Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Volunteering 2.0: Community Building

When I do presentations about nonprofits and the social web, I often explain Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0 like this:

Web 1.0 is a one way conversation.












Web 2.0 is a two way conversation.












Web 1.0 is about listening to me. Web 2.0 is about listening to each other.

In her recent article, From Organizing Charity to Community Building, Susan Ellis of Energize Inc. uses a similar framework to talk about the future of volunteering. Ellis reflects,
"The problem, for me, is that the charity model is one-way. It centers on givers, 'those who have so much,' providing aid to recipients, 'those who have so little.' . . .

What would happen if we stopped asking 'what new people can we find out there to give us help?' and instead talked to our members, audience, visitors, clients – whomever our focus is – and found out what they wanted and were willing to help create?"
Ellis recommends that volunteer managers focus on building community among the populations they serve, and describes the best volunteering as an "exchange." She writes about a program that connects elementary school children and seniors as an example of a beneficial volunteer exchange:
"A nursing home near an elementary school was asked to open its dining room from 3:00 to 5:00 as a safe place for 'latchkey' children who otherwise had no adult supervision in the late afternoon to do homework. Older residents who were able were encouraged to greet the youngsters, give milk and cookies, and help with the homework. As you can imagine, the kids responded and pretty soon it was very hard to tell who was giving or receiving more. The seniors suddenly had young visitors and the students suddenly had tutors."
Most people want to contribute to making the world a better place, in one way or another. Whether they are creating a YouTube video for a cause, or helping to create an urban garden, it's not just the giving that makes them feel good, it's also the feeling that they are part of a community that is working together for a better world.

The next time your organization creates a program, or campaign to recruit more volunteers don't just ask yourself, "How can I facilitate them doing something for us?" Also ask yourself, "How can I facilitate our doing something together?"

Cross-posted from The Extraordinaries.
Flickr photo credit: One Way uploaded by Jef Poskanzer. Elephants uploaded by wwarby.

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