We covered digital volunteering in a webinar. You will find the most important content in this blog article. Here you have the recorded webinar to watch. Have fun!
How you can use the possibilities of digitalization for your organization
Digital volunteering is becoming more and more popular and popular. Many organizations were forced by the Corona crisis to organize their volunteers digitally and have found out: That’s really cool! Because online engagement promises many advantages: Volunteer work is no longer regionally restricted, you can work flexibly, there are no longer any journeys and travel costs, tasks can be coordinated quickly and easily, entry into volunteer work is much easier to do, there are funding opportunities and the online work promises to be more productive than some face-to-face meetings.
That all sounds great at first, but it quickly becomes clear that digital collaboration also entails some challenges. It is often difficult to establish a team spirit, the committed identify less strongly with their organization. At first glance, digital volunteer work resembles many office jobs and therefore does not promise the necessary change from everyday work. Last but not least, digital collaboration is often perceived as impersonal. There are inhibitions about dealing with the technology and many simply feel overwhelmed by it.
We are convinced of digital engagement and have collected important information for you and your organization here, so that digital engagement enriches your work in the long term. Because digital collaboration is worthwhile for almost every organization. You don’t have to switch all offers directly, because digital volunteer work can also be a good supplement to face-to-face work. You and your organization can therefore definitely benefit from making an offer to digitally committed people.
What actually is digital volunteering?
Digital volunteering is volunteering using technology (computers or similar devices) operated over the internet. However, the picture becomes clearer under the term “voluntary work in the home office”. The volunteers can do their work regardless of where they are. This allows you to respond to the increasing need for flexible work. This also has the advantage for you, for example, that a change of residence no longer has to mean the end of the commitment.
The phenomenon of digital volunteering is not new, it has been around since 1995. It first appeared in the USA and is still much more widely represented there than in Germany, for example. But here, too, online work was slowly arriving before Corona. Most of the offers were initially in the IT sector, but now there is a large selection of different offers. Incidentally, a feature of digital volunteer work is the large network and the wide reach, since each volunteer brings their own network and different skills
How digital is your organization?
If you now really feel like digitizing your club, you should first do a small inventory analysis. Because most organizations already have digital structures that can be expanded. So most likely you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. For example, how does your organization currently use digital media? Is there perhaps already someone who uses these channels and works digitally at the same time? Are there other volunteers who do 90-100% of their work in the home office, for example bookkeeping? Do you see these people as part of your team at all? Talk to these people, why do they want to work like this? How do they organize themselves? How can you better integrate them into your team? These people can be of great help to you in laying the foundations for digital volunteering.
The four stages of digital volunteering
There are four different levels of digital volunteering. On the one hand, these stages help you to get a good impression of where your organization already stands in terms of digitization. But you can also think about what your goal should be. How digital do you want your organization to become anyway? Set yourself a clear goal here.
- In stage 1 there is no possibility for digital engagement at all, physical presence is also fundamental for communication. This also means that information is only available for face-to-face events. So if your club has a newsletter or something like that, then you’ve already passed that stage.
- Because in stage 2, communication is supplemented by digital channels, such as social networks, WhatsApp or a newsletter. But if you want to help shape the club and get actively involved, you still need to be physically present.
- Only in stage 3 can you also take part in analogue events digitally and thus actively help shape the work of the association. Despite this, the digital volunteers here do not feel part of the team because physical presence is necessary for a sense of belonging.
- In stage 4, the club is almost completely digitized, the work in the team is coordinated and carried out online. The volunteers can also feel part of the team without being physically present.
What digital volunteering opportunities can you create?
Of course, if you want your volunteers to get involved digitally, you also have to offer them an attractive offer. But which offers and tasks can actually be implemented digitally? The easiest way is to offer your volunteers the opportunity to find out more online. For example, you can use newsletters or record a Power Point presentation with sound and send it as a video. Events are also suitable for this. Information can represent a low-threshold entry into online work.
Social exchange, on the other hand, offers more fun than pure information. This is important because the social contacts and the sense of community are also a great motivator for volunteering. You can find out which formats are available for this below. To ensure that the volunteers are motivated in the long term and that there is no frustration, it is also important that you also offer support. Who can I contact if I don’t know what to do next? How do I reach the other team members? Who is familiar with this task? Where can I find the documents I need? These are all questions you should consider when assigning tasks. Also give realistic and actually retrievable offers of help here. Hardly anyone can always be reached for volunteering, so talk about how big your capacities are in each case.
What types of engagement work online?
In principle, digital engagement is particularly suitable for the new or modern voluntary work. Nevertheless, digital volunteering can take place in the short or long term. Although many tend to associate short-term work with digital commitment, long-term commitments also have many advantages for both sides in the digital area, because one increasingly knows the organization better and feels connected. These people can also more easily take on managerial roles, because these are also needed in the digital world. However, make sure to also offer supportive tasks, as many volunteers want to take the opportunity to get involved without having to assume the responsibility of a managerial function. Whether long-term/short-term or managerial/supportive, don’t just try to think in the extremes, but also offer mixed forms. In this way you also support the further development of the volunteers.
Tasks for digital volunteers
Tasks in mentoring or coaching work particularly well in the digital area. But don’t forget that digital volunteers can also work offline. They can also, for example, distribute flyers in their area or plan face-to-face events, etc. Whether you can also hold board meetings and general meetings digitally depends on the respective statutes. You can find more information about this in this video .
Which infrastructure is suitable for digital volunteer work?
Of course, you also need the appropriate infrastructure to organize the volunteer work. Here you have to find a solution that suits your organization, unfortunately there is no general solution. Therefore, think carefully about which technology you want to use, which technology corresponds to your target group and who should be responsible for managing this technology.
For example, if you want to keep the infrastructure low-threshold for your volunteers, you can use several channels. Ideally, these are channels that your target group uses anyway, such as WhatsApp and emails. But that means a lot of work for the person who has to record the channels. If you want to make their work easier for this person, so-called all-in solutions such as Microsoft Teams are available. However, these have the disadvantage that the volunteers have to actively log in themselves to get information. It is therefore important to weigh up different needs and find individual solutions. So take the time to come up with a solution together. You can also use different channels for different purposes, e.g. chats for social exchange and private topics and mails for content and tasks, as well as important information. Joint communication appointments are motivating and create routines. It is best to meet at regular intervals.
Who are the digital volunteers and where can I find them?
The 4 types of digital volunteers
Unfortunately, digital engagement is not for everyone and is basically a matter of type. It is therefore important for you to find people who thrive in a digital environment and can contribute their skills. There are four different types:
- Type A: Type A is highly qualified and has a good professional network. However, it is also less flexible and can only bring in a little time. Therefore, the organization must be able to adapt to Type A.
- Type B: this type travels a lot. He travels a lot but also moves often. He is politically active and interested and also has a large network. Due to its great mobility, type B can only get involved regardless of location. He therefore needs a digital team that can give him consistency in commitment despite the change of location.
- Type C: Type C are seniors who are interested in the digital world and are generally tech-savvy. Many of them also use their retirement to travel. They are particularly valuable to your organization as they often have a wealth of knowledge and experience. The digital commitment has the additional advantage for them that they can contribute well despite physical limitations.
- Type D: This type are people for whom the digital way of working has now become standard and who therefore also want to use it in their commitment. Above all, these people can help clubs to rejuvenate themselves.
Recruitment of volunteers
But where can you find these people? First, you can start your own recruitment by using personal contacts and also the social network of your former and current volunteers for personal addresses. Also keep an eye on changed needs due to changed living conditions. Maybe someone has had a child and would therefore prefer to work flexibly and from home, or has just moved and is reorienting? You can also use social media for recruiting, especially Facebook, Linked In, Xiing and sometimes Instagram are ideal for this. By providing information about your work, you create a bond with your followers. Your website should have a Get Involved tab that provides information about all the ways you can get involved with your organization. You can also link this page on social media.
You can also use various websites that place digital volunteers. You can find such offers at betterplace.org, volunteerMatch, UN-Volunteering.org (international board) and Youvo (German-speaking board). If you want to place an appeal here, you should think carefully about who you are actually looking for and what you can offer the volunteers.
What needs do the digital volunteers have?
With digital volunteers, you should pay more attention to ensuring they have access to all the information they need to do their job. Therefore, you should actively plan an exchange of knowledge. The volunteers can learn from each other. Take advantage of the swarm intelligence that a digital, mostly diverse team has to offer. Teamwork is also an option here. So that the ideas that you collect in the organization are not lost, there is also an idea store. Here you can collect ideas in the team and generate new tasks from them, which helps your team to develop further.
The motivation of volunteers is particularly important in the digital sector. After all, you can’t force anyone to communicate and demotivated people can easily and unnoticed drop out. The best way to counteract this is to make sure that everyone in the team is motivated and enjoys their work. After all, digital voluntary work must above all be fun so that everyone enjoys it. But how do you motivate volunteers in the digital space? Basically, it is important to know the needs of the volunteers and to respond to them, to find good communication channels, also to offer digital fun and not to forget team building.
Because in the digital area, the sense of togetherness must first be created so that all members see themselves as part of the team. Therefore, consciously plan phases of getting to know each other. Also communicate when volunteers live close to each other or when someone is traveling and maybe visiting another team member. Maybe there is an opportunity to go for a coffee. It is also a good idea to hold face-to-face meetings at regular intervals (e.g. once a year). You can then use this for important information, but above all for team building. In general, events are a reliable remedy against lack of motivation, even if they take place digitally. Volunteers are most active in the time before and after events.
Feedback and Appreciation
When you find new volunteers, be sure to ask them what motivates them to volunteer and what their needs are. You should also regularly discuss these questions with the whole team. Almost all volunteers have a need to see and feel that their work adds value to the organization and that they can make a difference. It is therefore important to show appreciation and give feedback on the work. Especially in digital voluntary work, it is important to signal that the work of the committed people is seen. The following applies: the more invisible the success, the more clearly it has to be communicated and appreciated. This makes visible what impact the work has and the volunteers can experience themselves as self-effective.
Digital volunteer work should not neglect fun either, and also offer digital get-togethers, game nights or regulars’ tables. Another idea is film evenings, they can be implemented super digitally. Maybe there is a film that fits your work or a current project? Also, discussion boards are a great way to bring everyone together while getting a sense of the volunteers’ mood towards a particular topic. You can also forward exciting webinars to your team, as most volunteers enjoy learning and want to develop further. And you can also use energizers digitally, which always ensure fun and action in face-to-face events. Check out this blog post.
In your communication you should try to use short communication channels, so you can create closeness despite the distance. Passing on insider news can be very motivating. The volunteers notice that they are perceived as part of the team.
Everyone communicates differently and has different needs. In principle, however, three types can be identified. On the one hand, the reader, these people prefer to receive information in written form. The speakers do not want that, auditory channels are preferred here. These people also like to express themselves. And the best way to reach the observers is with video material. These people are reluctant to read and tend to remain mute themselves. Of course, there are also mixtures of these types. But they do show that you can reach different people with different communication channels. Therefore, if a message is particularly important to your organization, you should try to spread it through all channels, i.e. voice, video and text.
Our conclusion on digital volunteer work
Digitalization now affects almost all areas of life and our modern society is permeated by digital possibilities. This enables more efficient work in many areas. It therefore only makes sense to use these opportunities for volunteer work, as this reduces the workload for volunteers. The opportunities for participation are also more flexible and agile in the digital world. It is worthwhile for organizations to go digital, especially for recruiting new volunteers. This means that you can pick up the committed people where they are anyway. Ideally, new groups can even be developed and your club will become more diverse.
We can therefore only recommend using the experiences from the Corona crisis to evaluate what can and should continue to take place digitally. The new possibilities of digital volunteering bring fresh wind and ideas into your organization without losing anything. Digital engagement is an important addition to the volunteering landscape as society evolves and volunteering needs to adapt to these developments. Ultimately, digital volunteer work is neither hype nor the commitment of the future that will replace traditional volunteer work, but almost every organization can benefit from it because the volunteers become more diverse and the range of offers is expanded.