I have to admit giving a heavy sigh over the recent post by the folks behind the Net2 Think Tank asking "How can organizations innovate to allow donors to effectively contribute their time, talent, and skills online?" It went on to say, "What are some examples of organizations allowing donors to contribute their time and/or talents virtually? Which specific tools or tactics are working for your organization and which are not working?"
Because, you see, there's a word for that. It's called volunteering.
To volunteer means to donate time, talent and skills. And people have been volunteering online since the Internet was launched. It's a practice that's more than 30 years old, and it's a practice that is very, very well documented.
Why the reluctance to call this volunteering? I'm not sure. I've heard some people say that they think the word volunteer conjures an image of very traditional people (whoever they are -- I'm still not sure) doing traditional things like picking up trash at a beach or handing out food at a homeless shelter and, therefore, they don't think the word fits to their version of volunteering. I've heard some people say that they think the term volunteer means someone who is unskilled, someone who can't find a job so they are volunteering, or someone who is merely providing free labor rather than free expertise, so they prefer to talk about pro bono consultants or executives on loan.
So I'll be a rebel: I fully embrace the word volunteer. I'm going to keep using the word volunteer to mean when a person is donating time, talent and skills, whether onsite or online -- and, therefore, I'll keep finding and utlizing the plethora of resources out there to help organizations effectively work with volunteers, no matter where their time, talent and skills are donated!
There is a massive amount of information online about involving volunteers and about using the Internet to support all volunteers, including those that provide most of their service onsite:
For more about the basics of online volunteering (and to see just how widespread the practice has been for many years), see this archived version of the Virtual Volunteering Project.
Yes, many of these resources were written by me, but they point to lots of other organizations' web sites and resources.
By all means, share your resources with the Net2 Think Tank (and me!) regarding how people can contribute their time, talent, and skills online to your organization, and what specific tools or tactics are working for your organization and which are not working. But call it what it is: VOLUNTEERING!