Revised on November 11, 2016
Short-term assignments for tech
There are a variety of ways for nonprofits, non-governmental organizations
(NGOs), schools, government agencies and other mission-based organizations
to involve volunteers to help with short-term projects relating to
computers and the Internet, and short-term assignments are what are sought
after most by potential "tech" volunteers. But there is a disconnect: most
organizations have trouble identifying such short-term tech projects for
Below is a list of short-term projects for "tech" volunteers that is
based on a list brainstormed by myself and by members of TechSoup
Global's Volunteers and Technology online discussion group in 2005. I've
added a lot to it over the years. These one-time, short-term
assignments might takes a few days, a couple of weeks or maybe a
month to complete. But each have a definite start date and end date,
shouldn't go on longer than a month (maybe two) and do not require
a volunteer to make an ongoing commitment to the organization - once an
assignment is done, the volunteer can move on to another assignment, or
stop volunteering with the organization altogether.
Volunteers who fill these short-term assignments will still need
to be vetted! They probably won't need criminal background
checks (unless they will have access to information that could allow them
to contact your clients, particularly children), but you will need
to make sure people have the expertise they claim, and that may require
reference checks and viewing work samples. It will certainly require an
interview. If a volunteer is too busy to go through your organization's
standard application and orientation process, they are too busy to
undertake a short-term tech assignment and give your organization the
quality it needs. More information on interviewing in this article: Finding
a Computer/Network Consultant
Also, some assignments may require organizations to purchase software or
other equipment that the volunteer will install on the organization's
systems. Make sure volunteers know that they must get permission, in
writing, before purchasing anything, even if they aren't expecting
reimbursement. When a volunteer recommends tech purchases, you might ask a
board member who works at a company with a large tech department, or any
staff or volunteers that have a friend or family member at such, to ask
that tech department to give their input on the purchase recommendations.
Short-term assignments for volunteers relating to computers and the
There are also many long-term, ongoing assignments for tech volunteers,
ofcourse, such as web design, web site management, being on-call for tech
problems, backing up systems, producing live online events, etc. But before
an organization involves volunteers in such high-commitment endeavors, the
organization should consider creating a few short-term assignments, to get
used to working with tech volunteers and to help staff identify the best
candidates for longer-term assignments.
- doing an audit of what software / apps are on the computers of all
company computers, company-owned smart phones, tablets, etc., and what
software is for. Many organizations aren't aware, for instance, that
their computers have the ability to edit video, or that they already
have a program on their computers that could be used for a database.
This information needs to be shared in a deliberate, obvious way
throughout the organization, so that everyone can know what resources
the organization already has.
- doing an audit of what software / apps employees and volunteers are
using as a part of their work, and how, and then exploring ways staff
could train each other regarding these software / app uses. This
information needs to be shared in a deliberate, obvious way throughout
the organization, so that everyone can know what resources the
- cleaning spyware and viruses off of an organization's devices,
identifying and installing or configuring software to prevent such in
the future, and providing documentation about these efforts for future
- checking for the latest updates of software an organization uses
frequently (when the updates are not free and automatically-made on the
computers), and evaluating whether or not updates that aren't free and
automatic are a good idea for the organization (they aren't always).
- installing more memory on the office devices (this will require
someone to purchase this hardware for the devices).
- installing sound cards, web cams or other hardware on the office
computers (this will require someone to purchase this hardware for the
- creating or setting up a system that allows staff or long-term
volunteers at an organization to easily backup computer files.
- developing a technology plan for the organization or an individual
department that anticipates future equipment and upgrade needs.
- developing a technology training plan that identifies paid staff and
volunteer training needs, for the entire organization or for an
individual department. Remember: the tech needs of staff that manage
your volunteer engagement won't be the same as your accounting
- evaluating an organization's web site or new web pages regarding
their accessibility (use by people with disabilities and people using
assistive technologies), regarding mobile access (can the web site be
easily viewed on a smart phone? does it need to be?) and making
recommendations regarding accessibility and mobile readiness.
- reviewing visitor statistics for a web site and making
recommendations to improve the web sites ranking in keyword searches on
sites like Google.
- making recommendations about whether or not the organization should
develop an app that helps it better serve its clients. For instance,
does a homeless shelter need to develop an app that staff could use to
know what other shelters in the area have beds available? Should an
organization focused on women's safety develop an app so that a woman
using the app could call for a taxi driven by a woman?
- editing raw video to make a short video for
use with the general public, dispersed staff or remote volunteers/online
- editing raw audio to make a podcast
to upload to your computer and make available to anyone.
- installing and configuring an instant messaging client that allows
each staff person to combine all of their various instant messaging
accounts into one interface (for instance, I'm on a Mac
and use Adium, a free instant
messaging client that combines my Yahoo, Microsoft, FaceBook and Skype
instant messaging functions into one window, allowing me to log in to
just ONE thing to access all of these instant messaging clients).
- holding an in-house workshop for paid staff and volunteers, such as
- use software already on an organization's computers (particularly
under-utilized software, like the graphics software that's already
installed on most computers but rarely used, or instant messaging
software, or templates that came with the word-processing software
or database software).
- manage large amounts of email (many people don't know how to set
up filters for messages, for example).
- maintain basic computer and Internet security/data protection.
- prevent junk emailers from getting staff email addresses (the
perils of sending electronic cards or using online address books or
downloading "free screen savers", etc.).
- use free online services /
free cloud computing tools, like YahooGroups,
Drop Box, shared online
- use live, interactive software
such as chats, instant messaging, VoIP and video conferencing.
- use tags on Twitter.
- how to use advanced functions on your word processing program
(how to set up an automatically-updated table of contents, how to
create fields for a mail merge using data from another program,
- insert photos and videos into a slide show presentation so that
the presentation file size is still kept at a manageable level (so
that it could be sent as an attachment, for instance).
- how to transition from one software package to another, such as
switching to a new database platform, or switching from a
proprietary office suite to OpenOffice
- edit raw video to make a short video
for use with the general public, dispersed staff or remote
- edit raw audio to make a podcast
to upload to your computer and make available to anyone.
- how to upload a video to YouTube
or other video-sharing software.
- how to use online social
networking and online professional networking to recruit
volunteers, reach potential clients, attract donors, promote
organizational success, etc.
Finding a Computer/Network
Consultant (paid or volunteer)
Otherwise, please contact
me for permission to reprint, present or distribute these materials
(for instance, in a class or book or online event for which you intend to
Staff at mission-based organizations (nonprofits, civil society
organizations, and public sector agencies) often have to rely on
consultants, either paid or volunteer, for expertise in computer hardware,
software and networks. Staff may feel unable to understand, question nor
challenge whatever that consultant recommends. What can mission-based
organizations do to recruit the "right" consultant for "tech" related
issues, one that will not make them feel out-of-the-loop or out-of-control
when it comes to tech-related discussions?
One(-ish) Day "Tech" Activities for
Volunteers are getting together for intense, one-day events, or events of
just a few days, to build web pages, to write code, to edit Wikipedia
pages, and more. These are gatherings of onsite volunteers, where everyone
is in one location, together, to do an online-related project in one day,
or a few days. It's a form of episodic volunteering, because volunteers
don't have to make an ongoing commitment - they can come to the event,
contribute their services, and then leave and never volunteer again.
Because computers are involved, these events are sometimes called
hackathons, even if coding isn't involved. This page provides advice on
how to put together a one-day event, or just-a-few-days-of activity, for a
group of tech volunteers onsite, working together, for a nonprofit,
non-governmental organization (NGO), community-focused government program,
school or other mission-based organization - or association of such.
Tech Volunteer Groups / ICT4D Volunteers
A list of tech volunteering initiatives, some defunct, some still going
strong, that recruit tech experts to volunteer their time support either
local nonprofit organizations or NGOs in developing countries regarding
computer hardware, software and Internet tech-related tasks.
Pro Bono / In-Kind / Donated Services for
When, Why & How?.
There are all sorts of professionals who want to donate their services
-- web design, intranet setup, graphic design, human resources
expertise, legal advice, editing, research, and so forth -- to
mission-based organizations. And there are all sorts of nonprofits and
NGOs who would like to attract such donated services. But often, there's
a disconnect -- misunderstandings and miscommunications and unrealistic
expectations that lead to missed opportunities and frustrating
experiences. This resource is designed to help both those who want to
donate professional services and those who want to work with such
Creating One-Time, Short-Term Group
Details on not just what groups of volunteers can do in a two-hour,
half-day or all-day event, but also just how much an organization or
program will need to do to prepare a site for group volunteering. It's
an expensive, time-consuming endeavor - are you ready? Is it worth it?
Webinar on Finding and Involving Tech Volunteers
Recorded in April 2009, this
presentation with slides and audio is a recording of a live
webinar I did for TechSoup. It
explores how to effectively involve volunteers in computer and Internet
related tasks at your organization, including ways to identify
tech-related assignments, ways to support volunteers in these
assignments, and, of course, methods to recruit and screen such
volunteers. Nonprofit staff members can feel a sense of both awe and
fear about tech volunteers, and this can lead to misunderstandings and
frustrations on the part of both parties. This webinar will help
nonprofit staff stay in control of tech volunteering tasks so that the
finished assignment meets the nonprofits' needs and the tech volunteer
has a satisfying experience. It's less than an hour long.
Return to my volunteer-related resources
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by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved
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