Arnova Annual Conference

Developing a community of practice for virtual volunteering

Project at a glance

Dates and Place

15 - 17 November 2007, Atlanta, United States

Organizers

Arnova

Project details

Most volunteer organizations now maintain websites that provide information about what they are doing. Volunteer centers and volunteer job banks provide those who may be interested with the opportunity to search online for attractive activities. Potential volunteers can request additional information by e-mail, or even apply directly to participate in particular activities. Communication in many organizations takes place through e-mail, and many organizations distribute digital newsletters to their supporters. More and more organizations are making support materials available to in digital form to volunteers and volunteer organizations. These are but a few examples of virtual volunteering - the application of ICT to volunteering. Virtual volunteering is a development that offers a wealth of possibilities that can be used in many different ways and at many different levels (Cravens and Ellis, 2001).

Virtual volunteering can offer volunteer opportunities to those for whom it is otherwise impossible or impractical to volunteer. By reaching previously untapped groups and by offering new opportunities to existing volunteers, organizations can use virtual volunteering to increase their volunteer capacity. Consistent with trends that have been reported elsewhere (e.g., Murray and Harrison, 2005), the percentage of homes in the Netherlands that have access to the Internet increased from forty-four percent in 2000 to seventy-two percent in 2004 (Statistics Netherlands). This increase is expected to continue. As ICT continues to permeate all sectors and levels of society, it is expected to become more and more important for both volunteers and volunteer organizations.

Although virtual volunteering has been identified as an emerging area of volunteering (Brudney, 2005) and is the subject of a growing body of information, it remains an underexplored area. The gaps in knowledge are particularly accurate for contexts outside of the English-speaking world. This colloquy is intended to spark a discussion concerning important developments in the area of virtual volunteering in a variety of national contexts, and to elaborate ideas for forming communities of practice among various organizations and entities that are currently working with virtual volunteering, or would like to begin. In particular, it focuses on three areas in which development and knowledge-sharing are needed:

  1. The translation and transfer of volunteer management principles to the online context
  2. The use of the Internet to facilitate sharing and cooperation among geographically dispersed organizations
  3. The use of developing technologies to make resources and facilities available to build capacity in technologically underdeveloped areas

After a brief introduction to each of these topics within the context of existing knowledge about online volunteering, each of the discussants will present an overview of a current project that addresses one of these issues. Thereafter, the discussants will present case descriptions of actual problems that they have encountered in their work, inviting the audience to consider possible solutions. In this way, the discussants seek to raise awareness of the specific challenges that are presented by each of the areas of focus.

The discussants are currently collaborating to form an international community of practice for online volunteering, facilitated in part by the European Volunteer Center (CEV). The international character of the panel provides a particularly important global perspective.

Discussants 1 and 2 are collaborating within the Dutch center for knowledge and advice concerning social development (Movisie) to identify the forms of online volunteering that are taking place within the Netherlands and throughout Europe, along with the areas in which such initiatives are in need of support. Discussant 1, senior research consultant, will provide an overview of the issues and preliminary results of the inventory project. Discussant 2, senior project leader, will describe activities that have been developed to meet the volunteer-management needs of organizations that are working with online volunteering (or would like to begin). The case study that will be elaborated is based on experiences that Discussant 2 has had with an organization that links social-development volunteers in the Netherlands (and other regions) to communities in developing areas.

Discussant 2 manages the volunteer-management program of Idealist.org, an internet-based initiative of Action without Borders that facilitates connections between individuals and institutions that are interested in improving their communities. This presentation will focus on the challenges that are involved in bringing geographically dispersed organizations together to encourage cooperation and meet social needs. The case study will focus on the initiative's development from a searchable database in 1995 to its current form as a developing network of international collaboration.

Discussant 3 manages the CyberVolunteers Program of ICVolunteers, an international non-governmental organization that recruits, trains and coordinates volunteers with specific skills for non-profit projects in the fields of languages, conference support and cybervolunteerism. This presentation will focus on the use of developing technologies to make resources and facilities available to build capacity in technologically underdeveloped areas. The case study concerns the development of a program that seeks to the goal of which is to increase the computing resources available for malaria epidemiology.

External links

http://www.arnova.org



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