4 Oct 2016
Preliminary research suggests that whilst many Third Sector organisations are keen to embrace a digital future, there are some challenges that need to be faced.
The research*,funded by the Open University, found
that Third Sector organisations are increasingly proficient in
their use of digital media for brand awareness, campaigning and
advocacy, fundraising and for recruiting volunteers. There is
potential for using such media more effectively in supporting
volunteer activities and engagement, after the
Researchers found that the presence of an enthusiastic digital
advocate made a real difference to the take up of new technologies
and practices. A further critical success factor was the
extent to which the use of digital media was tailored to the
Applications like Facebook can make volunteers more visible in the
organisation and create a sense of belonging, despite geographical
distance. Digital communication can allow co-ordination of a widely
dispersed volunteer team, and hence wider coverage of services. It
allows volunteers to make their contribution, in client support for
example, or involvement in decision making, even if they live
in remote areas.
Through interactive social media, organisation can better
understand what volunteers are saying and feeling about their
experiences. Not only useful for its own sake, this can
provide a valuable way to demonstrate the impact of
volunteering, to funders and the general public.
Amongst the main concerns expressed in interviews was how an
organisation should respond if some kind of social media crisis
were to arise, such as volunteers making unhelpful comments online
which are picked up in national media. There are clearly issues of
boundary management between personal and professional lives, which
are relevant to both staff and volunteers.
Organisations generally value the relationships they build up with
volunteers and would not want to see this replaced by a more
impersonal, purely digital form of engagement, 'clicktivism'.
The main priorities for the future, the researchers conclude, would
- Rethinking how volunteering roles can develop and become
- Using digital technologies to foster active engagement of the
- Finding the right balance between greater volunteer autonomy
and maintaining the organisations strategic direction
The research is planned to continue and we can look forward to
further reports on their findings.
Meanwhile, WCVA is working with Digital communities Wales to
promote and develop digital volunteering in
Wales. Volunteers are being recruited and trained to
help others to get online, and organisations are being supported in
developing their use of digital technologies in new and effective
ways. More information is available from Geoff.email@example.com
or at digitalcommunitieswales.co.uk
*Pritchard, K, Mumford, C, Symon, G and Hine C (2016).
Volunteering experience in the Digital Age: current issues and
future priorities. A summary report can be read here.