Read more about the author here. This post is based on the community work and writing that the author has been doing in WR 122 at Portland Community College. The piece of public writing is loosely based on a research question and research collection the author developed. The public writing is a chance to use one’s writing to become part of the larger community dialogue about issues in the chosen theme.
This term I was introduced to an entirely new concept for me, that of virtual volunteering. Like many people I have a lot going on in my life, from a full-time job, to family obligations, a demanding pet, and a full load of classes at PCC. I can’t normally afford to take 2-3 hours of my day to travel somewhere in order to volunteer for my community without neglecting something else. but with virtual volunteering I can take as little as 15 minutes at a time and make a meaningful contribution to cuases that interest me.
Through my work at virtual volunteer site sparked.com, I started to notice some things about the site that bothered me. As good as it is to connecting volunteers to causes that need virtual help, it doesn’t do much to form human connections between the volunteers themselves, and even the people that we’re helping. I focused my research on the basics of virtual volunteering, what are the advantages, and what how are the ways that it succeeds. I hoped that through these questions I would find inspiration to communicate with the people behind sparked.com and contribute my insights on how they may improve engagement of volunteers on their site.
The Public Writing
March 13, 2013
VP Marketing, Sparked.com
Two months ago I joined your site, Sparked.com, and have enjoyed the privilege of donating some of my time and expertise to the organizations that use your site. I’ve been really impressed not only by the community feel of the site, but also by how useful I’ve been able to be without leaving the house. Partially because the spirit of the site has inspired me, I thought I should share some thoughts with you regarding the site.
Prior to moving to Oregon and retiring from the industry, I worked in the San Francisco Bay Area’s video-game industry for over 14 years. I started out as a passionate gamer, and ended up as a respected Project Manager and Game Producer with many titles under my belt. Some of the games I’m credited on include the original The Sims, various expansion packs, The Sims 2, Star Wars Battlefront PSP, and Star Wars The Force Unleashed 2. When working with games one of the things that you learn well when, is how to engage your audience with your material, and I feel that this is an area where I could add my voice to feedback that I’m sure you receive constantly from different sources.
The question that I asked myself over and over while on your site is “What are the reasons that I keep coming back to volunteer”. Well the main reason at the moment is my belief and commitment to contributing to causes I care about in a manner that doesn’t also jeopardize the commitments of my daily life. And after thinking about that for a while I realized that that is not exactly the same reason that drives one to volunteer in-person at a community site. In-person volunteers are not only driven by their wish to improve the community, but also by the human-connection they make at the places where they volunteer. This is a piece that feels sorely lacking in sparked.com, but I think it’s something that could be remedied easily. As republished recently on the Community TechKnowledge blog, Jayne Cravens stated that “Volunteering is about so much more: it’s about building relationships with the community, increasing the number of people advocating for your organization and even supporting it financially, demonstrating transparency, and even targeting specific demographics for involvement in your work” (Cravens, 2012).
I think the community aspect of the site could be much stronger than it currently is. While it’s possible to log into the site using my facebook account, there’s no networking support for those that wish to volunteer time without belonging to a site like Facebook. But there’s a lot of potential on the site for social network style interactions that could help keep your volunteers engaged. Some things that would be interesting would be to be able to follow particular organizations so that when they post a new problem I’m alerted. Or for organizations to have the ability to flag specific volunteers as people that they like and want to continue working with in the future. I would also add that the ability of two volunteers to “friend” or somehow connect with each other within the site could also add the ability of the site to be more of a community hub for volunteers. When members feel that they’re part of a community they’re more likely to return to the site and continue contributing. (Cravens, 2012)
Part of the reason that Facebook has become a powerful advertising tool is because people naturally gravitate toward the things that they see their friends liking. In part this may be because we tend to be more open to things that come from people we know, but it’s probably also true that part of the reason is that because they’re a friend there’s a high likelihood that they’ll have similar interests. And so if a friend of mine likes something on Facebook there’s a good chance that it may be something that interests me (Andrew Lipsman, 2012). In the same way that facebook’s like button helps to build the power of an advertising campaign, allowing this sort of social networking within your site could well increase the awareness of different jobs that need contributions as volunteers see what other volunteers with the same skill sets are doing.
While I’m under no illusion that it would be easy to implement greater interactivity between volunteers and non-profits in order to foster a better community feel for your site, I do think it’s a solvable solution that cannot but help your site once it’s tackled. In any case I’m grateful that pioneers like you make it possible for people like me to donate time in a way that is helpful, even if it’s just 15 minutes at a time.
Gabe Gils Carbó
The Research Collection
Scott, Ryan. Causecast. 22 February 2013. Blog. 1 March 2013. <http://www.causecast.com/blog/bid/141333/The-Virtues-of-Virtual-Volunteering-and-Online-Fundraising>.
This article introduces what virtual volunteering is, and talks about micro-volunteering. This new form of volunteering is for those that can only volunteer 10 minutes at a time, and now have a way of doing so. Causecast is a company that provides a way for companies to donate time of their employees in an effective manner. As one of the pioneers in the field of virtual volunteering they’re in a good position to understand how it works, and how it’s valuable.
This reference is useful because it defines how virtual volunteering is attractive from the point of view of a potential volunteer. In my paper I plan to use this reference as a way of establishing the situations in which virtual volunteering is desirable for the individual volunteers.
Cravens, Jayne. Community TechKnowledge. 28 March 2012. Blog. 1 March 2013. <http://www.communitytech.net/news/microvolunteering-and-crowd-sourcing-not-so-new-trends-virtual-volunteering-online-volunteering>.
This article talks about the specific types of things that are good candidates for virtual volunteers. This is an important topic because not everything is necessarily going to lend itself well to the virtual environment. It’s important that when one uses a virtual volunteering that the situation is setup to ensure success rather than failure. The author, Jayne Cravens, is a researcher, trainer, and consultant with a focus on communications, community engagement, and volunteer involvement.
One of the things that sparked.com, my volunteer site, does not seem to do or police well, is define the types of jobs that benefit the most from virtual volunteering. When you’re signing up there’s nothing that tells you anything long those lines, and I’m not sure that any time is spent educating the organizations that use the site. While there are obviously things that they would not expect, I think the site could do a better job setting everone up for success.
Neary, Adam. Pros and Cons of Virtual Assistants Sue Shellenbarger. Wall Street Journal, 19 February 2013. Video. <http://live.wsj.com/#!DF528DB3-79AC-4066-994B-76C6A6509F7B>.
This video talks about virtual assistants, a growing type of job that can be done remotely online. This is an interview of the CEO of profitability.com by the Wall Street Journal, a well recognized and respected source. I’m considering using this as a way of showing that virtual jobs are on the rise as paid positions, and are being taken very seriously.
I wanted to draw a bit of a parallel between jobs that are virtual, and virtual volunteers. This video helps establish that there are indeed careers that can be made virtually, and that individuals do so regularly in a manner that is accepted by serious established businesses.
Andrew Lipsman, Graham Mudd, Mike Rich, Sean Bruich. “The Power of “Like”.” Journal of Advertising Research (2012): 40-52. Journal.
This journal article describes how facebook likes, specifically of liked pages, are seen by other facebook members who are friends to the person liking that content. This is a journal article in the journal of advertising research. The community I volunteer for, sparked.com uses “likes” in order to up-rate helpful responses to calls for volunteers. However their likes are not “networked” in the sense that they’re only seen within the content of the specific area created by a non-profit. There may be value to opening this up into a more social network style structure in order to motivate volunteers and non-profits alike by making the activity on the site more visible.