by Jerry Bishop
Sparked.com is an amazing resource for organizations to access a pool of ready volunteers for assistance on a wide range of needs. But Sparked.com and micro-volunteering in general is a little different than most organizations are used to. If this is the first you’ve heard of Sparked.com or micro-volunteering, check out my previous post, Adventures in Episodic Volunteering.
Knowing how to get the most from your virtual volunteers is important. Surprisingly, it is not that different than when you are working with your traditional volunteers in person. The basic recipe for success is the same only the format requires some added consideration.
To help you get the most out of using Sparked.com, I thought about my own volunteering experience and what suggestions I thought make for better results.
1. Ask for What Your Really Need. A lot of challenges are requests for one-time assistance on something that is probably an ongoing need for the organization. Similarly, many challenges ask for help with a manual process that might actually take less effort for a volunteer to create an automated process that you can use forever. So don’t be shy and ask for what you really need when writing your challenges.
2. Blue Sky Is OK. Because you will never get what you don’t ask for, consider going a bit further by adding what you would really want. Sort of like saying “what we really need is ______, but ideally we really want to be able to _____.” As an example, you may want to update your volunteer sign-up form which could actually be made into an online form eliminating your paperwork altogether.
3. Include Some Context. Volunteers can do a much better job for you when you include the problem that you are trying to solve or the ultimate goal you have in mind. This provides the volunteer with the broader context behind the specific request. So a Challenge asking for feedback on your website should include some background on why you have a web site. Because form follows function, it is important to know if your site is mostly for communications to supporters, to facilitate donations, or maybe as a recruitment tool for participants.
4. Clarify Challenges. When you see your initial responses coming in a little off-target or you are not getting Answers, go ahead and add a comment to clarify things or amend the Challenge summary to clear up any confusion. People who have already responded will be emailed there has been an update and can add to their answers.
5. Break Up Big Requests. Sparked is based on micro-volunteering, so the more you can do to make the Challenge a manageable request the easier it is for volunteers to respond. So if you want more blog traffic, you may want to break it up into smaller items like having a blog review done, finding other bloggers that you can collaborate with, improving Google search results, and so on.
6. Be Engaged. There is nothing like good old fashioned feedback from the Challenge Author to motivate the volunteers into answering. When I see challenges where the Author is responding to Answers, I am much more likely to join in the Challenge. Another good reason to be engaged is that often times Answers have questions in them or offer to do more if the Author wants the extra effort.
7. Brace Yourself. You may get more from a Challenge than you asked for, which isn’t a bad thing. That’s because volunteers often pick up on underlying issues that are contributing to the problem presented in the Challenge. Sometimes this happens when and organization has too many ideas going on, making it hard to tell just exactly what their mission is, which can show up as low readership of blogs, under-performing online giving, or other areas.
8. Come Back for More. Challenges often produce lots of feedback and ideas, which can be overwhelming and far more than you have time for. So come back to Sparked.com with new Challenges asking volunteers to help you get the work done. Whether is to make some phone calls on your behalf or to make changes to your website, you can find many hands on Sparked to help make it small work.
If I were to add a bonus tip, it would be of course to work with the team at Sparked.com on making your challenges as productive for you as possible while also finding ways for it to be rewarding for the volunteers. Of course that begins with a catching title to draw in volunteers.
For those of you that have already used Sparked.com you probably have a lot of great suggestions yourself. It would be wonderful if you would add them here in the comments to help with this discussion.
Jerry Bishop is a guest blogger and an independent IT consultant specializing in CIO services, IT strategy, and turning around underperforming IT departments. Jerry also publishes his own blog, The Higher Ed CIO, and writes for several CIO and technology forums on IT strategy, Internet trends, and social media. Jerry lives in western Wisconsin on an old farm where he spends his free time restoring native prairies and selling fruits and berries he grows at the local farmers market. He is also an avid micro-volunteer and closet crowdsourcing junky and admits to drinking too much coffee.