Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Myths About Online Volunteering (Virtual Volunteering)

This article was copied in its entirety with permission from the author.

Online volunteering means unpaid service that is given via the Internet. It's a method of volunteering I have been using, studying, documenting or promoting since 1995, first independently, then with the Virtual Volunteering Project, and then with the UN's Online Volunteering service. It's also known as virtual volunteering, online mentoring, ementoring, evolunteering, cyber volunteering, cyber service, telementoring, and on and on.
Now, 10 years on, I'm stunned at how many myths are still out there about the concept. Here is a list of 12 of the most common myths, and my attempt to counter them:

1. Online volunteering is great for people who don't have time to volunteer!
False. This is probably the biggest and most annoying myth out there about the practice. Online volunteering requires REAL time, not "virtual" time. If you don't have time to volunteer offline, you probably do NOT have time to volunteer online. Online volunteering should never be promoted as a way an alternative volunteering method for people who don't have time to volunteer face-to-face. Rather, the appeal of online volunteering for individuals is that:

* it's another way for a person to help an organization they are already helping in face-to-face settings

* it's a way for someone who cannot volunteer onsite because, while they have time to volunteer, they cannot leave their home or work place to do so

* it allows a way for people with disabilities who have problems with mobility, or people no way of traveling easy, to volunteer

* it can allow a person to help an organization that serves a cause or issue of great importance to the person but for which there are no onsite opportunities in his or her area

* it can allow a person to help a geographic area that he or she cannot travel to

2. People who volunteer online don't volunteer face-to-face
False. According to research by the Virtual Volunteering Project in the late 1990s, as well as anecdotal evidence since then from various organizations, the overwhelming majority of online volunteers also volunteer in face-to-face settings, often for an organization in their same city or region, and often for the same organization they are helping online.

3. People who volunteer online do so for organizations that are geographically far from them
False. Most online volunteers are people who also volunteer onsite for the same organization; for instance, a volunteer designing an annual report may go onsite to meet with staff but perform most of the donated service via his or her home or work computer. Also, most people who volunteer online look for opportunities that are in their same geographic area -- just as do people who want to volunteer onsite. Indeed, there are thousands of online volunteers who look for remote online volunteering opportunities, and the UN's Online Volunteering service is an excellent avenue for them to find such.

4. People who volunteer online are mostly young, affluent and living in the USA
False. Online volunteers come from all age groups who can use the Internet independently (usually starting when a person is over 13), from various educational and work backgrounds, and from various geographies and ethnicities. The breakdown of online volunteers from the UN's Online Volunteering service is telling: more than 40% are from developing countries. Ofcourse, each organization that involves online volunteers will have a different breakdown as far as online volunteering demographics; in short, one cannot make sweeping generalizations about who online volunteers are.

5. People who volunteer online are very shy and have trouble interacting with others
False. As noted earlier, according to research by the Virtual Volunteering Project in the late 1990s, as well as anecdotal evidence since then from various organizations, the overwhelming majority of online volunteers also volunteer in face-to-face settings. In fact, online volunteers tend to be excellent at interacting with others -- it's that hunger for interaction that often drives their volunteering, on or offline.

6. Online volunteers engage primarily in technology-related tasks
False. Online volunteers engage in a variety of non-technology-related tasks, such as advising on business plans, human resources development, fund-raising and press relations, researching topics, and facilitating online discussions. A survey of online volunteering assignments posted to, say, the UN's Online Volunteering service, usually shows 50% of more assignments that are non-tech-specific.

7. Online volunteering is impersonal
False. Online interactions are quite personal. In many circumstances, people are often more willing to share information and feelings online than they are in face-to-face. Also, volunteers can more easily share photos of their families, and narratives about their interests, via the Internet than, say, at an onsite volunteer luncheon. Online volunteers with whom I have worked are real people to me, not virtual people. When they have gotten married or graduated from high school or college or had a baby or gotten a job, I have celebrated, and when they have died or lost a loved one, I have cried.

8. Interviewing potential volunteers face-to-face is much more reliable than interviewing people online
False. Both methods of interviewing potential volunteers have strengths and weaknesses, and one may be more appropriate than another for a particular situation, but each is effective. I have talked to plenty of people face-to-face who expressed great enthusiasm and interest in becoming online volunteers, and have wanted information on how to get started -- and who never follow-through, while people online must show not only their interest but their commitment and skills almost immediately, by responding to emails promptly and by writing clearly.

9. The Internet Is Dangerous and, therefore, online volunteering opens an organization and its clients up to many risks.
False. The Internet is no more, nor no less, dangerous than the offline world. When people, including children, have been harmed as a result of online activities, it has been because they or their parents did not take appropriate safety measures -- it's amazing to me that parents who would never allow their children to go to, say, a bus station to play for the day, allow their children to go into unsupervised chat rooms. There is extensive information on how to ensure safety in online volunteering (and online mentoring) programs at the Virtual Volunteering Project.

10. The biggest obstacle to online volunteering is lack of Internet access
False. For organizations, the biggest obstacle to involving online volunteers successfully, or at all, is lack of experience in basic volunteer management practices. If an organization doesn't know how to involve onsite volunteers effectively, they won't be able to do it online.

11. Much more needs to be done to get people to volunteer online
False. There are plenty of people who want to volunteer online, far, far more than there are opportunities for them. Instead, much more needs to be done to help build the capacity of organizations regarding volunteer management, and to incorporate information about online volunteering into this capacity-building.

12. Online volunteering is a very new concept
False. Online volunteering has been going on probably has long as there has been an Internet (which itself is more than 30 years old). Tim Berners Lee, in an online appearance at the United Nations Volunteers' event at Un Open Day in Geneva in 2001, noted the role volunteers had played in his development of the World Wide Web -- people donating their time and experience to a cause they believed in, working together via the Internet.

The UN's Online Volunteering service features a page devoted to tracking research about online volunteering by various organizations.

Disclaimer: No guarantee of accuracy or suitability is made by the poster/distributor. This material is provided as is, with no expressed or implied warranty.

Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this tip sheet without charge if the information is kept intact and without alteration, and is credited to:

Jayne Cravens and Coyote Communications

This article may be read in its original at:
Myths About Online Volunteering (Virtual Volunteering)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


This information was taken from the Echoing Green website.

Echoing Green's Fellowship Program

Echoing Green awards two-year fellowships to emerging social innovators. Annually, we award fellowships to individuals with innovative ideas for creating new models for tackling seemingly unsolvable social challenges. These fellowships offer them the opportunity to develop and test their ideas.

This is not a scholarship program. Our fellows do not develop their ideas in an academic setting. Our fellows work in the community. They launch, manage and grow organizations that implement and continually expand their ideas for creating lasting social change.

During the two-year fellowship, Echoing Green provides both financial and technical support.

Application Process:

Each year, Echoing Green holds an open application process through which anyone who meets our eligiblity criteria and has a compelling new idea for social change is welcome to apply.

Our 2007 application has closed. If you would like to apply for next year's fellowship, we recommend that you complete our Pre-Application Questionnaire ahead of time, as it's the single best resource for learning about our selection criteria.

Financial Support:

Echoing Green offers fellowships to individuals and to partnerships of no more than two individuals.

Individual Fellowships: $30,000 per year for two years for a total of $60,000 paid in four equal installments of $15,000

Partnership Fellowships: $45,000 per year (per project, not per individual) for two years for a total of $90,000 paid in four equal installments of $22,500

Fellowship stipends are paid twice a year. The initial stipend payment for 2007 fellows will be paid in early September 2007. The remaining payments are paid every six months (in March and September). The stipend can be used for any purpose related to the start up of the organization or project.

In addition to the two-year stipend, Echoing Green also offers a monthly stipend for health insurance.

Technical Assistance:

Echoing Green provides our fellows a range of support through a variety of media including the Internet, conferences, site visits and phone contact. We offer guidance in strategic and financial planning, staff and board development, fundraising, legal and accounting practices and many other aspects of starting and building a non-profit organization.

During the two-year fellowship period, Echoing Green will host three fellowship conferences. The New Fellows Conference will be held in mid-July 2007. This conference allows our new fellows to meet and network amongst themselves. At the conference we also offer educational workshops and access to Echoing Green Fellows, program alumni and other experts in the field. In November of each year of the fellowship period, Echoing Green will also host Current Fellows Conferences for all of our currently funded fellows. These conferences are excellent opportunities for networking, peer to peer learning and renewal.

Our conferences are an essential element of our fellowship program and Echoing Green expects all our fellows to attend all conferences during their fellowship period.

Accountability to Outcomes:

Echoing Green works with our fellows from the outset in developing their programs, determining projected outcomes and implementing measurement tools. Assessing impact is an ongoing process throughout the fellowship period. Social impact is a long term investment and is not easy to measure. Echoing Green is committed to tackling the difficult question "how are we making a difference" and insuring accountability at all levels, including accountability to the communities that our fellows serve.

Our fellows develop ambitious and measurable first year objectives. Throughout their fellowship, they provide regular reports to the foundation and track their progress against their objectives, refining their objectives as appropriate.

Echoing Green's Fellowship Program

Echoing Green

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mapendo International: Great Love

Below are excerpts from the website of Mapendo International and the Echoing Green website.

"Mapendo International's mission is to identify, rescue, and protect people fleeing conflict and violence in Africa whose lives are in imminent danger and who fall outside existing relief efforts. Focusing on refugees who are targets of genocide, torture survivors, rape victims, widows, orphans, and those with urgent medical needs (HIV positive refugees foremost among these), Mapendo International devises and implements short and long-term solutions for those whose struggle to survive would otherwise go unattended. The organization is responding to the plight of such people through its medical clinic in Nairobi and through its rescue initiatives program in East and Central Africa.

"Mapendo International works to fill the critical and unmet needs of people affected by war and conflict who have fallen through the net of humanitarian assistance. This commitment is expressed through targeting individuals, families and groups of people overlooked by existing aid programs. Mapendo strives to alleviate human suffering, to protect life and health, and to raise awareness for these vulnerable people.

"While working in refugee relief and rescue operations with the International Organization for Migration and the U.N.H.C.R. (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) throughout Africa, Mapendo International's co-founder, Sasha Chanoff, traveled into the Democratic Republic of Congo. There he undertook a U.S.-funded emergency mission to rescue Tutsi victims of countrywide massacres, part of the ethnic violence that stemmed from the Rwandan genocide. In the Congo he met Rose Mapendo, a Tutsi who had been jailed with her family. Rose listened as soldiers executed her husband, gave birth to twins in prison, and managed to keep her nine children alive under appalling conditions.

"The rescue team's success in getting Rose and her family out, despite the fact that they were not on the refugee evacuation list, became the inspiration behind the organization's name. Mapendo means "great love" in Swahili. The advocacy organizations, Human Rights Watch and Refugees International have documented the many thousands of refugees in similarly untenable situations who have no access to aid. For Sasha, working regularly with individuals and families in such dire circumstances created an imperative to act. With advice and guidance from senior officials in the U.N., the State Department and NGOs, Sasha launched this new initiative with Dr. John Wagacha Burton, Mapendo's co-founder, to address the critical and unmet needs of those refugees whose lives are in peril.


" Mapendo is action oriented. We identify needs and implement solutions. Through our rescue operations in east and central Africa and in our Nairobi medical clinic serving HIV/AIDS victims and others with critical medical needs, we are reaching out to thousands of people whose struggle to survive would otherwise go unnoticed and unattended.

"Our programs include:

"Rescue Operations

Mapendo International identifies and assists individuals, families and groups of people fleeing war and conflict who need urgent and lifesaving assistance. We compile reports and identify durable solutions for people in danger and provide this information to governments, the United Nations and other aid agencies. We are actively assisting refugees across east and central Africa through this initiative.

"Medical Care
Mapendo International serves some of the most vulnerable survivors of Africa's wars and conflicts through our medical clinic in Nairobi, which works to keep alive and provide health care to HIV positive people, torture survivors, widows with children, and others at risk who have urgent medical needs and no access to health care.

"Awareness Programs
Mapendo International undertakes photography and video projects to raise awareness and understanding for marginalized refugee communities. This information is then exhibited and distributed in the United States through collaborations with refugee resettlement agencies and community-based organizations."

You can find
Mapendo International here.

Echoing Green can be found here.

Monday, December 04, 2006


On December 3rd 2006 HBO aired what was billed as a documentary and entitled “ ITHUTENG.” Unfortunately this documentary aired after allegations of fraud have arisen directed towards a significant individual in the documentary: Jackie Maarohanye (often referred to as “Mama Jackie”).

I do not have direct knowledge of any of the facts surrounding the controversy swirling around Mama Jackie and her Ithuteng School in Klipspruit, Soweto, South Africa. I have not spoken directly to any of the participants involved. I have not spoken to any of the donors, school officials or students. Because I have no direct knowledge about this matter, I can only point to the various accounts that have been published about this matter in the general media without claiming to know whether the allegations are true or not. I will point to just one of these articles, this one written and published by the online publication of the UK Guardian (“Guardian Unlimited”) entitled: “'Angel of Soweto' a fraud, TV show claims”.,,1960107,00.html

It is my understanding that HBO was aware of the controversy surrounding Jackie Maarohanye and her school prior to the documentary being aired. It is also my understanding that HBO did not give any notice to the viewing public of that controversy prior to its being aired.

The problem that I find with HBO’s airing this documentary without giving prior notification of the controversy is that it could be very necessary for viewers to be aware of this controversy in order to judge the content of the film.

According to a December 3rd, 2006 Los Angles Times news article (“Soweto school scripted lies, students say”),0,2458607,full.story?coll=la-home-world
“HBO plans to run a card at the end acknowledging the allegations.” But a visit to the HBO website promoting the film, and to the website providing a synopsis of the film I found no mention of the allegations.

A quick look at the schedule that HBO has posted for the film reveals that HBO currently intends to air the film eighteen more times between December 5th 2006 and January 29th 2007.

This makes me wonder how many viewers will be motivated to contribute to Mama Jackie and her Ithuteng School before the allegations of fraud are resolved. There are many worthwhile charities in Africa and elsewhere in the world, and by appearing to promote an organization that is currently under a cloud within its country HBO could be doing a great disservice to sincere potential donors to worthwhile charities and to those worthwhile charities as well.

The film was directed by 16 year-old Willie Ebersol in his first filmmaking attempt; and it was produced by Willie’s brother Charlie Ebersol and friend Kip Kroeger. This was an extraordinary accomplishment by Willie Ebersol, but foremost on my mind coming away from this experience is to ask myself the question: Is It That HBO Just Doesn’t Care?