When Google says it’s getting into the volunteering search business, you sit up and take notice. This month it was announced that they were setting up All for Good- backed by none other than President Barack Obama as part of the volunteering initiative: “United We Serve“. All for Good is supported by volunteers from web organisations such as Google, Craigslist Foundation, UCLA, YouTube, FanFeedr and Aha! Ink.
In addition, and in connection with this announcement, VolunteerMatch.org, an online resource for searching and posting volunteering opportunities has announced that it is opening public access to it’s network. Part of this announcement was that they are making their volunteer data available under creative commons. As a result it’s meant that you can find VolunteerMatch.org opportunities to volunteer via the All for Good website.
VolunteerMatch.org are just one of the many volunteer opportunity providers taking part in the scheme.
Founding activity providers include 1-800-volunteer.org, 1 Sky, AARP, American Solutions for Winning the Future, American Red Cross, City of New York, The Corporation for National and Community Service, craigslist, Girl Scouts of the USA, Habitat for Humanity, HandsOn Network and Points of Light Institute, Idealist, MeetUp, Mentor, Network for Good, Organizing for America, ServeNet.org, Sierra Club, TechMission, The Extraordinaries, Truist, United Jewish Communities, United Way, Volunteer2, VolunteerMatch and Youth Service America.
It’ll be interesting to see how this influences the way volunteer managers recruit their volunteers in the UK. Already organisations registered on participating sites, such as VolunteerMatch.org, can see their opportunities listed (for free) on the All for Good website. The opportunities are location-based and are displayed on a map.
This development is the latest and highest profile in the technical infrastructure underpinning volunteering. But it’s just an evolutionary next step in a series of progressive changes in how anyone can get involved in volunteering via the web. The social networking revolution is at the heart of this change in online volunteer recruitment. Facebook aps such as Volunteer Connect (in Canada) and I Volunteer are examples that have worked to promote volunteering via social networks.
Twitter aps like Twitter Job Search are accidentally building volunteering opportunity searches out of the fastest growing web platform that is Twitter. A search for volunteer or volunteering opportunity on Twitter Job Search pulls out a number of volunteer roles posted by users on Twitter.
Different queries on plain vanilla Twitter Search can yield interesting results of different volunteering opportunities out there. For example:
Twitter seems to be the focus for a lot of innovation and the potential for using it as a platform for recruiting volunteers seems enormous. Certainly well know web resources for Volunteer Management are moving to Twitter- such as Tony Goodrow (President Volunteer2), Energize Inc, etc., but this is just a fraction of the story. Twitter’s not just a new way of information sharing, it’s a new way of organising. Enter social organisations stage left…
Late last year and early this year, the new way of social organising via Twitter in the form of Twestival demonstrated just how old models of volunteer recruitment were being shaken up. This post by beegod gives some insight into this. And it’s interesting to read Twestival starter Amanda Rose’s reflections with Beth Kanter on Twestival and in particular what she said about volunteer management:
“Providing A Better Virtual Hub To Support Volunteers. Amanda says the website was a key element in reaching out to the cities and that she was not prepared for the amount of work that went into setting it up. Says Amanda, “Even through this was a volunteer-run event, there was a level of expectation from people once they signed up. I think most understood that we were doing the best we could with our resources and limited time – but it was frustrating not to be able to offer them something beyond a blog to connect and share.”
…Extend the planning timeline to 2-3 months. Amanda admits that it was stressful to work under these very tight timelines. “However, not unlike Twitter which is restricted to 140 characters, I wanted to challenge everyone to see what we could do in the span of a few weeks. This generated a lot of buzz and enthuasiasm on Twitter and extended offline.” Amanda observes that volunteers were amazed with what they could do in this short a timeline and the amount of creativity that surfaced was truly inspiring…”
In other words, the new way of recruiting volunteers as demonstrated through Twestival didn’t come without challenges, but it clearly gave us all a glimpse into a new and very effective way of mobilising volunteers for a cause.
Certainly Twitter has shown that volunteering opportunities work two ways. Providers can use Twitter as a platform to offer opportunities, but equally, volunteers looking for opportunities can advertise the fact. It’s an idea that first found a home online in the UK years ago in the Goodwill Gallery. The idea of volunteering as an exchange along the lines of Timebanking has yet to find an adequate online platform that does it justice. Twitter just hints at what we could be developing.
Research, as yet unpublished, by the Red Foundation has looked in great detail into the issue of how social networks can open up the volunteering experience. Currently the major volunteer opportunity providers in the UK do-it.org.uk run by charity YouthNet and Worldwide Volunteering operate under a restricted access model for the volunteering data they manage.
There are different reasons for why, at present, actors in the UK operate under a model that restricts access to the volunteering data it manages, while the actors in the US are seeing the system open up increasingly. Reasons such as business model (how to generate the funds necessary to maintain the data system) and privacy issues (how to protect and manage potentially sensitive data of both volunteers and volunteer opportunity providers) are part of the story.
For sure, there’s a lot to be said for opening up. Creating API’s and offering a range of XML data feeds could enable developers to spread, disseminate and serve up information about volunteering in the UK in a totally new way. Beyond the technical issues of opening up data, there are also the practical issues of what system best meets the needs of users.
This is an open debate that should be had in the UK amongst all those interested in developing the platform for tomorrow’s volunteering via the web and what we want it to do. Great to see VLabsBlog beginning the discussion. It’s vital to debate what’s at stake here as volunteers, volunteer managers, funders, policy makers, developers, and others and raise the profile of this issue.
What do you think?