to be highly informative. The participants also generally found that while they may have overlooked that volunteers did not feel up to date on information in the past, they felt more up to date with greater frequencies of communication being sent out,
  • 36. 36 whether it was through organizational updates or personal contact. Also, some participants found that volunteers now have more choices in how they interact with the organization. Another major advantage was that using virtual methods to communicate removed commuting needs and the need for a physical space to meet. This allowed the participants during the recruitment and onboarding phase of volunteer management to reach a greater number of people who would no longer be deterred by needing to drive, find childcare, or other physical needs. Also, participants were able to reach people at greater distances away from their organization site by using virtual communication. In some ways, the personal one-to-one connection participants felt they had with volunteers had improved with more virtual integration. There are different personal aspects that can be presented and acknowledged through different methods of communication. Through video conferencing, for example, participants would be able to see parts of their volunteer’s homes or their family members. Participants also facilitated more informal meetings or social events very similarly to the style of meetings recommended by the Harvard Business Review (Larson et al., 2020). In these meetings, volunteers could interact with each other, their manager, and/or other organizational members, thus reinforcing their bond with the organization. In other ways, however, participants felt a greater disconnect with their volunteers. While the literature indicated that it is important for leaders to maintain personalized communication with the people they lead, doing so completely virtual for volunteer engagement can pose some problems. Many non-verbal or interpersonal aspects of communication are not present when communicating virtually, which hindered participants ability to fully connect with volunteers whom they only had virtual contact with. Another common disadvantage included technical difficulties or disparities in access to technology for volunteers. Despite the participants’ level of
  • 37. 37 digital literacy, many of them reported that they felt a handful of their volunteers possessed less than sufficient levels of digital literacy which posed some challenges. Other challenges where in mental and emotional health such as staying focused and avoiding fatigue, especially for participants who mainly worked from home or where mostly virtual in their communication with volunteers. Participants appeared to have developed self-care strategies Comparable to the recommendations made by Smith in 2020 The Wall Street Journal to confront the latter problems including having emotional outlets and taking steps to retain a work structure and simulate a work environment if working from home. Overall, there are some aspects of virtual volunteer management that this sample of participants revealed would be worth keeping. Having a longer range to contact people, being able to contact multiple people at once, having increased frequency in communication all justify keeping some form of virtual communication going forward. Other aspects, including technical difficulties, barriers in being able to fully connect with volunteers, and some negative effects on health shown that a completely virtual program may not be the best approach. Instead, keeping some aspects virtual, perhaps recruiting and onboarding phases or regular meetings, while having other be in person may allow for the greatest success in leading and managing volunteers. Recommendations To further this research, a large sample size would surely bring to light more evidence on the advantageous and disadvantages of virtual communication. Including a larger sample with different types of organizations (e.g., human services, environmental), would also reveal more information. There might be differences in how an organization that works primarily in human services uses virtual communication versus an organization that is more environmentally based.
  • 38. 38 A different research approach to investigate this topic could include a case study on a group of organizations that switched their volunteer management to completely or mostly virtual and compare it to a control group that maintains in-person communication. This study could take place over a longer period of time and include multiple interviews for each participant. A study similar to this could also compare and contrast how volunteer programs are managed before and after the COVID-19 pandemic to investigate what virtual methods were kept and which were omitted. Other research could include volunteers themselves and investigate their impressions and experiences using digital resources to communicate with their volunteers’ managers. They could be asked similar questions to the ones included in this survey, and perhaps be further asked how this type of communication affects their work and overall connection with the organization in which they volunteer.
  • 39. 39 References Baker, S. (2020, October 16). 5 Inspiring nonprofits that are using TikTok to fundraise. MobileCause. https://www.mobilecause.com/5-inspiring-nonprofits-that-are-using-tiktok- to-fundraise-success/ Cherry, K. (2020, July 18). Technology is changing volunteer engagement in 2020. https://vomo.org/blog/is-technology-changing-the-way-we-volunteer/ DiSanza, J., Legge, N. (2017). Business and professional communication plans, processes, and performance (6th ed.). Pearson. Dhebar, B. B., & Stokes, B. (2008). A nonprofit manager's guide to online volunteering. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 18(4), 497-506. https://doi.org/10.1002/nml.200 Eden Project. (n.d.). What is coaching leadership? https://www.edenproject.com/learn/for- organisations/creative-leadership/what-is-coaching-leadership Hein, W., White, T., & Williams, J. (2016). Successful use of extension and online training modules in mandatory biennial volunteer recertification. Journal of Youth Development, 11(3), 105-115. https://doi.org/10.5195/jyd.2016.464 Indeed. (2020, December 2). 10 common leadership styles (plus ways to develop your own). Retrieved January 08, 2021, from https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career- development/10-common-leadership-styles Jiang, H., Luo, Y., & Kulemeka, O. (2016). Leading in the digital age: A study of how social media are transforming the work of communication professionals. Telematics and Informatics, 33(2), 493-499. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tele.2015.10.006
  • 40. 40 Kane, G., Phillips, A., Copulsky, J., & Andrus, G. (2019). How digital leadership is(n’t) different. MIT Sloan Management Review, 60(3), 34-39. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/how-digital-leadership-isnt-different/ Larson, B. Z., Vroman, S. V., & Makarius, E. E. (2020, March 18). A guide to managing your (newly) remote workers. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/03/a-guide-to- managing-your-newly-remote-workers Lee, Y.-H., Hsieh, Y.-C., Hsiao, C., & Lin, C.-H. (2018). From virtual worlds to reality moderating and mediating mechanisms between online and offline leadership. Information Technology & People, 31(2), 557-577. https://doi.org/10.1108/ITP-05-2017-0156 McKinsey & Company. (2020, October 28). The path to true transformation. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/transformation/our-insights/the-path-to- true-transformation?cid=soc-web Newport, C. (2020, May 26). Why remote work is so hard—And how it can be fixed. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/can-remote-work-be-fixed Pigg, S. (2014). Coordinating constant invention: social media’s role in distributed work. Technical Communication Quarterly, 23(2), 69-87. https://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2013.796545 Schechter, S. (2020, June 29). What is TikTok and should your nonprofit be using it? Classy. https://www.classy.org/blog/what-is-tiktok-should-nonprofit-use/ Smith, R. A. (2020, August 30). Leadership: How to stay focused while working from home: Limit surfing online and have a defined workspace to boost your concentration, experts say. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-stay-focused-while- working-from-home-11598814000
  • 41. 41 Spilka, R. (2010). Introduction. In Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice (pp. 1-19). Routledge
  • 42. 42 Appendix A Sample Recruitment Invitation Subject: Invitation to Graduate Research Study Survey and Interview - UW Stout Dear [insert name], My name is Nathan Baughman, and I am student from the University of Wisconsin, Stout in the Technical and Professional Communication Graduate Program. I am writing to invite your organization to participate in my research study about online resources and techniques for volunteer leaders at non-profit businesses. The study will be used in a field research project which will result in a research article. Your organization is eligible to be in this study because of your volunteer program. I obtained your contact information from [source]. If your organization decides to participate in this study, your organization’s volunteer manager or coordinator will participate in a survey and a follow-up interview covering topics on online connectivity for leaders of volunteers. The answers both for the survey and the interview will be kept anonymous in the final article. A consent form will be included in the survey to be reviewed and a sign. The interview will be conducted via phone or video conferencing. I would like to audio record the interview and use the answers to determine what resources volunteer leaders are using to connect with their volunteers and their levels of confidence in those resources. Participation is of course completely voluntary. If you would like to participate, please respond to this email or contact me at baughmann5482@my.uwstout.edu. I appreciate your consideration to participate in this study. If you have any questions, feel free to respond to this email. Sincerely, Nathan Baughman
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  • 48. 48 Appendix C Interview Questions UW Stout – M.S. Technical and Professional Communications Program 1. How would you describe your ability to maintain personal connections with volunteers using virtual platforms? 2. Over the last year, what changes (if any) have been made to incorporate more or less virtual aspects to your volunteer management? 3. What have been the results from this change, both positive and negative? 4. If you provide virtual training for your volunteers, in what ways do you feel your online volunteer training succeeds? In what ways do you feel it is lacking? 5. Describe the amount of digital literacy training that you participate in through your organization. 6. Describe your working environment for managing volunteers at your organization. 7. What types of struggles do you face from your working environment and how might you try to combat them?