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Volunteer Power News — Number 46
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 II – Working With Virtual Volunteers

If you missed Part I last month, we answered the following three questions:

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?

In Part II I want to comment on the next four questions.

4. What do you need to start up a virtual volunteer program?
5. How do you recruit virtual volunteers?
6. How to you manage virtual volunteers?
7. How do you fire virtual volunteers?

Question Four: What do you need to set up a virtual volunteer program?

The range of virtual volunteer programs models is wide-from the very complex with interactive Web sites to the very simple e-mail-based program.

Susan Ellis has identified a five-level scale that she calls "The Degrees of Virtuality" in The Virtual Volunteer Guidebook, Jayne Cravens and Susan Ellis pp. 10-13). This very complete color PDF book can be downloaded free.

We recommend it highly for everything you want to know about adding the power of the internet to your volunteer program. Ellis's five levels include the following:

Level One: Getting information from the internet
Level Two: Interacting with individuals on-line
Level Three: Putting information on the internet
Level Four: Integrating cyberspace with real world volunteer assignments
Level Five: The virtual volunteer

Randy Taylor in TechSoup.org (the technology place for nonprofits) states that the requirements for the basic virtual volunteer program are a computer, dial-up connection, an e-mail account, an office suite (such as MS Outlook) and basic computer skills. He goes on:

To move to a more advanced level, an organization should consider additional hardware such as scanners, CD burners, Web cameras, audio speakers, headsets, larger hard drives, increased RAM, enhanced video cards, faster processors, as well as enhanced software (such as Adobe Acrobat, Camtasia Studio, Cool Edit Pro, Direct FTP, Auto Play Media Studio, Adobe Premiere), a broadband connection (such as DSL, cable, or satellite) and an FTP site for storing and exchanging large files with volunteers are other key elements that may be necessary. And to efficiently manage a number of online volunteers, an interactive Web site should be designed that will allow most of the volunteer management process to be executed online. Thus, Web-based forms can be designed where staff can request volunteers, volunteers can complete an application or view a list of volunteer opportunities, references can submit a form, and volunteers can attend an orientation and submit their monthly time and task contribution. The opportunities to be creative in designing such productivity tools are endless.

Now, if you are like me, you probably didn't understand half of what that meant, but as Randy says, "an organization can then use tech-savvy virtual volunteers to make more technology available to it." And they would understand all that stuff.

Randy's article is excellent on developing the virtual volunteer program.

Question Five: How do you recruit the virtual volunteer?

Recruiting, managing and firing the virtual volunteer is a lot like working with the face-to-face on-site volunteer, except that you do it all on line. It starts with getting your name out there-like dating only on-line. Guess you could call this on-line dating. See our article "Recruiting is like Dating."

David Harper, volunteer coordinator for Epilepsy Ontario, found his three virtual volunteers by advertising (free) on Charity Village. It is a Canadian web site for posting volunteer opportunities. David interviewed them personally and checked references.

Regina Brink, Volunteer Coordinator for the Sacramento Society of the Blind, recruits readers from Volunteer Match, the United Way, and the library web site, which gives them most of their applicants. They also go to volunteer fairs and recruit from local businesses. Some volunteers record on their lunch hours from work. It takes about an hour or two for training, which they all do at the Society for the Blind office. Readers audition to make sure that they first of all can read well and that that their voice will be easy to listen to.

Sue Hood is the Connection Services Director of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL., a church with over 25,000 in attendance each week. Willow Creek uses a special website as a recruiting tool that has a form the interested member fills out in four areas: ministry, interest, frequency and location. Sue said that the volunteer web page is their primary communication vehicle, with approximately 500 hits per week. She states that the "top ten volunteer needs list" works very well.

Tiffani Hill with Best Friends said that she feels that it is always good to have your name out there, so they list through web sites like Volunteer Match and advertise on Energize, Inc., but most of their virtual volunteers come from word of mouth through their active volunteers, their staff, and posting in universities for internships. Nicol, an educational coordinator with Best Friends, needed volunteers to help in their work with the 300 rescued animals from Beruit that they had relocated them to their sanctuary in Kaub, Utah. Nicol, who lives in Pennsylvania, posted volunteer opportunities for students who would be willing to go to Utah for a week or two to help out with the rescued animals. The students did all of their paper work on line and if accepted, then they were contacted by Marilee from North Carolina to make sure that the student was confirmed and all the paper work was in. She also answered any last minute questions.

The On-line interview

Traditionally our volunteers are screened for their passion and agreement with our mission by the fact that they have joined our organization, church, or association. They wouldn't have joined our organization if they weren't interested. But the internet has changed that. The 21st century volunteer reaches beyond our organization, philosophical and theological walls, and it means that our interview process becomes even more important.

Most groups have an on-line application that the potential volunteer fills out when they see an ad or respond to a web site list of volunteer opportunities. We suggest that you probe three areas: 1) Commitment to the philosophy and mission of your organization 2) Computer experience and equipment 3) Self motivation.

All the virtual managers we talked to emphasized the importance of the phone interview and checking references. Some, asking not to be identified, told some wild stories about problems when they did not do an intensive interview.

Question Six: How do you mange the on-line volunteer?

Just because a person is self-motivated and very disciplined, it doesn't mean that the volunteer manager does not give feedback. The principle, 'Without feedback you don't know where you stand" is just as essential for the virtual volunteer as the face-to-face volunteer. Virtual volunteer managers should immediately respond to any work that the virtual volunteer does. It might just be a quick e-mail that says, "Thanks for your report-looks great a first glance. I will be going over it in a few days and get back to you. Thanks for all you are doing." Sometime a phone call just to check in is important. Once in a while the manager should send a slow-mail note to say thank you. The person who does everything on-line knows the effort to send a thank you note by mail.

David Harper with Epilepsy Ontario said that except for a volunteer luncheon he does not see his three virtual volunteers personally. None of them live in the vicinity of their office, and everything is done by email. David keeps regular contact with his three virtual volunteers by emailing them to praise them on the good work they are doing and keeps them in the loop with monthly newsletters as to what is going on at Epilepsy Ontario.

Question Seven: How do you fire the virtual volunteer?

Risk management is very important in volunteer management. This is especially important when you have to let a volunteer go-fire them. You still follow all of the steps that you would in firing an on-site volunteer, but do it all on line or over the phone. We talked to one virtual manager who had to fire three virtual volunteers. She kept trying to coach the volunteer who was way over committed, and finally the volunteer just crashed. When the volunteer sent an inappropriate letter under the banner of the organization to a high ranking official, it caused some back lash. The volunteer manager didn't fire the volunteer at first. She called him, worked with him, and gave him a very stern warning. However, within a few days following the conversation, he showed no signs of improvement, so she had to let the volunteer go. The volunteer manager told us that she had documented everything, all correspondence, all conversations, and letters regarding discipline.

Next Month: You'll never believe where he finds his volunteers-it's, ah, well, it's just very different.

Interview with Stephen Drew-chief curator of the California State Rail Road Museum. They have over 1300 volunteers and will be honoring over 500 who have put in at least one full day a month volunteering for the museum. See how they do it.

Key Note Presentation: Who Are The New Volunteers?

I delivered the following presentation last week. Consider something like this for your convention.

Your volunteer managers are facing a whole new world of volunteers who are available to help you accomplish your mission. Do you know how to recruit them?

The New Volunteer
Seven seismic shifts in the last 50 years that have changed the volunteer culture in the 21st Century.

  • Marketing Your Organization: Interruption marketing vs. permission marketing
  • The emergence of the knowledge workers who want to do it their way
  • When I am 64 - the growing number of retiring boomers who don't want to stuff envelopes
  • Empowering the 21 year old professional - the growing number of Gen Yers who won't stuff envelopes
  • Individualism - why volunteerism is increasing in spite of Bowling Alone
  • Cyberspace - the greatest untapped volunteer resource
  • The exponential increase of competition - volunteers have more options

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.