On our website we wrote about: what e-volunteering is, what are the rules for its operation and even what you cannot call e-volunteering. Briefly speaking, e-volunteering is different from traditional volunteering only in formal terms: E-volunteers use primarily online tools in their work (e-mail, online calendars, tools for document sharing, social networking, etc.) and use them to communicate with each other, with the organizers and the target group. Relationships established through the network are just as strong and reliable as those that arise in the real world. Similar challenges need to be faced by volunteer coordinators as well.
You probably wonder why we decided to promote only e-volunteering, since it is so similar to traditional forms of social work. This small difference is very important. Thanks to the Internet, e-volunteers do not have to appear at the office of the organization, do not even have to live in the same city. Limitations of space and – to some extent – time are no longer relevant to the volunteering tasks. For NGOs it has a double meaning:
Firstly, they do not have to worry about preparing a place for volunteer in their office, or fear that the office hours frighten those who are studying or working at the same time.
Secondly, NGOs can greatly expand their associates and find the way to experts, who usually are not available. Finding a graphic, competent lawyer or an expert of new technologies can be quite difficult. However, if we look to the internet, we will find that the world is full of people ready to help us and willing to devote their time to us.
E-volunteering benefits also the other side – the e-volunteers. Ability to engage via the Internet can include those who are excluded. This refers in particular to people with physical disabilities who may have difficulty making activities ‘on the spot’, but would engage in work for an organization whose mission is close them. Especially when connection to virtual work one of very few opportunities to contact with the outside world. E-volunteering also facilitates involvement for the elderly or young mothers in public life. Thanks to access to the Internet they can be members of the community, actively sharing their knowledge and experience with others.
Remember, however, that e-volunteering is also associated with the challenges connected with digital exclusion. It depends not only on the lack of access to a computer or the Internet, but it is also associated with an insufficient familiarity with the tool, both e-volunteers as well as organizers. Composing e-mails that content will be understood by the recipient, appropriate communication and the use of new tools require skills that are not mastered all equally. Therefore, we have to be patient, keeping in mind during cooperation with e-volunteers we all learn something new (eg, better work organization, better communication with others) and the appetite grows with eating!