Tag Archives: NPTech

Needed: an open data standard for volunteer opportunities

I was chatting today with my friend Sameer about the challenges and opportunities in volunteer management software and had a bit of a realization: it’s crazy that we don’t have an open data standard for volunteer opportunities, so that organizations can publish a machine-readable list of volunteer opportunities on their websites, and let them get picked up and syndicated by services like VolunteerMatch and Idealist that specialize in aggregating and curating volunteer opportunities.

I’m thinking of something like RSS (or even better, ATOM), which provides a simple, open standard for publishing information about articles on websites so that they could easily be picked up, remixed and syndicated to reach a far larger audience.

Let’s call it “VSS” (Volunteer Syndication Standard). I haven’t thought about this deeply, and I’m no expert on designing protocols like this, but I would start by seriously examining ATOM, the most modern RSS-like standard for publishing articles. I’d also look at hATOM for inspiration about how to embed machine-readable data directly into a standard webpage. EDIT: Probably also .ics (the standard for event syndication, because volunteer opportunities often–but not always–resemble events.)

It would be hard to inspect one’s navel to design this right, so I’m not even going to try. But I’d definitely definitely want to include folks like:

  • Organizations that publish lots of volunteer opportunities
  • Organizations that aggregate and curate volunteer opportunities or recruit volunteers for many organizations
  • Makers of volunteer management software (or other tools that let groups publish volunteer opportunities online–this could include major CMS platforms, for example)

I think that a standard like this, if sufficiently widely adopted, could unlock a huge amount of innovation in how organizations (and intermediaries) recruit volunteers, especially if it was coupled with another set of standards for intermediaries to use to push data about volunteers directly into groups’ volunteer management databases.

 

 

 

 

Engagement is not a synonym for marketing

It’s interesting to see how widely the word “engagement” is now being used in the nonprofit tech sector. That’s cool.  (I like to think that my colleagues at Groundwire have played a role in spreading this meme.)

But less cool is how often “engagement” seems to be used as a synonym for “marketing.” That’s kind of sad. Nothing against marketing; lord knows the nonprofit sector could stand to get better at it. But I’d like to see more conversation about how to better structure the substance of our work to be more engaging and participatory and how to develop better processes for that kind of engagement.  Framing engagement as a marketing challenge reduces what could be transformational down to something more transactional.

Nonprofit website benchmarks study released

Groundwire Website Benchmarks Cover

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I’m very happy to have pushed the “launch” button on Groundwire’s 2010 Website Benchmarks Study, a first-of-its-kind-so-far-as-I-know report that takes an in-depth look at website statistics and online behaviors of 43 small-to-midsized environmental nonprofits.

There’s a ton of useful information, not only about groups’ “raw” website statistics, but also about how much time and energy groups are investing in their web presence.  Lots to chew on for nonprofits of any size, but I think it’s especially relevant for groups up to about 50 staff.

One thing I’m particularly proud of is the fact that I was able to develop a highly scalable and repeatable methodology for quickly gathering data, using a combination of a simple, open-source Python script (written by my awesome colleague Matt Yoder) for interacting with Google Analytics and a quick-and-dirty online survey instrument.

We’re hiring (again!) at Groundwire

We’ve got two open positions at Groundwire right now: one for a CRM database consultant and one for a manager for our “Groundwire Labs” innovation program.  Both are incredible opportunities for a creative, entrepreneurial social change technologist who wants to join one of the most accomplished teams in the nonprofit sector.

I’ve been here for nearly 14 years, so I’m happy to field any questions if you’re thinking about applying!

CRM Consultant

We need an experienced CRM Consultant to build customized databases that transform the effectiveness of the environmental movement. Our ideal candidate brings to the table client-facing consulting experience, project management experience, and a technical understanding of database design & development.

Read the job description and apply online

Groundwire Labs Manager

We are now looking for someone to run Groundwire Labs. As the Groundwire Labs Manager, you’ll lead Groundwire’s R&D investments and define the cutting edge of how we use technology to help organizations to do a better job of engaging their communities. It’s all with an eye to our mission of building a sustainable society.

Read the job description and apply online

Alternative Gift Registry

Center for a New American Dream has a nicely done “Alternative Gift Registry” tool (currently the #4 Google result for “gift registry”!) that allows you to create gift registries that de-emphasize consumerism (used goods, donations to charity, experiences rather than stuff, etc.).   This is a great example of a nonprofit advocacy group coming up with a valuable public-facing service that is grounded in its mission and expertise to bring people into the circle of engagement.

Unplugging from the social networks

After some soul-searching, and a prod from my dear friend and inspiration role model Sam Dorman, I’ve decided to unplug myself from “web 2.0,” “the social nets” or whatever we call the rapidly-expanding tarpit of social networking sites these days.

Long story short: I’m increasingly convinced that the constant stream of tweets, status updates, Facebook wall posts and the like are causing me more cognitive harm than professional or personal benefit.   And I deeply suspect that they’re harming us as a society, too.  (See “Skinner Box?  There’s an App for that!” for more on this.)

I’m not going cold turkey from the internet.  That’s not what this is about.  I’m going to continue reading email, surfing the web, and maybe taking in a few RSS feeds, since that’s a very convenient way to follow the news.  I will continue to blog (and hope to write more in the future since I won’t be as distracted by constant consumption!)  I might even keep my Facebook account after paring it down to people who are actually real-world personal friends.  But I’m ditching Twitter, unsubscribing from most of my “professional” RSS feeds, and am going to basically pull out of the “real-time web.”  Our brains just aren’t meant to work this way, and I can feel it harming my work, my personal life, and my happiness.

“Surely you just need to manage this stuff better, Jon,” you might be thinking.  Well, maybe, but if you know me, you know that I am an extremely disciplined person and am about as far from an “addictive personality” as it gets.  Heck, I didn’t even have an internet connection at home until 2001, and then only because my wife made me!  If I am suddenly finding myself experiencing addictive behaviors with web 2.0 tools, I’m pretty sure it’s because these qualities are deeply wired into the technology, not into my personality.  Also, if you think that “technology is completely neutral, it’s just about how we use it,” then please go stop and go read “In the Absence of the Sacred” before deciding whether you really want to pursue that line of argument.

So, in short, I won’t be seeing you on Twitter or Facebook so much anymore.   But please do drop me a line, give me a call, let’s go get some coffee or a hoist a pint.  Let’s go for a walk, a hike, a bike ride.  Let’s play some music together, or cook some food.

And if you’re feeling a little stressed out by the constant chatter of your online “friends,” then I invite you to join me in easing back out and into the sunlight.  See you in the real world, person-to-person!