Online Volunteers: Knowledge Managers in Nonprofits

As already advanced, my paper Online Volunteers: Knowledge Managers in Nonprofits has been already published in the first issue of the new Journal of Information Technology in Social Change.


Online volunteering is as old as the World Wide Web… or as the Internet itself. It is, notwithstanding, with the growing use of the WWW circa end of 1994 that it starts to become popular. Nevertheless, we believe that neither the concept nor the tasks that can be carried along by online volunteers are clear at all or, in any case, are the result of a wide consensus.

The research we here present analyzed 17 websites devoted to fostering volunteering to find out (a) if there was a broadly accepted definition of the concept of online volunteering and (b) if there was a list of tasks thus designed as the core or ideal competences of online volunteers. According to our findings, in this paper we will, first of all, describe all the different denominations for online volunteers and, closely related to them, try and see what are the profiles and tasks that, tied to these denominations, are usually performed or asked for in those main 17 volunteering websites.

To end, we will take some distance from the object of research and, in a more theoretical level, we will then suggest what the online volunteer profile could be and the main tasks he or she could really carry on related to this profile, the nature of the Information Society and the possibilities of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

In this aspect, our thesis will be that, just like distance and/or online education changed formal education, ICTs are opening volunteering to some people usually excluded from nonprofits because of personal and professional obligations. On the other hand, it seems that these newcoming people enrolled through and thanks to ICTs do come with a brand new profile, a profile whose main added value is knowledge. It will be stated, then, that the online volunteer is a perfect knowledge management actor and that knowledge transmission seems to be is his or her main role in solidarity.

Citation and postprint download

Peña-López, I. (2007). “Online Volunteers: Knowledge Managers in Nonprofits”. In The Journal of Information Technology in Social Change, Spring Edition – April 2007, (1), 136-152. Vashon: The Gilbert Center.


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

Peña-López, I. (2007) “Online Volunteers: Knowledge Managers in Nonprofits” In ICTlogy, #43, April 2007. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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2 Comments to “Online Volunteers: Knowledge Managers in Nonprofits” »

  1. I read your paper with great interest. There is little literature on this subject, so your classification is very interesting. I think the first type of volunteers (type I, online advocacy) are not really volunteers in the full sense of the term, but it’s true that most websites consider them as volunteers. I agree with you that in these last years, online volunteering has been promoted in an individual point of view. I hope the next phase of V2V will take a first step towards the creation of real virtual communities for online development projects (type IV, volunteer teams for online projects).

    Good work and thanks for sharing your research findings and your full paper! I noticed that the new journal is not open to the public. In my opinion a journal of “IT in Social Change” should be open to make the content available to a much wider audience, particularly in developing countries where people will not have access because the rates.


  2. Hearty thanks for your compliments :)))

    And yes, it is quite surprising that the journal is not Open Access published. Indeed, there has been some debate around the issue and Michael Gilbert himself – one of the editors – has explained his reasons not to publish under an OA license, all of them related with economical sustainability.

    Some reactions can be read here:
    * How do we do make change if we keep doing things the same way?
    * Information wants to be free, but it also needs to be sustainable
    * Using Information Technology for Social Change? Insert Coins Here

    My opinion is that yes, the journal should be OA, but I also empathize with Michael Gilbert reasons. The status quo is not that bad so far: we authors retain our rights on our work (this does not always happen), so, as I have done, we can go and publish postprints in our sites or other repositories.

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