This is an archived version of the Virtual Volunteering Project web site from January 2001.
The materials on the web site were written or compiled by Jayne Cravens.
The Virtual Volunteering Project has been discontinued.
The Virtual Volunteering Project web site IS NO LONGER UPDATED.
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For any URL that no longer works, type the URL into archive.org
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managing technical assistance
volunteers "virtually"

This information was last updated on November 6, 2000

NOTE: These tips are focused on working with technical assistance volunteers -- those who work directly with staff on assignments such as research, writing, design, etc., rather than those who work with clients on an organization's behalf.

The following is also most appropriate for organizations who have already

 
A technical assistance volunteer is a person who provides support to an agency's staff members or other volunteers (such as help with building a Web site or explaining a legal issue) rather than an organization's clients (such as mentoring young people).

Technical assistance volunteers are greatly valued by nonprofit and public sector organizations.

Picture these scenarios in a nonprofit setting:

  • a volunteer lawyer explaining a legal issue dealing with human resources

  • a volunteer helping someone use a computer, use software, or use the Internet

  • a volunteer accountant explaining complicated financial practices

Problems can arise in such situations when the volunteer is assisting a staff person and is working with a system or technology that he or she understands quite well, but the staff person doesn't. Or, if the volunteer doesn't fully understand the needs and the resources of the organization he or she is assisting.

 
To keep the volunteer experience beneficial rather than frustrating for everyone involved, we offer these suggestions, to be used in conjunction with our other Virtual Volunteering Resources

  • Ask the volunteer to review Dos and Don'ts for Technical Assistance Volunteers here on the Virtual Volunteering Project Web site, and tell them why these suggestions are particularly important to your organization.

  • Communicate your agency's budget and staffing limitations for this assignment. Many volunteers do not understand that not-for-profit organizations and public sector agencies operate in a world of very limited resources, or that they don't have a staff member devoted solely to human resources, another to legal issues, another to computer systems, etc. Defining these limitations up front can help the volunteer develop an appropriate strategy for your organization before any action is taken.

  • If this person is going to help with Web site development or maintenance, is he or she going to have access to your Web server? If so, make sure the volunteer understands that the password information is confidential, and be sure to set up criteria for when they can put information online (who should review it beforehand and give the final okay?). Also, be sure to change the password immediately upon the end of the volunteer's tenure (for more information, see Working with Web Volunteers)

  • Ask the volunteer to provide technical documentation (e.g., how parts of a database relate to each other) and user documentation (e.g., how to do the data entry and how to solve the most common problems faced by the user) for the first piece before moving on to the next piece of a volunteer assignment. This way, if the volunteer must discontinue work on the project, the staff has the documentation needed to easily integrate a new volunteer into the project.

  • If this person is going to do research, can he or she contact organizations on behalf of your agency? Do you want to be copied on any such e-mails sent? If the organization is going to do outreach via the Internet for your organization, give the volunteer a sample of how you would like e-mails written and signed.

  • Do you understand what the volunteer is telling you or suggesting? If not -- ASK. The volunteer's professional expertise may involve language that's outside of laymen's terms, just as you use terms that people outside your field of expertise may not understand.

  • Be patient, be supportive, and remember that not every volunteer job is right for every volunteer. The better your screening, orientation and supervising process, the less chance there is for misunderstandings or incomplete assignments. Remember that it is easier to start small and increase assignments than to start big and risk overwhelming your volunteer.

 
The Virtual Volunteering Project has much more advice on our Web site regarding managing offsite volunteers via the Internet and implementing a virtual volunteering program at your organization.

Also see our resource Working with Web Volunteers.

 
TechSoup has resources for recruiting and involving volunteers for computer/technology-related assistance (when you get to this link, click on the link to "volunteers").

 
The Christian Macintosh Users Group (CMUG) has a page on How to Work with Volunteers in Desktop Publishing at http://www.c-mug.org/H/yp.workvolunteers.html ; this page has additional information for both volunteer managers and volunteers themselves.

 
CompuMentor, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California, has an online version of its handbook to prepare its mentors for what to expect in volunteer situations. It's available at:
http://www.compumentor.org/cm/resources/mentor/default.html

 
Also see Organizing A Technology Volunteer Program In Your School District for detailed advice on assessing a volunteer technical team's resources, recruiting and screening volunteers, and creating effective communications between school coordinators and volunteers. While this is a school-focused resource, it is more than applicable to nonprofit settings as well.

 
Phil Agre has posted his excellent publications about computing's impact on community and social practice on his Web site at http://dlis.gseis.ucla.edu/people/pagre/. Phil Agre's comments are from How to help someone use a computer, an article available at CompuMentor's Web site, which was adapted from The Network Observer.

 
NetDay, a national effort to wire schools, has a How-To Guide at http://www.netday.org/how-to/, with information on how to coordinate volunteers to "wire" a school for Internet access and networking, sample checklists and follow-up systems for organizers, volunteers, and partners, advice on public relations, and a sample waiver form. The information is helpful to anyone coordinating technical assistance volunteers.

 
Some of this information is from The (Help) I-Don't-Have-Enough-Time Guide to Volunteer Management, a book by Katherine Noyes Campbell and Susan Ellis. Susan is president of ENERGIZE, Inc., an international publishing, training and consulting firm specializing in volunteerism, and is documenting this Project. See Susan's Web site at http://www.energizeinc.com/.

 
If you use this material to help your organization, please e-mail us and let us know!


 
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If you find this or any other Virtual Volunteering Project information helpful, or would like to add information based on your own experience, please contact us.

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This is an archived version of the Virtual Volunteering Project web site from January 2001.
The materials on the web site were written or compiled by Jayne Cravens.
The Virtual Volunteering Project has been discontinued.
The Virtual Volunteering Project web site IS NO LONGER UPDATED.
Email addresses associated with the Virtual Volunteering Project are no longer valid.
For any URL that no longer works, type the URL into archive.org
.
For new materials regarding online volunteering, see
Jayne Cravens' web site (the section on volunteerism-related resources).
 

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