Please, No More Volunteer-Matching Web Sites

Jayne Cravens writes about the proliferation of volunteer-matching web sites in Please, No More Volunteer-Matching Web Sites.

I fully agree.

In a research I’m about to finish – and about to publish here in parts and as a whole –, I studied some volunteer matching sites.

One of the funny things I found was about two – in apparence – powerful sites that were evaluated: USA Freedom Corps and Network for Good. After some navigation I found that the first one linked directly to the second one, and that one used – though with its own template – the database and tools from Volunteermatch. Surprisingly, Volunteermatch has PageRank 7 and both others have 8.

Unbelievable! :D

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2005) “Please, No More Volunteer-Matching Web Sites” In ICTlogy, #21, June 2005. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=293

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4 Comments to “Please, No More Volunteer-Matching Web Sites” »

  1. I agree with what Jayne has suggested, but would go a few steps further.

    I host a web site with a database of non-school tutor/mentor programs. It’s used by social workers, parents, potential volunteers, etc. to find contact information for tutor/mentor programs in Chicago.

    I’ve been doing this since 1993.

    My intention in 1993 was not to set up a volunteer match service, but to set up an organization that would help volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs grow in all the places of Chicago where they were most needed.

    To do that I first had to build a master database of existing programs because no one in the city had a master database. Then I had to begin to learn the differences between programs, and find ways to make that information available to programs and the general public. And we had to find ways to increase daily visibility for tutoring/mentoring so that more people would consider being a volunteer and/or a donor.

    We began to use the database to invite programs to come together for conferences in 1994 and someone suggested publishing the database as a Directory handout for the conference. It was so well received that we began publishing the directory in a print form and sending it to programs, and to potential donors and businesses who could help mobilize volunteers.

    In 1995 we reached an agreement with the public tv station in Chicago and began to post listings from the database on a bulletin board during August/September to help each program get volunteers.

    As we’ve repeated the conferences and recruitment campaign for the past 12 years, we’ve added the Internet to our strategy, and have created a much larger visibility for tutoring/mentoring in Chicago. On our web sites we attempt to educate donors and volunteers as to where a program is needed, how long programs need to be in service, and what challenges programs face that prevent them from doing as good as needed. We’ve recorded more than 120,000 visits to our web sites since 1998.

    When we started this concept we were filling a void, just like any business. We did not have investment capital and many programs just ignored our efforts. We’ve constantly searched for funds to maintain the quality of the information, and lead the public awreness. We’ve had to depend on volunteers to put the information on the internet.

    Yet we’ve had more than 20,000 page views of the Program Locator at http://www.tutormentorexchange.net in the past 14 months and we receive calls every week asking for help in locating tutors/mentors for kids in the city.

    We’re constantly trying to innovate new ways to collect and maintain the data. Hopefully later this summer we’ll launch an interactive version that enables programs to enter and update their own data.

    We feel this is a two-way street. As our service provides more volunteers, dollars and visibility to individual tutor/mentor programs they will spend more time at our site maintaing the data and working with us to increase traffic.

    Which comes first? The quality service, or the participation of individual program?

    So we’ve become a volunteer referral service as a by product of trying to help tutor/mentor programs get the resources they each need to provide quality service.

    We’d love to be doing all of the good things Jayne suggests, but the people in the city who say they want kids to succed in school and have extra adult support, are not as forthcoming with money to help us maintain the data, or to help programs recruit and retain quality staff who keep accurate records in their own program and who know how to effectively use on-line volunteer services.

    Jayne included a statment in her blog that said, “Organizations that involve volunteers do not have the resources to use all, or even most, of these volunteer matching sites.”

    I’d like to see more organizations that maintain databases, do more to promote financial support of charities, not just volunteer support. I’d also like to see more efforts to use GIS maps, like we’re piloting, to encourage the distribution of volunteers and donors to all parts of a city, and to all programs serving tutoring/mentoring, not just to the highly visible programs like Big Brothers or Boys & Girls Clubs. This concept should be applied to any service stream, not just tutoring/mentoring.

    This way programs would have the ability to use the voluntee-match services who were doing the most to help these programs get all of the resources they need to succeed in their work, not just volunteers.

    Dan Bassill
    Tutor/Mentor Connection
    Chicago
    http://tutormentor.blogspot.com

  2. Hi, Dan,

    I fully agree with the most part of what you wrote. And I guess Jayne Cravens would also. I mean, the question is not reducing help, financing… commitment with charities, but eficiency.

    You said “I’d like to see more organizations that maintain databases”. Well, in my opinion, the point is – and I will use the same words – that I’d like to see more organizations that maintain the same databases. This is the point. Just one database, but the best one, not a bunch of databases competing for some scarce audience.

    Just think of your site: you’d probably be one of the first ones (1993, wow, the Internet Ice Age ;)) Now, it’s up to you to choose:
    Some other charity setting up a brand new portal+database in 2005
    Some other charity joining its resources (financial, human, technologycal) to yours to improve the existing Tutormentor program

    Which one would you choose? I guess you’d choose same option as Jayne and me :)

  3. Let’s think of this in geographic terms. In the US the 50 largest cities, such as Chicago, New York, Detroit, etc. all have large populations of poverty, who are isolated in part because of the geographic size of the city.

    In a city of 50,000 there may be a few blocks of poverty, but the kids are probably attending integrated schools and have access to some of the same non-school activities and community influences as do other kids.

    In Chicago poverty areas are measured by miles, which means kids are more segregated and have less of the diverse community influences.

    When I said I’d like to see more databases, I meant I’d like to see other cities maintain a tutor/mentor database. I agree. It’s frustrating when new people come into Chicago with new money and conduct surveys of youth programs that don’t contribute to updating the quality of my data, or aren’t done with a purpose of drawing volunteers or donors to the organizations they survey.

    I think this happens on a national basis to. It’s great that ServeNet and VolunteerMatch maintain databases. But because these cover all charities, and I cover one stream, they have less ability to draw attention to tutor/mentor programs in Chicago on a daily basis than I do. They also have less ability to maintain the quality of the data.

    I’d like to see some sort of database aggregator be developed which would enable data to be shared from city to city, or from city to national, but with ownership of the data remaining local. I think things like this are available, but without the manpower to put this in play, we won’t move to this stage for a while.

    In the end, while I’m frustrted that competitors come into the market each year and make it more difficult for me, I’m also thankful, because they increase attention of volunteerism and motivate more people to shop for a volunteer opportunity.

    I think of the story about the tortoise and the hare. I’ll just keep plodding along trying to improve the quality and impact of what I do with whatever resource I can find. Others will come and go.

    If I can get a link on the competitor database, the money they spend eventually draws people to my service.

    Dan

  4. Ummm, you gave me plenty of things to think about :)

    However, I still think that aggregation + categorization is still the option if we pursue efficiency.

    On the other hand, categorization and/or technologies such as RSS should allow the user to filter and feel he’s in a sub-website (i.e. your subject of interest) and not getting lost because of the excess of information.

    And this category sub-website should be fed by the best one in town on this issue, independently if he or she belonged to the promoting institution.

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