Monday, November 30, 2009

Facial Recognition Software and What Every Volunteer Manager Should Know About It

Computing power has reached the point where it can recognize faces in photographs. This means that you can now quickly and easily catalog the hundreds or thousands of pictures you have of your volunteers in action. It also means that you need to ensure you are taking the right steps to protect the privacy of your volunteers.

Last week I began organizing the hundreds of pictures my wife and I took on a recent vacation and I used the opportunities to try out some new digital photo album software. In the process I discovered a facial recognition feature that saved me hours of work and also got me wondering about privacy issues online. I tagged my wife in one photo (associated her name to it) and the software tagged her to other photos she is in. Although it did not recognize her face 100% of the time, I was thoroughly impressed. I love it when software saves me time and/or makes something new possible. When I added the group picture above from the IAVE conference last week, Picasa automatically scanned the faces in it and based on the another picture of me, it recognized that I was in the picture and tagged my name to it. (Everyone in the photograph was aware this picture would get posted publicly.)

With a quick bit of research online, I found that a number of software products such as iPhoto (for Macs) and Picasa along with photo album websites such as Flickr ( have added the ability to recognize facial similarities in photos.

As with many new technologies, I couldn’t help but recognize that this one could have a potential negative impact on society as well. It is not going to be long before anyone will be able to upload a picture of someone into a facial recognition search engine and then wait to see if there are any photos of that person posted publicly anywhere on the internet. There are already two programs that can accomplish this within the publicly viewable pages of Facebook (Polar Rose and

There can be many reasons for someone to prefer to keep their whereabouts private or their involvement with your organization private. A picture of someone involved in volunteering for your organization that is posted online can threaten either of those privacies. In addition to thinking about how you use photos of volunteers, many organizations are going to need to revisit their volunteer forms. A quick scan in Google suggests that thousands of organizations combine their mandatory waiver of liability with a statement allowing the use of the volunteer’s image in a photo. So in other words, to volunteer with these organizations, you must allow the public use of your image. While this has not been much of a deterrent for volunteers in the past, I wonder if the ability to Google a person’s face as easily as we do something like “volunteer management conference”, will change how volunteers feel about it.

Check out how this great technology can help you organize your photos of volunteers and be sure to review your current policies regarding the use photos of volunteers. This technology is here now and my guess is that it’s going to surface in ways that have not yet even been imagined.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Your Peers Are Looking For Your Help

Over the past week has had specific requests from managers of volunteers for the items listed below. Can you help and add any of these (or anything else of course)?

  • Resources specific to volunteer led programs in hospitals
  • Orientation manuals or even outlines of the things covered in orientation
  • Guidelines for staff working with volunteers
  • Recognition Event ideas/themes etc
  • Friendly visiting position descriptions, training material and guidelines
  • Volunteer supervisor manual

This site generated a lot of buzz at the Institute for Advanced Volunteer Management in England this week and given that it was an advanced learning opportunity I was not surprised that one person pointed out the following. Templates are great to use because they save the valuable resource of your time. They do not however replace thinking. This was not the first time this important point has surfaced. Susan Ellis was emphatic about it when she and I brainstormed about the site. When I work with leaders of volunteers and are reviewing their current application form, we frequently get into a conversation about why a certain field exists on the form. When I query about why it is there, a far too frequent answer is “It was on the application form when I started here.” Just like the old application or policy manual etc. that you inherited when you accepted your position, templates created by others are resources that you can use to create what you need faster and give you ideas that you might not have thought of. They are NOT, however, a substitute for your own thought on what you need in your particular situation.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Entertainment Industry Foundation Strikes Out But Deserve Another Chance at Bat

In Susan Ellis’s Hot Topic for July “Media Blitz vs. Media Noise: What Are We Trying to Accomplish?”, she took a look at the recent attempt by the Entertain Industry Foundation to promote volunteering. I see more value in general awareness advertising that Susan but her article speaks to more than that and her views are worth a read.

Below are a few of my thoughts on the matter having read Susan’article.

Was this whole campaign a swing and a miss? It certainly appears so. But I want to commend the entertainment industry for getting up to bat in the first place.

Having not had the opportunity to watch television over the past week I cannot comment on the usefulness of the messaging but the implementation of the technology was clearly a contributor to the lack of results. Greg Balwin (president of Volunteer Match) was openly and honestly apologetic to the members of Volunteer Match but I think he was shouldering more than his share of the blame. The various lists of volunteer opportunities from which draws, such as Volunteer Match, had many more opportunities than were to be found on the iparticipate site.

I was very happy to see that some of the responses to Greg Balwin’s article focused on the future and trying again. From one respondent, “…we all have learned from this and the next effort will be better,” and from another“…hopefully this turns into a yearly event. I’m betting in the long-term picture”.

Let’s look toward next year and work toward a strategy in the messaging that is consistent with the needs of the sector and best practices in building a movement along with better testing in advance from the technology partners. The discussions of where things broke down in this year’s attempt can help the next time (and I hope there’s a next time) the IEF steps up to bat.