Virtual Volunteering is Not a Type of Volunteer

Some would say that virtual volunteering dates back to the 70s (see Wikipedia’s entry re Project Gutenberg), others see it as a relatively new type of volunteering for those who don’t want to commit to in-person volunteering.

New or old doesn’t matter, what does matter is that associations understand two things about virtual volunteering:

  1. It isn’t a type of volunteer but a type of volunteering.
  2. It isn’t a quick fix for engaging more volunteers.

The first point was made effectively during last month, VolunteerMatch’s monthly Twitter chat (#VMTalk) focused on virtual volunteering.

The tweetchat, with guest host Jayne Cravens who has written the book on engaging online volunteers, underscored the fact that many of the truths about volunteering apply whether an individual is working for your organization in-person or not. To assure valuable experience for the organization and the virtual volunteer, it’s critical to have meaningful, measurable tasks, to be clear about deadlines, roles and outcomes, to communicate regularly. And, you must still know the volunteer, be clear on their motivations and carefully match the volunteer to the task. (Check out a recap of the chat on Storify.)

Offering virtual volunteering doesn’t solve our lack of volunteers or the turn-around an unengaged membership. That’s largely because the obstacles to volunteering in our associations are less about opportunities and more about infrastructure – volunteer management. Jayne makes this point squarely in her Myths about Online Volunteering (Virtual Volunteering) when she notes “If an organization doesn’t know how to involve onsite volunteers effectively, they won’t be able to do it online.”

We know from ASAE’s The Decision To Volunteer, that among the top reasons for not volunteering are weaknesses in our volunteer management program from poor follow-through with volunteers to weak volunteer communications and recruitment practices to a lack of clear policies and procedures.

Virtual Volunteering does provide our associations with an opportunity to address many of the questions troubling us from how do we engage members to create more loyalty to how do we provide greater opportunities for members to volunteer outside the traditional governance track to how do we empower members to move our mission forward. To leverage this opportunity, go back to assessing what you need accomplished, then how can members help you accomplish this. Then put together your total volunteer structure to include all types of volunteering.

For more on involving online volunteers, check out the Virtual Volunteering Wiki. Also visit the UN Volunteers project.