Finding Volunteers and Organizing Volunteer-Run Projects

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Facilitated by Kathryn Benedicto, Happy Snowman Consulting, and Mark Libkuman, OpenFlows

Volunteers offer a compelling resource for low-budget and community-led projects, but it's not always easy to make volunteer-run projects work. Mark will discuss his learnings around organizing volunteer run projects, and offer thoughts on best and worst practices.

Session Notes

What kinds of roles are volunteer techies needed for? - The ubiquitous volunteer webmaster - The volunteer IT guy/gal - Volunteer developers for:

 * Open-source projects
 * In-house development projects

- Communication/outreach - online communities, social networking

 * Activist blogger
 * Social networking guru
 * Online community manager/moderator
 * Wiki gardener

Recruiting volunteers - Challenges in recruiting volunteer techies

 * It's a high-skill, high-demand workforce

- Where to recruit

 * Usual suspects: VolunteerMatch, Idealist, Craigslist
 * NPTech hangouts: NTEN mailing list, NetSqured meetups
 * Online communities: IT/developer communities, communities centered around the specific skill/technology you need
 * Conferences, user groups, tech events - pitch your organization/project
 * Professional societies
 * Local colleges and even high schools, depending on how geeky your area is
   - The administrator of the Computer Science department is your friend
   - CS honor societies, service organizations
   - Students who need service hours
   - Student groups centered around your cause
 * LinkedIn contacts/groups

- Keep your eyes open for potential corporate career-changers who are looking for a foot in the door of the NPO world - Look for people who are passionate about your cause - Sense of ownership - Getting the right people for the right roles

How to market/evangelize your organization/project in a way that is appealing to potential volunteers - Connect the dots in a concrete way between what your tech volunteers are doing and how it is saving the world - Have a list of concrete tasks, with varying levels of time commitment, to accomodate everyone from the one-time volunteer, to the person with only a few hours a month, to the dedicated long-term volunteer

How to motivate volunteer techies - Self-motivation is the most powerful motivation! Try to find volunteers who are passionate about your cause and/or who have a personal connection to it

How to manage volunteer techies - Do manage them

 * Have a person from the organization explicitly take on the role of "tech volunteer manager".  (Will this person be a techie or non-techie?  Maybe your organization doesn't have a choice)

Considerations when you have staff techies working together with volunteer techies

What are effective incentives to provide volunteer techies (since there's no financial remuneration!) - Good old-fashioned appreciation - say thank you early, often, and sincerely - For college students: resume credit, letters of recommendation, LinkedIn recommendations - For professional techies providing pro-bono services: recommendations and referrals - Same kinds of perks you give your donors: pledge-drive gift thingies - Include them in your volunteer appreciation events - Prestige factor

How to retain volunteer techies - Avoiding burnout

What are the risks when working with volunteer techies? - General flakiness - Quality of work - e.g. coding, website, etc. - Professional conduct as a (volunteer) representative of your organization - Volunteers may go AWOL temporarily or permanently! And they may not give you any warning

 * Busy people with jobs etc.
 * College students during midterms/finals

How to manage these risks? - Hold your volunteers accountable

 * Maintain control over your IT information/resources/infrastructure at all times! Passwords, web hosting information
 * For non-techies: demand plain-English answers to your technical questions
 * Touch base with them on a regular basis - in person if possible

- Knowledge-sharing; overlapping duties

 * Have a backup person (volunteer or staff member)
 * Don't let one volunteer monopolize/hoard technical information, especially about your organization's technology infrastructure

- Be judicious about what kinds of projects you use volunteers in

 * Flexible project timeline
 * Non-mission-critical

- Have a continuity plan in case one or more volunteers drop out

Participants' concerns/experiences: - Retention/ownership - Resourcing for volunteer management - Dropping off the face of the earth - Unrewarding/underappreciated - Unevenly shared workload - Grunt work meets organization's needs but not volunteers? - Group volunteer management (IBM) - Service events - website building - Setting boundaries, saying no, avoid NPO guilt-tripping - Specific volunteering programs - Sustainability after your volunteer techie leaves - Plugging into volunteer groups - Recruiting volunteers - Prioritizing your work when you manage volunteers

- Intake - create ownership, buy-in - New people - will they have the same sense of ownership - Mentoring, buddy system - Not wasting people's passion

- Extreme volunteering - Underpaid employee is practically like being volunteering - Cultural - not reckless cowboys - Defer to expertise - Hero complex