Note from Beth: Last month, we did a Networked Nonprofit session at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service. Robert J. Rosenthal, Director of Communications for VolunteerMatch was a participant. He offered to write a guest post.
Recently I got my first full-on blast of the Networked Nonprofit at a session the authors presented at the 2010 National Conference on Volunteering and Service. I left inspired, yet I also felt there is still a lot of work we need to do to help our peers in volunteer coordination put these ideas into practice.
There’s no doubt that social networks are allowing organizations to connect with and recruit non-traditional volunteers in new ways. At the same time, volunteer service organizations need to rethink how they work and what technology they use. The question is what can volunteer coordinators – those who are tasked with the work-a-day chores of volunteer engagement – do to help bring about this transformation?
The Free-Agent/Fortress Dilemma in Volunteer Coordination
At NCVS, the audience was a good mix of traditional and non-traditional volunteer coordinators. Some were social change leaders who leverage volunteers; others were administrators who recruit volunteers as their sole function – often at a large nonprofits or national service organizations.
Many of this latter group of are veterans of what Extraordinaries’ Jacob Colker calls the “Command & Control Model” – programs that seek to control the relationship of the volunteer with the organization and/or cause.
Until recently Command & Control made sense. While a few highly-skilled volunteers stalked the boardroom, the rest was left to unskilled hands managed by coordinators fulfilling department orders. This is similar to the “Fortress” as described in the Networked Nonprofit book.
But as volunteers have begun to ask for more responsibility, and as running a social change organization has made it harder for organizations to staff all functions, Command & Control has started to break down.
The central question of the Networked Nonprofit is how organizations can embrace the change. Here are some examples:
Needs Assessment is about determining how volunteers can help and whether it’s feasible to support them. In a networked nonprofit, VCs might mine their personal and professional networks for ideation, best practices, and case studies to learn how organizations are engaging volunteers effectively.
Opportunity Design is the process of understanding the required skills and experience for a given volunteer role. Innovative VCs in a networked nonprofit might go beyond tradition to explore micro-volunteering, virtual volunteering, service-learning, national service, pro bono, or bringing corporate volunteer programs into the organization.
VCs need to work with communications folks to get their opportunities distributed, but a VC might also have her own Twitter feed or blog category to share new opportunities The VC could also use her own professional networks to target special skill sets (such as at LinkedIn). Sharing of opportunities among alumni and donors could be encouraged.
Filtering candidates to assess fit is a crucial step. As applications come in, the VC helps to narrow the pool, coordinate interviews, and run background checks. In a networked nonprofit, VCs might also use Twitter to receive questions, LinkedIn to assess a candidate’s background, VolunteerMatch.org or GreatNonprofits.org to provide reviews from real volunteers, and Flickr and Youtube to inspire and inform volunteer prospects.
VCs are often asked to play the lead role in welcoming, training, and doing in-take for new volunteers. In a networked nonprofit, VCs could partner new volunteers with experienced volunteers to save time in orientation. Training could also be done virtually with videos or through shared docs on a wiki.
Supervised or supported service
Recruitment is just the start. Guiding volunteers to success is equally critical. Daily coordination with volunteers could be done through social media to bolster membership in the online communities and encourage interactions. Collaboration could take place on virtual or crowd-sourced projects. VCs could help volunteers share milestones and accomplishments with badges, banners, or widgets that can be shared with the volunteer’s personal network. And volunteers could have the opportunity to share the organization’s story through their personal networks.
Fear of Failure vs. Fear of the Unknown
During the session, a young man introduced himself to mne. At hi s organization, he told me, the system blocked anything with the word “Facebook,” and online social networking was forbidden because the boss thought irrelevant for volunteer coordination.
As they explore in their new book, fear of failure holds many organizations back from a networked nonprofit approach. For those orgs, Beth and Allison advise individuals at nonprofits to go small, try simple stuff, not focus on ROI, be willing to fail, and leverage small successes.
Yet I think it’s another fear – fear of the unknown – that’s one of the biggest limits. When things are unknown, they can’t be envisioned at all. The earth remains flat, and it’s hard to eliminate the barriers that stand in the way of exploration.
As an NP Tech communicator, my takeaway from the session is just how important it is to share stories how organizations are using a Networked Nonprofit approach to transform volunteer coordination. Do you have one? Share it in the comments.
About the Author
Robert Rosenthal is communications director for VolunteerMatch, the Web’s most popular volunteer network, and a regular presenter on topics relating to technology, the nonprofit sector, and media. Nonprofits can find free training resources for volunteer coordination at http://www.volunteermatch.org/nonprofits/learningcenter.