Friday, March 12, 2010

Using photo sharing websites to support your volunteer training

I am working with Volunteering England this month and decided that a great way to get over the jet lag as fast as possible was to run in a half marathon race which I did last Sunday. Out of it (along with some sore legs) came an idea of how photo sharing websites could be used to augment your volunteer training. It was a very well run race and I’d like to say thank you to the organizers and all of the volunteers. Among many other tasks, the volunteers kept us on course and well hydrated. I usually observe the workings of volunteers a little whenever I get the opportunity and given the amount of time I spent plodding along the race course, I got to think about my observations a little more than usual.

The saying about a picture being worth a 1,000 words came to mind while thinking about how some of the volunteers were fulfilling their role. It occurred to me that given how easy it is to put illustrative photos online and distribute the link to all (or at least most) volunteers that this would be worth adding to the training processes for some organizations.

In the case of this race, there were two occurrences where I thought photos demonstrating preferred practices would have helped the volunteer, and in turn the race participants. Both involved course marshals directing us around two different corners. Rather than standing on the outside of the corner, they had moved in closer to the inside corner. Both were enthusiastically cheering us on as we passed and I imagined that it was this enthusiasm that drew them closer to the action. This would not have likely caused a problem for the elite runners who got there long before me and would have been running with few, if any, other runners next to them. The race had over 3,000 participants so the majority of us who were not leaders in the race ran in very large groups based on our common running paces. When these groups got to these particular corners, we had to jostle unnecessarily for a position in which to navigate the corner.

If those volunteers could have seen a picture demonstrating exactly where to stand, that would have reinforced any verbal or written instructions. Even better, if that volunteer could have seen a picture of a volunteer standing at any tight corner of a race WHILE a previous race was going on and a crowd was trying to get around the corner, the volunteer would have more likely understood the ramifications of positioning and been less likely to even need to remember an all-encompassing set of instructions.

Two of the big names in photo sharing sites that are certainly worth looking are and

A picture can indeed tell a thousand words. Where could you put them to use in your volunteer program? If you do already, please add your suggestion here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Volunteer Recognition Luncheon vs Credit Card Rewards Points

So AMEX has jumped on the volunteer bandwagon. I think its great news. They are offering their members up to 10,000 AMEX rewards points per year for volunteering up to 100 hours (New York Times). Reading of this brought me back to a session at the U.K.’s Institute for Advanced Volunteer Management last October where there was much discussion over Disney offering tickets to their park to people who volunteered at specific organizations.

Some participants voiced a concern that it would water down what it is to be a volunteer. Some thought it could cause problems because volunteers would come to expect it. One person said they were just doing it to make money.

One person however made a very interesting point that volunteers were regularly rewarded for their efforts long before Amex started this program or Disney started giving away tickets to their parks. Volunteers at theatres often get free or reduced price tickets. Volunteer recognition luncheons come at a price. Volunteers at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver received a significant uniform to keep. In the grand scheme of things, the monetary value of the potential 10,000 points (~US$100) is not that much different than the monetary value of some of the ‘rewards’ traditionally offer to volunteers. Another person observed that the rewards in programs such as Amex’s and Disney’s are looked at differently by many because they are offered by… (play the scary theme music in your head)… corporations… rather than by the nonprofit themselves.

People volunteer for a wide range of reasons. Sometimes the reason they start is not the reason they continue. If a program such as this kick-starts someone into giving volunteering a try or gets them back into it after a long absence, all the power to it.