We are so used to doing everything via the Internet that we think we have paid our dues when we paypal a donation, or inform all our friends of what’s happening around us via our social networks. Yet, we need to continue to help in the real world and to make sure that we volunteer effectively as an organizer or as a follower. Our productivity is all the more critical as charitable giving has been declining and is unlikely to skyrocket any time soon.
So how can we do as much or more with less? The response is obvious: by better leveraging the time and talent of volunteers whose numbers –unlike those for giving– have been increasing. It’s a matter of strategic planning, but it’s also, and maybe primarily, a matter of using appropriate tools. “It’s not enough to have large member databases and a big list of names,” Joe Edelman says. “As an organizer, you must know who in your talent pool is available at any given time to plan your event or your action. You need updated information from the volunteers themselves. And once the event happens, you need to be able to adjust to unforeseen situations in a flash. That’s why I started Citizen Logistics. It’s a Common Good Corporation that understands the power of the human logistics chain. To do good, we need a workflow that allocates the right resources at the right time for the right purpose. You need to dispatch the right crew to make a difference, hence the name our first product, Groundcrew.”
Here is how Joe presents Groundcrew in a YouTube video:
Groundcrew leverages the social networking tools (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and other messaging systems) to coordinate people into action and rally communities members around any particular goal or event. The platform is designed to boost efficiency in three critical areas:
Action planning and execution for Organizers, through full visibility and control over the way an event unfolds and the talent pool available at any given time. Today, organizers endure unacceptable levels of stress. For small budget organizations, organizing people is like herding cats. For those with bigger budgets, it’s as grueling as building up an army without being quite sure of which soldiers will show up or if the chefs de battalion are fit for the job. In all cases, it involves a lot of planning with limited visibility and a lot of ad-hoc re-planning in a blurry landscape.
Volunteer retention through appropriate use of the right volunteers on their own terms and in sync with the mission at hand. Today, although we love the idea of contributing, more often than not we resent the fact that we waste so much of our time. The end result is appalling: As noted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “of the 61.2 million people who volunteered in 2006, 21.7 million—more than one-third—did not donate any time to a charitable cause the following year.” Wow… Clearly it’s critical to offer a more gratifying experience to volunteers.
Strengthening governance and accountability in non-profit organizations or Corporation-funded programs. Each grant-maker has its own requirements to evaluate effectiveness. In the end, however, results are largely dependent upon the ability to measure the actual impact of an organization in the community, which itself largely depends on the ability for that organization to motivate its volunteers, and keep them engaged by matching their skills with the tasks at hand.
Volunteering is not simply about feeling good. It’s about having a purpose, and seeing results. It’s a result-oriented leadership of sorts. The stakes are high. The economic weight of volunteering stands an estimated $162 billion according to Volunteering in America 2009: 61.8 million Americans volunteered through an organization in 2008, giving more than 8 billion hours of service in 2008. “Yes, $162 billion a significant volunteer economy, but it could be much, much more. What it takes is a platform that helps our organizers, nonprofits, and community members leverage volunteers better and faster at all levels: from neighborhood to city to state and country. Our people want to be of service, as leaders and as actors. Leveraging everyone’s vitality and dreams is absolutely paramount.” Joe concludes enthusiastically.
Disclosure: I am an advisor and Board Member