The “E-volunteering at NGOs and at schools” project was a pilotage study conducted by Huber Borowski and Łukasz Ostrowski, in order to provide advice to ongoing activities of E-volunteering Programme and selection of the strategy for further development of the portal www.e-wolontariat.pl. We wanted to make it a source of information about the condition and possibilities of developing e-volunteering in NGOs and secondary schools in Poland.
The study was qualitative and was conducted in February and March, 2010. It included 10 deepen interviews and 2 interviews focused (in Warsaw and Tarnow), attended by representatives of NGOs and directors, supervisors from secondary schools. Such obtained information were also supplemented with quantitative data from reliable sources (inter alia: Central Statistical Office).
E-volunteering – how it’s seen?
An important part of the study was to find an answer to the question what is meant by the term “e-volunteering”. The starting point must be, of course, to find out how volunteering is understood. It turned out that definition of this phenomenon is quite confusing and very often meant by colloquial sense and many people don’t even realize they are volunteers. Unfortunately, voluntary work is often associated with activities not requiring special knowledge or skills, what leads to the fact that being a volunteer doesn’t enjoy a high prestige.
All this difficulties in defining volunteering translates into an even greater extent of understanding of the concept of “e-volunteering”. As is clear from conducted research, many organizations surprisingly turned out that they can determine their cooperative people as e-volunteers, which resulted mainly from a small knowledge of the concept and its description of different types of tasks. Unfortunately, it is also quite confusing for potential e-volunteers. It seems that those people, who are related to e-volunteering, underestimate contributed by virtual volunteers values, such as efficiency of movement in the Internet and the ability to work in such environment, on which e-volunteering is really based on.
According to the executed study, e-volunteering is understood by volunteers as:
- Activities which result in leaving in the net some trail, such as the preparation of web pages, websites management, moderation of forums, writing articles to the website etc.
- Work with the use of a network for the organizational purposes, performing activities may take place in the material world, but there is coordination with the use of new technologies
In addition, there are mainly quick activities that could fill short periods of free time. What’s more, e-volunteers are mainly perceived as IT specialists or PC enthusiasts.
Internet and III Sector
The main organizer of volunteering in Poland is the III Sector and among organizations working in this area we can expect the greatest interest in organization of e-volunteering. Another important element of the study was to gain knowledge about methods NGOs use the Internet.
Throughout the past decade NGOs quickly improved their skills in the use of computers and Internet. Currently, almost all of them use the Internet (in the office or outside) and nearly half of them do it every day. Similar changes – increasing computerization and internet-enabling are typical for all society, so it’s safe to say that there has been a significant development of technological infrastructure and social development of e-volunteering (skills of use computers and the web have increased and spread).
NGOs not only adopted a new medium, but also are changing under its influence: they quickly note the need to develop activity related to communication, promotion, marketing and public relations, which take place mainly in the web. Unfortunately, III Sector organizations not always cope with additional work that goes with it. People interviewed during the research said that they often haven’t got enough time to update an online information and communicate through the Internet, and it’s the speed and immediacy which decide of the success in this medium. But on the other hand, most of the above tasks are intangible and can be done using the Internet, so from any access point to the web, regardless of whether it’s a job, home or an Internet café. So we came to the point where it’s visible that e-volunteering can not only be practically used, but also solve at least one of the serious problems of NGOs.
E-volunteer work can be useful in all tasks at which NGOs use the Internet:
- To promote, mainly through websites, as well as social media, instant messaging, newsletters or blogs
- To manage the relationship with the environment (with wards, supporters, staff, volunteers, friends etc.)
- To communicate with employees and colleagues and to coordinate their work
- To search for the information needed to operate (for example: work area, partners, ability to raise funds for their activities
- In fundraising
Internet and volunteering
Talking about the impact that the Internet had on volunteering, we can’t miss its effects in the sphere of establishing cooperation between the volunteer and the organization.
As it turned out, often the best way to raise a volunteer is to let him know that such organization exists and interest him in its objectives, mission and form of actions. This type of actions are extremely improved by the use of web, that also significantly reduces its costs. This is especially important for those NGOs, which can’t allocate in this activity considerable financial resources, and at the same time those, for which support from volunteers is especially important.
At the same time the Internet eliminates many barriers for potential volunteers – it’s easier for them to find a proper organization, communicate with it and cooperate. Due to e-volunteering, the web also enable to work remotely, including in the group of potential volunteers people, who can’t work on the premises of the company (people with disabilities, mothers raising children, people living far away from NGOs they want to cooperate with). When the location and distance is no longer such a large obstacle, e-volunteers have much wider possibilities to choose the organization, so that the choice is no longer “where I can work” and it’s rather like “where I want to work” – e-volunteers can even work abroad. There is no need to convince anybody how positively it affects results and quality of the tasks performed by e-volunteers.
Of course the impact of internet-enabling on volunteering is not only positive, promotion and acquisition of new volunteers affects the demography of this group, favoring young people and not appreciating older people, who also have a huge potential and willingness to volunteer.
In the direction of e-volunteering
Increasing internet-enabling of the society make it easier for volunteers to work immaterially, and the ease of work through the Internet poses a real possibility to work remotely from home, another city or from any other point with access to the Internet.
The biggest surprise of the study was the observation that e-volunteering in NGOs is much more common than we expected. Some of tasks naturally begun to be carried out virtually, often with the support of volunteers. It’s important that at first none of invited to the study NGOs realized that they are organizing e-volunteering.
To make it easier to distinguish e-volunteering from traditional volunteering, for the purpose of the study – traditional forms of volunteering are referred as “analogue volunteering”. The following figure shows examples of actions as the part of both types of volunteering. It shows that these areas aren’t separable, which means that some of the tasks can be done on the distance as well as in the office.
“The fact that the boundary between analogue volunteering and e-volunteering is blurred, makes organizations don’t think about e-volunteers as a completely different group of coworkers. The fact of cooperating via Internet doesn’t create a new type of volunteers. E-volunteers are still called volunteers, changes only the nature of their work and the way to communicate with them. (…) In addition, in today’s volunteering you can find many intermediate forms, in which is present both the analogue and network element. It can be a collaboration with volunteers, with who organization has contact only via the web [H.Borowski, L.Ostrowski, “E-volunteering in NGO and school. Research Report “, page 17].
Extremely edifying conclusion of the study is that working with e-volunteers is possible in every type of organization, even in those basing its cooperation with beneficiaries and partners on “face-to-face” contacts, but not for every type of task.
New forms of cultural and science volunteering
A very important phenomenon emerging with the use of the Internet for the purpose of volunteering is the emergence of new areas of philanthropy, such as accessing volunteers in the creation and sharing of knowledge as a public good. Examples of these types of projects can be Wikipedia (organized by the Wikimedia Foundation), or Free Textbooks (organized by the Foundation of Modern Poland). What distinguishes these forms of e-volunteering from the previously mentioned, is the role of e-volunteers. With these types of projects volunteers not only carry out activities to improve the functioning of the organization, but also those, which are the heart and central point of the project – e-volunteers are collecting and producing knowledge. According to this, they are very often called authors, journalists or Internet users and not necessarily volunteers or e-volunteers.
A very important area of the study was to assess the state of philanthropy in schools, promotion opportunities of e-volunteering and to identify way of access to these institutions.
Computers and the Internet school
According to the Central Statistical Office, schools in Poland, both primary, secondary and high schools, are almost commonly equipped with computers and Internet access, which students can usually use in computer labs and libraries. Unfortunately, a real access to them is often limited due to an insufficient amount of equipment in relation to the number of students.
Teachers and the use of the Internet
Teachers quite often use computers and the Internet, usually for sending and receiving e-mails (especially in the context of their work , including communication with students), collection of information need for classes and work and browsing websites of institutions and organizations they know, which indicates a limited trust for sources, whose author is unknown and procedures of creating content aren’t controlled.
Internet image among teachers
Conducted study indicates that the Internet is seen by teachers mainly as a channel of communication and a source of information, though they prefer information coming from reliable and authorized sources. An interesting phenomenon is teacher’s attitude to Wikipedia – they associate it mainly with the portal, from which students copy unverified information, and not a place that connects Internet users in development of a common good, which is knowledge. Generally speaking, “the Internet isn’t perceived by teachers as a technology which allows cooperation, common work and creation. Projects like Wikipedia and self-regulatory processes don’t raise teacher’s trust.” What’s more, the Internet is also very often seen through the prism of risks that may be associated with the web, especially cyber bullying.
Findings from conducted study and analysis of national surveys indicate that in school environment students are a group which uses the Internet according to the rules and methods associated with e-volunteering, and it’s they who have advanced skills to get involved into e-volunteering.
Volunteering at schools
Important for volunteering and e-volunteering institution in school reality is a supervisor of volunteering, who is most often a central figure, who influences the shape and condition of volunteering at schools.
Volunteering at school is primarily an act of help and charity, taking the form of cash and things collections, and the organization of various events. Often it’s a part of a large, national campaigns, such as “WOŚP” or “Góra Grosza”, but school volunteering also supports smaller initiatives of local organizations. In such situations, usually an intermediary is the local Social Welfare Centre.
Students willingly and often engage in such actions, which is optimistic. Due to the opinion of directors and supervisors of volunteering, which took part in the study, the current level of commitment is sufficient and relatively easy to coordinate. They also believe that what mostly motivates students is the “movement of the heart” as well as the need to do something good, however they also notice appearing benefits, flowing mainly from the opportunity to gain additional points for recruitment to schools of higher education.
Volunteering – how it’s seen at schools?
As it’s clear from conducted interviews, teachers think that the most important benefit of students engaging in volunteering is learning to help others. However, they don’t see it as a chance of training new skills (for example: teamwork skills and abilities to solve conflicts) or expanding their knowledge. Moreover, voluntary work is perceived only as helping activities, which don’t require specific references.
E-volunteering – is it known at schools?
Conducted study have shown that the concept of e-volunteering isn’t familiar to teachers, so during the promotion of it at schools, it’s worthy to focus on communicating what it really is, what are its main principles and usability, not only limited to the role of a tool for improving volunteering at schools, but as a tool opening possibilities for students to engage in new forms of philanthropy.
Results of the study indicate the need to spread information about e-volunteering , its forms and possibilities to use. It turns out that infrastructure is already relatively well developed, people at school environment are happy to volunteer, and NGOs already engage their volunteers in e-volunteering. So it’s very likely that educational and promotional campaigns dedicated to e-volunteering can meet with a positive response and will stimulate the further development of e-volunteering.
[translation made by an e-volunteer – Marta Dubak – THANK YOU!]