It needs no explanation that volunteers represent an important resource for NGOs and thus managing volunteers is an important concern for any NGO management. Traditionally NGOs reached out to volunteers mainly through word-of-mouth. Internet made it possible to reach larger numbers through the presence of websites. It made it possible for NGOs to share their work with a larger audience and across boundaries. Volunteering has now become a very formal space. It might be sound ironical, but volunteering has led to many professions. Many NGOs either itself have dedicated volunteer managers or they outsource it to other service provider NGOs. Last 10-15 years have seen a rise in the likes of NGOs such as Volunteer Match, iVolunteer, Hands-on network etc that partner with other NGO; recruit volunteers based on the partner NGO’s requirement; manage the volunteer’s progress and also ensure their retention through various measure such as providing the volunteer with diverse opportunities, rewards and recognition etc.
With the coming of social media, the environment around volunteering has become very dynamic. Blogs, social media sites such as facebook, twitter, linkedin etc made it possible to share and promote volunteering stories and thus attract more people. The idea being that while, I, as an individual may not specifically look at a volunteering website, I would be interested if a friend of mine is volunteering. Social media made it easy for potential volunteers to relate to and connect with current volunteers. It made the whole volunteering scenario much more personal. And so it may seem that since it is easier to appeal to a larger mass, it will be easier to get many more volunteers with the use of social media. But it’s not entirely true.
- Unlike websites, social media thrives on live content and thus managing social media requires a dedicated resource both in terms of manpower and in terms of finances. Both of which are in short supply with most non-profit organisations.
- Furthermore the competition to get people’s attention is fierce. In the entire social media space, it’s not just NGOs competing with NGOs. The potential volunteer for an NGO is also the potential customer for a business. NGOs, thus are actually competing with bigger brands.
- Despite these hurdles, an NGO may be able to develop a big ‘fan or follower’ base; but the biggest challenge that NGOs face is converting these ‘potential’ volunteers into ‘actual’ volunteers. In the virtual world it’s easy to show your support by ‘liking’ something or ‘commenting on’ some topic or re-tweeting a thought. But in reality the conversation is just about 1%.
Social media provides both newer opportunities and challenges to this space. The point that I largely emphasize on during my social media for NGOs workshops is that social media is important not because it may bring volunteers or donors but because it tells people ‘who’ you are.
I use social media as a reference to check out not just what work an NGO is doing but also to know more about who are the people behind the organisation.
If you are an NGO, do share with us your experience of managing social media and how it has benefited you. If you are (or not) a volunteer, do share how you use social media to interact with any organisation.
Your feedback and comments will help improving our resources for NGOs to better utilise social media.