VolunteerCrew is a website and Facebook app that facilitates volunteer work of all types – not only for public and nonprofit organizations but for friends and neighbors as well. It will match those who can help and those who need help, enabling users to see needs and opportunities in their immediate geographic area, in real-time, and enable both individuals and nonprofits to ask for and receive help on short notice. It leverages social networks, geographic data and research into volunteer motivation to reduce barriers to volunteering, making possible a new class of volunteer efforts – more informal and episodic. This is designed to help build an ethic of community participation, increase organizational capacity, resources and effectiveness, as well as strengthen ties within communities.
Volunteering today usually requires quite a bit of effort and commitment. Organizations usually struggle to get the word out to potential volunteers – they may use their email lists, their web sites, sites like Craigslist, and volunteer databases, and still reach a fairly limited pool – those who are already motivated to go look for opportunities. They have to write a description of what they need, with a convincingly desperate pitch to potential volunteers, post it, and sort through the replies (if any), and set up appointments with the prospective volunteers. This all requires a commitment of staff resources, and fairly long lead time, and the kind of opportunities that are worth this sort of effort usually require that it's a substantial enough task that the organization wants some level of continuing commitment from the volunteer. These restrictions limit what organizations can do; their abilities to achieve their missions are determined by their staffing (which is determined by their funding), and a small staff can only recruit and manage a small number of volunteers.
From the viewpoint of the volunteer, it's often hard to find opportunities that match one's interests and motivations –one looks for volunteer work that's interesting, matches one's skills, and fits conveniently into one's schedule and location. Using Craigslist, VolunteerMatch or other databases means paging through many listings which probably aren't appropriate for one reason or another; volunteers need to be selective if they are expected to make a substantial commitment of time or effort. In contrast, a very short-term volunteer opportunity would have a much lower threshold for participation – people would be more willing to help, on a wider range of tasks, if the opportunity was easily accessible and did not require a lot of time or commitment.
There are even fewer organized systems to facilitate helping friends. This currently happens via personal contact – calling or emailing friends when you need help, and perhaps nowadays, using a Facebook update or Twitter to announce your needs. While there are many types of situations where personal contact may still be the preferred means of communication – people still like to be asked personally – there may be other types of requests where the proposed system may be advantageous. These may be smaller favors that wouldn't warrant one of your friends travelling out far of their way to help you with, or ones where a special skill or tool is required, and you'd like to reach a large pool of potential volunteers. In some situations it may just be more efficient to be able to announce your needs without having to reach people individually.
Finally, in modern, urban societies, there are very few ways to get help from one's local neighborhood – people often don't know most of their neighbors. Requests are mostly limited to looking for crime witnesses, missing items and lost pets. Imagine if you could ask for or receive help moving something in your house, doing a simple repair or watering your garden while you're away. This could help neighbors to meet, strengthen communities, all while improving individual lives.
Volunteer Crew: Facilitating Informal Volunteering. (ITP Thesis Paper)
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