Using technology to build capacity in volunteer programs

When used appropriately, technology can help volunteer managers streamline processes, make information and support easily accessible to volunteers, and connect volunteers and staff instantly.

During difficult economic times, the role that volunteers play in non-profit organizations is even more critical. For volunteer managers who are faced with doing more with less, technology can prove to be a valuable tool for increasing capacity.

Research indicates that nearly a third of volunteers won’t continue their service because they have experienced poor management practices. Most volunteer managers are familiar with best practices in volunteer training and orientation, recognition, supervision, support and recruitment – but with increased pressure to achieve greater outcomes with fewer resources, it can be hard to balance what’s best with what’s feasible.

That’s where technology can come in. When used appropriately, technology can help streamline processes, make information and support more easily accessible, and provide you with instant access to your volunteers. A bit of tech savviness can go a long way in showing the 21st century volunteer that your organization is current and in-touch with the latest trends.

The TPACK framework developed by Dr. Matthew Koheler and Punya Mishra at Michigan State University can be a valuable resource in helping volunteer managers understand how to appropriately utilize technology in their roles. TPACK brings together the knowledge of pedagogy, technology and content area expertise. Essentially, TPACK is the basis of good teaching, combined with technology and requires an understanding of how to best teach a certain concept to a distinct audience by successful integration of technology. For volunteer managers, it involves thinking about the functionalities of a tech-tool and how those functions can support things like volunteer recruitment, supervision, recognition and training. An example of this might be considering how a tool like Pinterest could help a committee of volunteers plan a recognition event from a distance, coordinate and share project ideas for their volunteer experience, or help a group of volunteer managers connect over best practices in their field. A critical element of the TPACK framework is the creative repurposing of technology: Just because a tool was designed with a particular purpose in mind doesn’t mean that that’s the only way that tool can be used.

Check back for future Michigan State University Extension articles on specific ideas for how volunteer managers can creatively repurpose popular technologies like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, text messaging and Google Drive.

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