‘Where are we going to get the money for the new girls education program?’ Ram asked. His friends and he, the founders of the New Village Youth Development Centre, were very worried. The Centre had grown in the past 5 years with donations from their European supporters and support from a local foundation. Next year the Centre planned to add an extra programme for teenage girls but the local foundation had already told Ram that it would not be renewing its’ grant. Donations from their usual supporters was just not going to be enough.
Ram had heard about expert online volunteering (volunteering using the Internet, off-site from the NGO being assisted, sometimes also known as virtual volunteering or e-volunteering) and wondered how a volunteer sitting thousands of kilometres away could possibly help him.
Online volunteering (OV) can benefit small NGOs such as Ram’s Centre in many ways. In this case developing a fundraising plan or researching prospects or writing a funding proposal. But before Ram presses the ‘request a volunteer’ button he needs think about his PARt – how to prepare for, activate and review the OV project.
Prepare for OV
Like field volunteers an NGO has to prepare for their online volunteers, by answering 2 types of questions. The easier set of questions are around the technology – does the NGO have good internet access on a sufficiently regular basis and a computer with the appropriate software packages. The other set of questions are related to the job, questions include:
- What is the project that needs to be done? Tip: A project should have a clear goal or deliverable that helps accelerate the social mission of the NGO.
- When do you need it done by? Tip: If you have a tight deadline don’t ask a volunteer to do it – either do it yourself or pay someone to do it!
- Who is going to manage the volunteer relationship? Tip: The NGO needs a dedicated person can brief the volunteer on the project, respond to any questions, and be the first point of contact for the Volunteer.
Preparation takes time. The NGO has to be clear on its need. It has to be convinced that having an online volunteer for the project will benefit the organisation and hence it is worthwhile for them to devote time to ensuring the success of the project.
Activate the Project
Now that the NGO has prepared for online volunteering, it has to activate it. Here the NGO has to remember the special challenges faced by this type of volunteering, the fact that the volunteer is not physically with them.
They might not experience the same level of social interaction and a tangible sense of impact and hence might not benefit from the feelings of empathy and personal connections, that traditional field volunteering is known to deliver.
Also can you imagine how frustrating it is if you have spent some time drafting a fundraising strategy and submitted to the NGO manager, only for the volunteer to wait over a week for feedback. This is one of the most cited complaints by OVs – an NGO not effectively supporting or communicating with them.
Without such support and communications volunteers are likely to feel disconnected from the NGO ‘family’ and likely to lose interest and motivation. NGOs can counteract issues arising from the physical disconnect by developing clear projects with tangible deliverables, having a good support and communications system, and recognizing them. Bottom-line: NGOs need to keep OVs engaged by keeping them up-to-date,, listening to their opinions and ideas, and keeping in touch with them. The More NGOs engage with OVs volunteers, the stronger their emotional bond to the NGO.
Review the Project
Once the project is completed. The NGO should reflect on the results. How was the funding strategy developed by the OV used? Did any of the prospects identified in the research become donors? Did the grant proposal submitted result in funding? This stage can be termed the ‘after action review’. The project manager can reflect on the project with questions such as;
- What did we hope to get out of this project?
- What was the actual result? And how satisfactory is it as compared to our expectation?
- And finally, what did we learn and how can we do it better next time?
Building and maintaining relationships with volunteers is important! In many ways they are just as important as financial donors, after all, they are donating their precious time to NGOs. If NGOs are going to find and make the best use of online volunteers, they need to do their PARt – Prepare, Activate and Review their OV project.