Addressing Volunteerism Issues in the Blogosphere

By Susan J. Ellis

Sometimes I worry that I am known more for criticizing than celebrating, so I’m happy to devote this Hot Topic to praising the courageous people who post their informed opinions about volunteer-related topics online. While serious discussion of principles and issues is so often missing at major conferences in our field, in the last couple of years we’ve seen the emergence of some truly wonderful and provocative blogs. Here are some of my favorite volunteerism blogs at this time and the reasons why you should pay attention to them.

The following blogs are listed randomly with no particular hierarchy, but they are all written by authors who are willing – in fact, determined – to address philosophy, ethics, and the “big questions” facing the volunteer field. They open discussion even if the opinions expressed might not be popular. I made a point of including blogs from different countries and within some special areas of focus. I couldn’t include everything out there, so please do not assume that something not described here is not quality reading. (We do try hard to keep a current list of all the volunteer leadership-related blogs and Twitter accounts on the Energize Web site.) If I’ve omitted something really wonderful because I haven’t discovered it yet, I really want to learn about it. That’s where you come in. Please share your favorites and why you like them, using the response form at the end of this Hot Topic.

Engaging Volunteers
Written by members of the VolunteerMatch team and third-party experts in the volunteering and technology community, this is emerging as the most relevant, timely, and informative blog on the American scene. They post often and generally scoop most news stories in the field.

Rob Jackson Consulting Blog
UK colleague and friend Rob Jackson comments wisely on volunteer management topics. This is the newest entry into the volunteerism blogsphere, but already worthwhile. Rob may be new to consulting and blogging, but he has an impressive resume, just having left a management role at Volunteering England.

The Jayne Cravens Blog 
In contrast, colleague and friend Jayne Cravens writes one of our field's first blogs—no surprise as she is the go-to person on using Internet technology and developing online volunteering. She offers information and insight on volunteerism as well as nonprofits, development, and women's issues. She’s an American but very international in perspective, having run the Online Volunteering Project for United Nations Volunteers and worked personally in developing countries.

Realizing Your Worth
Canadian Chris Jarvis shares cogent thoughts on corporate social responsibility and employee volunteering. Valuable both to business people and to leaders of volunteers wanting to make inroads in partnering with for-profit companies. The series on “The Business Case for Employee Volunteering” is excellent.

Exploring Volunteering: Participation, Volunteering, and the Social Web
Patrick Daniels in the UK explores, in his words, “the issues raised with how the web is changing volunteering. I'm looking to learn from the thinking of the past, to open up possibilities for the future.”

Uncollectiveconsciousness’ blog on i-volunteer
i-volunteer is a UK-based “social action network,” giving volunteers and leaders of volunteers a forum on which to share their thoughts, including the chance to write a blog. I don’t know who “Uncollectiveconsciousness” is in the real world, but I enjoy his posts (there’s a picture of a man with his profile). Here is how he describes himself: “A Devil’s Advocate of the volunteering world; and proud that my glass is half empty, as it means people have to make an effort to fill it, i.e. government! Straight talking no nonsense approach to volunteer management; I enter the ‘debate’ as me, rather than the organisation I happen to work for.”

Speaking out on Volunteer Management! 
Australian colleague DJ Cronin challenges the volunteer management community to get engaged in debate to strengthen the profession.

Church Volunteer Blog
Daily tips on working with volunteers in churches – but very applicable to any faith and also any secular setting. It’s fascinating to see how the contributors to this blog apply current news items and generic volunteer management guidance to working within congregations.

An Observation

While some of these blogs are produced by major organizations, it is striking that the majority are written by private consultants. Is there a lesson here? Is it necessary to have a degree of independence to comment and criticize – to be willing to take risks? Do consultants feel that their primary loyalty is to the readers of their blogs – their actual target market – without having to worry about offending any third-party funding sources? What makes some organizations and individuals take a stand publicly? And that last question refers to both the blogger and the reader, who always has the choice to join in.

Overwhelmed by Information? A Few Tips

Who can keep up with all this reading? In case you’re wondering, I certainly cannot. There was a time when someone could, with a bit of time management, read everything that was published in the volunteer field: 20 years ago. Happily, there is now more good stuff out there than any one person can get to. That means we benefit from many informed opinions, but also have to separate the inane from the worthwhile.

Here are a few quick tips for how to read and digest the blog postings and other useful materials:

  • Learn to use RSS feeds and “readers” that aggregate all the writings you want to keep on top of. I use iGoogle (along with Google Reader) now, but there are many options out there. Talk to colleagues and friends to get their recommendations. The point is that I can set aside a bit of time each day to quickly skim the headlines of all the blogs, tweets, Facebook postings, and other sources of information to which I subscribe by going to a single spot on the Web. This lets me read more only on those topics that spark my interest.
  • Get volunteers to help! Assign one or two blogs to as many volunteers as you need. Ask them to read their designated resource at least weekly and keep you posted on any particularly relevant ideas. This is a particularly wonderful activity for a volunteer already in a leadership role: committee chairs, shift or team leaders, board or advisory group members. They ought to find the content of these blogs useful to their work, too.
  • Form a collaborative with other leaders of volunteers, particularly if you are all members of a local DOVIA or professional network. Divvy up your mutual list of worthwhile blogs, newsletters, whatever and each commit to reading only a few carefully – sharing the highlights with everyone else.
  • Spot check randomly. If you can’t read everything, read some. Rotate from site to site each day or week, so that you benefit from different sources even if you don’t read each site all the time. It’s ok. You’ll find that really important news is mentioned on most of the good blogs anyway, so – just like watching a daily morning television show in bits and pieces – over time the key items will sink in.

By the way, just last month Jayne Cravens wrote a great blog post, “Walking My Talk: How Do I Use Online Tools for Outreach?” It’s tips from the opposite perspective – being most effective in using social media tools to send your messages to others.

So, now I really want to know:

  • What other volunteerism blogs do you find worthwhile and why? (Be sure to include the URL so we all can look at them, too.)
  • Are there any blogs on subjects other than volunteer management that you follow because you can apply them to your work with volunteers?

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