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Volunteer Power News — Number 45
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

© 2007 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

A warm welcome to all volunteer managers—those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize volunteer workers.

Virtual Volunteers
Are You Expanding Your Volunteer Base by Using Virtual Volunteers?

Part I – Getting Started in a Virtual Volunteer Program

Note: In our new book, The New Volunteer, Recruiting and Managing 21st Volunteers Who Want to Do It Their Way, which has to be into the publisher by March 1st, we are writing a chapter on the virtual volunteer. If you are using virtual volunteers, please contact us (tom@volunteerpower.com) as I would love to interview you to find out more about your successes, frustrations, and lessons you have learned.

The Virtual Volunteer—Starting from Scratch

The virtual volunteer program is so new, many people don’t even know what it is. A friend of mine asked at a recent DOVIA (Directors of Volunteers in Agencies) meeting if anyone knew of a group that was using virtual volunteers. It was silent. One member was going to a COVAA (Congress Of Volunteers Administrator Associations) event in Colorado and said she would ask for people to contact us if they were running an on-line volunteer program. Tiffani Hill contacted us and told us about the three international virtual volunteer programs for Best Friends. Best Friends reaches across the nation, helping humane groups, individual people, and entire communities to set up spay/neuter, shelter, foster, and adoption programs in their own neighborhoods, cities, and states. The mission of Best Friends is driven by the simple philosophy that kindness to animals helps build a better world for all of us.

Tiffani Hill, Volunteer Resources Manager with Best Friends, directs the work of about 600 virtual volunteers that she has never met face to face. To coordinate the work of these 600 animal rescue volunteers who respond to disasters around the world such as Lebanon and Louisiana, she has five virtual volunteer coordinators. They do all of their recruiting, screening, scheduling, and even firing on-line. This is a different world of volunteer management.

The questions that I am asking about this fairly new thing called the virtual volunteer are the following:

1. Do you have to be a “techy” to start a virtual volunteer program?
2. What is the virtual volunteer program?
3. Why consider a virtual volunteer program?
4. What do you need to set up the virtual volunteer program?
5. How do you recruit, manage and fire virtual volunteers?
6. What are the cautions about using the virtual volunteer?
7. What is the difference between the virtual volunteer and using technology to enhance the volunteer?

Question One: Do you have to be a “techy” to start a virtual volunteer program?

My first question is out of fear. When I hear people talking about the newest technology, I have mixed feelings. I get excited as I love the newest technological gadget; however, I get scared because every time I read my owners manual on my home theatre system, I don’t have a clue what it is talking about. My wife often says to me when I can’t get it adjusted correctly, “I wish for the old days when you just turned on the T.V. and it worked.” So when I start thinking about using anything with advanced technology, I can get a little bit apprehensive.

I asked Tiffani if she has a background in technology, and she burst out laughing. Tiffani is like most of us. She is a volunteer manager, not an I.T. specialist. Tiffani is a certified volunteer administrator without a technical background and yet Best Friends hired her to create and manage an on-line volunteer program. Tiffani says,

My coordinators have way more experience than I do. In fact, that was one of the questions they had when I was hired because I don’t have a background in technology. I do have 10 years experience in the volunteer field, and I am a certified volunteer administrator. I came in with some really strong credentials as far as what was needed for staff programs, so fortunately they allowed me to learn the technology as I go. Other staff who work for Best Friends have a software background, and they back me up. And they back up the volunteers. Yes, I have had to learn to swallow my pride and get help with technology from my volunteers.

Tiffani’s answer encouraged me. Volunteer coordinators can develop a virtual volunteer program and work effectively in the 21st century without a background in technology. But before we go any further, we need to define this thing called, “virtual volunteer.”

Question Two: What is the virtual volunteer?

Traditionally volunteering is an on-site task. During the 20th century many organizations began to use the telephone and mail by home-based volunteers to help with activities such as fundraising or bookkeeping. In the 1980s and 90s with the advent of the information and communications technology revolution groups began to venture out into a new type of volunteering often called “virtual volunteering,” “on-line volunteering” or “the E-volunteer”. The virtual volunteers conduct their volunteer services over the Internet.

The virtual volunteer is a person who contributes time and effort with an organization through an online connection, instead of or in addition to onsite service. Online volunteers do a variety of tasks, such as translating documents, proofreading books, editing or preparing proposals, designing logos, researching information, developing strategic plans, reviewing budgets, creating web pages, designing flash presentations, moderating online discussion groups and managing other online volunteers. Online volunteers may support organizations in their own community, or entirely remotely (such as Wikipedia).

Some of the creative volunteers are able to fulfill roles such as voice narration, video editing, screen recording, computer programming, flash design, and online tutoring.

Question Three: Why consider a virtual volunteer?

The virtual volunteer program is an opportunity to expand your volunteer base beyond the people who volunteer face to face. Some virtual volunteers cannot volunteer onsite because they cannot leave their home or work place, especially those with disabilities who have problems with mobility. Tiffani Hill said that the unexpected happened when she began the virtual volunteer program for Best Friends. About 1/3 of their new volunteers recruited through the web did not have a background in animal groups before. They had volunteer experience, are animal lovers, saw a virtual opportunity, and responded because they said it would fit in with their schedule. They signed up and then they became passionate animal advocates. It surprised her how many non-animal people came into this position and are doing very well in it. And one reason is that if you are already in animal welfare, you are over extended as it is. Tiffani found out that the virtual volunteer program opened their volunteer base to whole new markets.

The virtual volunteer also allows a person to help an organization that serves a cause or issue of great importance to the person but for which there are no onsite opportunities in his or her area of expertise. Many state-wide, national and international organizations recruit the virtual volunteer because it allows the volunteer to help a geographic area that he or she cannot travel to.

The virtual volunteer program is an efficient way to tap into available expertise, skills, and ideas to accomplish the mission of the organization. The world wide web, with over a billion users, gives an unbelievable number of competent and committed people the opportunity to engage as volunteers. The organization has the opportunity to open up their volunteers to a diversity of individuals globally and enlarge their networks of support.

Best Friends saw the need for an virtual volunteer program when they weren’t prepared for the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Animals groups needed to respond quickly to the rescue needs. Veterinarians and Veterinarian Techs were needed along with quick response rescue teams to rescue the many animals that were caught in the disaster. The system that was used to put together teams was very open and almost anyone could apply and serve with almost any group. Now FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) says that if it is a federal disaster zone, there are minimum requirements that a volunteer has to have to serve on a rescue team. So what Tiffani has developed is three levels of volunteers based on qualifications and training. Some of the training is through Best Friends, but most of it is through FEMA. Tiffani has also developed a pool of volunteers that are all prescreened, pre-trained, and pre-certified, so that in the event of the next disaster, she has a list of people that are qualified. All she has to do is call them and ask, “Can you go?” Then she can get them on the ground as fast as possible.

As I talked with Tiffani, I got excited about the possibilities for the virtual volunteer program. I also learned ways that we can use technology to a greater degree to enhance our on-site volunteer programs. Next month I will continue this topic and answer the following questions:

• What do I need to set up the virtual volunteer program?
• How do you recruit, manage and fire virtual volunteers?
• What are the cautions about using the virtual volunteer?
• How do you do screening for the virtual volunteer?
• What is the difference between the virtual volunteer and using technology to enhance the volunteer?

Remember: If you are using virtual volunteers, we would love to interview you to add to our research for our new book, The New Volunteer, Recruiting and Managing 21st Volunteers Who Want to Do It Their Way. Please contact us (Tom@volunteerpower.com).

Key Note Presentation:

Your volunteer managers are facing a whole new world of volunteers. Consider the following key-note for your next association or organization convention.

The New Volunteer
Strategies for Recruiting and Managing the 21st Century Volunteers
Who Want to Do It their Way

Thomas W. McKee

Seven seismic shifts in the last 20 years that have changed the face of volunteer management for the 21st Century:

• Loyalty shifts
• The team of one
• Generational shifts: Aging boomers and the new millennials
• Cyberspace
• The rise of the knowledge worker
• The recruiting shift from people to position to project
• The shift from management to leadership

Four Questions to Ask When Facing Change:

• What is the same and will never change?
• What is different and how is it affecting us?
• How do we interpret the answers to the first two questions?
• What is the most important factor to remember in the transition?

So what does the 21st Century Volunteer Program look like?

Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at tom@advantagepoint.com. Other articles and free resources are available at www.volunteerpower.com.