This is an archived version of the Virtual Volunteering Project web site from January 2001.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The Virtual Volunteering Project web site IS NO LONGER UPDATED.
Email addresses associated with the Virtual Volunteering Project are no longer valid.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
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For new materials regarding online volunteering, see
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midterm reflections

March 1998
from Susan J. Ellis
Virtual Volunteering Program Advisor and Documenting Consultant

It's been a year since we officially launched the Virtual Volunteering Project. And what a year it's been! Jayne Cravens, the project director, can report on the factual accomplishments to date (and you, our Website visitor can vouch for the excellent and useful material she's posted so far). But I'd like to take this midterm opportunity to highlight what I see as the interrelationship (so far) of the principles of virtual volunteering and of physical world volunteering.

  • All the best practices of real-world volunteer management apply to successful virtual managing, but some tasks require more emphasis. A few of these are:

    • Helping cyberspace volunteers to feel connected and in the loop of agency communication.
    • Monitoring and following up actions that can't be seen.
    • Quality control, again because actions can't be seen.

  • On the other hand, there are things that seem easier to do virtually:

    • Communications! Can be in touch more often, more directly, simpler, quicker, and cheaper than with a corps of onsite people having different schedules, or by mail.

    • The nature of virtual volunteering forces the program manager to do the most competent "task analysis" to carve out the best assignments.

  • There is a high correlation between managing volunteers in virtual assignments and managing any volunteer who works off-site or in the field (such as troop leaders, coaches, tutors, friendly visitors). So any techniques learned in one arena are immediately applicable to the other. In fact, cyberspace will radically improve the way we can maintain connections with off-site volunteers.

Some general implications of the project so far:

  1. There are some especially positive applications for any national or international group, including all-volunteer membership associations: immediately and timely posting of information; archival records available to all at any time; encouragement of sharing among members without having to go through the bottleneck of the national office; elimination of many printing and postage costs for items with short lifespans or of secondary importance (some newsletters, directories, etc.); new ability to cluster people with special interests regardless of location; ways to get lots of geographic "representation" of members without the expense of travel.

  2. The Internet environment raises concerns about: privacy/confidentiality for both volunteers and clients, especially of addresses (real and cyber); costs of the technology (though not necessarily major); costs of dedicating staff to this new area--and, even more important, the need to find capable, online cutting-edge staff/volunteers; accountability and control (how much is really necessary and in what areas?).

  3. Even for agencies with volunteers all on-site, communicating by e-mail is a powerful to tool to: remind about and receive reports; give latest news flashes; invite to meetings. Using cyberspace to support volunteer training will become increasingly attractive, such as posting timely information and policy materials. Creating listservs, especially for volunteers doing one-to-one work, may overcome the problem of getting volunteers to attend periodic on- site meetings.

  4. The potential of distance learning is enormous. We haven't even begun to explore:
    • chat rooms
    • video conferencing (soon will be widely available on the Web, too)
    • hot linking to and downloading from other relevant sites
    • forming Web rings in collaboration with other partner agencies, in which volunteers (and staff and clients) can move from site to site and get useful information.

  5. Senior citizens are no longer unwired. Two years ago many commentators saw cyberspace as youth-only territory. Well, grandchildren changed all that! Smart grandpas and grandmas (often with discretionary income and time) realized immediately thatcomputers were a way to have lots of contact with the kids. Bingo! More and more seniors are becoming curious and cyber-savvy. Think of the volunteering possibilities!

  6. For the first time we have a powerful tool for engaging people with disabilities in substantive volunteer work. Certainly the deaf community is completely accessible in cyberspace--with years of TTY experience at the keyboard, too. Many physical disabilities can also be overcome by technology. The recent Mitsubishi grant to the Virtual Volunteering Project for studying this very issue promises exciting things.

  7. Global colleagues are a reality. So many causes have no geographic boundaries: AIDS, the environment, visual arts, etc. If we can connect with and find ways to work with others sharing our mutual interests anywhere on the globe, do we not have a better chance of making a difference?

  8. As new language translation software improves and becomes common, our international contacts will be made even easier. But closer to home, such software may enable a whole new range of social services and volunteering on behalf of new immigrants and anyone not fluent in English. Special note on this: Alzheimer's patients who speak English as a second language revert back to their mother tongue. Is there some way to use cyberspace in the future to communicate with those experiencing this?

One last word on concerns about the cost and availability of hardware and Internet access. Yes, this is a real and serious problem that right now separates haves from have nots. But it is turning out to be a temporary problem. More people have potential access to free e-mail and Web surfing now than are making use of the opportunity. Public libraries are becoming wired. Even poor school districts are providing some access. There is every reason to believe that the future holds integration of television, telephone and Internet technology--at affordable rates.

I believe that a much more serious problem is reading ability. Cyberspace today requires enormous amounts of reading. And the faster one reads, the easier to use the Web. Even with the coming of voice interface and Web video, it seems certain that literacy will be a fundamental requirement to success online. This is much harder to come by than affordable hardware! Maybe this ought to be a major concern to ask volunteers to address: increasing the ranks of today's literacy volunteers to focus on the degree of literacy needed for cyberspace. And this may transform the way reading tutoring is done, too.

All very exciting--and exhausting! The learning curve is steep, but the rewards are enormous.


Susan J. Ellis is president of Energize, Inc., http://www.energizeinc.com, an international consulting, training and publishing firm specializing in volunteerism.

This article is Copyright 1998, Energize, Inc. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this information without charge for non-commercial or educational purposes if the information is kept intact and without alteration, and is credited to Susan J. Ellis, Energize, Inc., http://www.energizeinc.com, and The Virtual Volunteering Project, http://www.serviceleader.org/vv/


 
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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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