Social Sharing and Volunteering: How Are Volunteers Spreading Opportunities?

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With so much talk about Facebook Causes, we’ve already seen fundraising go viral. Can volunteer engagement do the same? At what level will volunteers share their service activities with their social networks?

A few months ago VolunteerMatch added the popular ShareThis application to our service. Now that we have the first reports of how our Web site visitors are using ShareThis, some of the findings may surprise you.

Social Sharing and ShareThis

ShareThis is a free sharing tool that makes it easy for users to share content via social networks and social news sites. ShareThis also offers plain old email as an option for sharing – although across the Web, ShareThis clickers have been choosing this less and less often.

VolunteerMatch added ShareThis as an option on our volunteer opportunity pages so that a user who is about to sign up to volunteer can share their interest with their friends on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Delicious, MySpace, etc.

The obvious benefit to tools like ShareThis is that they give our visitors the power to help increase the discoverability of organizations and their volunteer opportunities.

How Are Volunteers Sharing?

Overwhelmingly, the most popular method for sharing volunteer opportunities at VolunteerMatch has been email — a whopping 65% of all shares.

The second most popular share method has been Facebook. But even so, Facebook, the largest social network on the planet, accounts for a mere 4% of all ShareThis shares thus far. SMS (Text) messaging and MySpace are a distant third and fourth.

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piechart of Sharing

Interestingly, ShareThis use at VolunteerMatch has produced a huge long tail of sharing methods. ShareThis gives people the option to post on every single social media site under the sun. Early data shows that many volunteers are still experimenting with a wide variety of services:

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The popularity of email and text sharing are probably the most surprising findings. It’s still too early to make any real assertions, but here are some guesses at what could be going on.

  • Email — A payment can be made remotely, but volunteering is usually has to be done in a specific time and place. For a sharer, this “place-centrism” decreases the size of the potential network that can take part – so why bother sharing with everyone? Our visitors may just be using email to target a friend they think will be likely to actually volunteer.
  • Text Messaging – SMS is making a resurgence these days, and can no longer be ignored. Of course, unless the phone can browse the Web, not much can be done with a text message containing a URL. One possibility is that our users are using texts as a way to send themselves reminders about a volunteer commitment.

What Does This Mean for Nonprofits?

The day is coming when as many volunteers will find VolunteerMatch opportunities on other sites as they do today at www.volunteermatch.org. With that in mind, here are a few strategies for nonprofits:

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  • Keep design in mind — When an opportunity is shared on Facebook, for example, the first thing people see is the opportunity’s title and an image. Make sure your pictures are relevant, clear, and inviting.
  • Speaking of photos, only nonprofits that use our premium Community Leader service ($8.95/mo.) can include images. It’s worth it.
  • Keep your titles brief, catchy, and descriptive.
  • Consider instructing your audience to share – especially if it’s an event for large groups. Try adding a line to your descriptions, “This is a great opportunity to share with friends and family.”
  • Craft your volunteer opportunities for your audience. The more you excite potential volunteers, the more likely they are to share your opportunity, and your organization’s information, with others.

What Does Your Organization Use to Encourage Sharing?

We’ll continue tracking how sharing is happening at VolunteerMatch. In the meantime, what about you? What are your visitors doing with your content, and how has that informed the way you write or create new content?

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