Open Letter from the President Regarding iParticipate.org

An open letter to our nonprofit members from Greg Baldwin, President of VolunteerMatch.

First the good news and a thank you. To all the actors, script-writers, production people and executives who put their talent and time to work last week to join the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s iParticipate TV campaign to celebrate volunteering — thank you. Keep it coming.

It was an extraordinary moment that put the voice of volunteers at the center of an emerging national conversation. The high-profile campaign embraced ideas that have been reshaping volunteering for over a decade and is an important tipping-point in the effort to help millions of local nonprofits, schools and civic institutions, like you, unlock the possibilities of volunteer service.

Now the bad news. The campaign didn’t work as planned, and as many of you reported to us, unresolved system bugs related to the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s implementation of the new All for Good APIs left thousands of interested volunteers on iParticipate.org browsing through an aggregation of incomplete, incorrect, duplicate, out-of-date and out-of-place volunteer opportunities — many of them your VolunteerMatch listings.

We have reported the problems to the Entertainment Industry Foundation, ServiceNation and All for Good, but regret that as of today the issues have not been resolved.

No one knows better than Hollywood that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. This was not the first impression we had hoped the bright lights of Hollywood would help you to make and we are sorry.

San Francisco

As an example of some of the issues that have emerged, a default search on the San Francisco ZIP code 94108 returns only three listings and two of them are expired — one for a walk-a-thon on Treasure Island a couple weekends ago and one for the World Veg Festival that ended October 4th.

NewYork

Searches in New York City invite interested volunteers to serve at a local soup kitchen — in Washington, D.C.; to become a volunteer firefighter in Dare County, NC.; and to join the Kidney Awareness Run in Sacramento, CA.

And searches all across the county included listings from nonprofits recruiting volunteers from January 01, 2000 to January 01, 1971 — really? That might be confusing unless of course you happen to be a UNIX programmer and recognized 01/01/1971 as the instant before computer time began.

austin

How bad was it? It was like a telethon with the wrong phone number.

How did it impact the results?  Over the course of the week this historic TV campaign produced an average of only 775 new visits a day or 2.6% of our weekly total of 208,400 visits. This amounts to perhaps 100 new volunteers.

These were not the results we expected, or the results you deserve.

We will continue to work to resolve these issues and to ensure that they don’t happen again. We can do better and we will.

I’d like to hear from you. Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Yours,

Greg Baldwin
President
VolunteerMatch

Service Brief: Serve.gov Decision a Victory for Smart Government and Social Enterprise

Starting next week, the Corporation for National and Community Service will no longer invite individuals and organizations to post their volunteer opportunities to a federally operated database.
According to an email from Nicola Goren, CNSC’s acting CEO, after October 14, organizations and individuals will be referred to a list of independent organizations, both for profit and not for profit, competing to provide these services.
As Goren explains:
Over the course of the summer and in the last month, the Corporation has reviewed our role in the volunteer registry function to apply
lessons learned during its first months of operation. We have
concluded that the most appropriate role for us is to promote service and offer tools that make it easier for Americans to find volunteer opportunities, but not to be in the direct business of operating a volunteer project registry, given the fact that there are a number of existing non-governmental volunteer matching websites that already provide these services.
This is a win for the volunteer sector.
Despite VolunteerMatch’s long working relationship with CNSC, we have never been supportive of the decision to launch Serve.gov with a feature for organizations to post opportunities directly. It has been our view that this would discourage innovation and put the Corporation in the awkward position of having to compete with some of its key sector allies.
We’ve always felt that independent “registry” services — whether for-profit or not-for-profit — are better positioned to support the diverse needs of the nonprofit community, especially their training, education, and advocacy needs.
Indeed, for most visitors to Serve.gov, the biggest added value was the ability to use the site as a launching pad for exploring the listings from third-party services like VolunteerMatch, Truist, HandsOn Network and other online volunteer engagement sites — all of which support the President’s call to service by providing access to their networks through the aggregation service All For Good.
As a federally-chartered, Congressionally-funded agency, CNSC is subject to both political and budgetary pressure that independent services are not. In operating its own database the Corporation was spending federal time and dollars to duplicate services already available to the field and creating unnecessary political and legal liability.
Ultimately, the thoughtful reconsideration of its policies shows that government can listen, learn and adapt.
We applaud Ms. Goren’s decision and see it as a very positive sign for those of us committed to the pursuit of a strong and smart government.

Serve.gov will no longer allow visitors to post volunteer opportunities

Starting next week, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) will no longer invite individuals and organizations to post their volunteer opportunities directly through Serve.gov, a federally operated Web site.

According to an email from Nicola Goren, CNCS’s acting CEO, after October 14, organizations and individuals will be referred to a list of independent organizations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, competing to provide these services.

As Goren explains:

Over the course of the summer and in the last month, the Corporation has reviewed our role in the volunteer registry function to apply lessons learned during its first months of operation. We have concluded that the most appropriate role for us is to promote service and offer tools that make it easier for Americans to find volunteer opportunities, but not to be in the direct business of operating a volunteer project registry, given the fact that there are a number of existing non-governmental volunteer matching websites that already provide these services.

This decision is a win for the volunteer sector.

VolunteerMatch has had a long working relationship with CNCS. Earlier this year we shared that we didn’t support the decision to launch Serve.gov with a feature for organizations to post opportunities directly. It was our view that this would discourage innovation and put the Corporation in the awkward position of having to compete with some of its key sector allies.

We’ve always felt that independent “registry” services — whether for-profit or not — are better positioned to support the diverse needs of the nonprofit community, especially their training, education, and advocacy needs.

Indeed, for most visitors to Serve.gov, the biggest added value was the ability to use the site as a launching pad for exploring the listings from third-party services like VolunteerMatch, Idealist, Truist, HandsOn Network and other online volunteer engagement sites — all of which support the President’s call to service by providing access to their networks through the aggregation service All For Good.

As a federally-chartered, Congressionally-funded agency, CNCS is subject to both political and budgetary pressure that independent services are not. In operating its own database, CNCS was spending federal time and dollars to duplicate services already available to the field while creating unnecessary political and legal liability for itself.

Ultimately, the thoughtful reconsideration of its policies shows that government can listen, learn and adapt. We applaud Ms. Goren’s decision and see it as a very positive sign for those of us committed to the pursuit of smart government and social enterprise.

All For Good Update: More Ways to Get Help

After our recent post about customer service at All For Good, Jonathan Greenblatt of Our Good Works, the nonprofit organization behind the service, asked us to share a few more ways organizations can get help from them:

Support for Email Aliases

According to Greenblatt, organizations can reach All For Good via email at provider-support@allforgood.org and members of their team will get back to you shortly.

Review Before Logging

Before you log your issues on the All For Good UserVoice system, Greenblatt recommends that you review and vote before logging a new entry on UserVoice. This way, he says, “we can ensure that the most strategic comments receive ample ‘votes’ to reflect their importance.”

Thanks for adding this, Jonathan.

The Week That Was: News from 7/19 – 7/25

All For Good Update: Could Nonprofit Support Issues Impact United We Serve?

allforgood_questionsWe’re still getting lots of questions about All For Good from nonprofits who are concerned their volunteer opportunities are hard to find at allforgood.org, the new aggregation service behind Serve.gov, President Obama’s new Web site for national service.

All For Good doesn’t have live customer support. In fact, its governing organization, Our Good Works, doesn’t have a Web site at all. But after poking around a bit we found that All For Good is employing a tool called UserVoice to manage questions, complaints, and suggestions.

UserVoice is like a cross between an automated call center and a voting booth. There you can post a problem, see if your problem has already been posted, and also vote on problems to raise them as priorities for All For Good to fix.

With a lot unknown about how All For Good works, it is good news that there’s a place to lodge questions and complaints. We recommend our member organizations post their issues directly there. The system appears to be easy to use, although you will need to be able to describe your technical issues in a meaningful way.

But Will Your Issue Get Solved?

The bad news is that unless you have a posse of folks with the same problem who are all willing to vote together, it’s unclear when or how your problem will be addressed.

For example, a common complaint is that outdated listings continue to be published even after the nonprofit updated them on the primary Web site where it was posted. As Audrey Smidt writes, “I’ve updated information on my Volunteer2 site, but All for Good continues to publish the old content.”

Volunteer2 is less well-known than some primary partners like Idealist and VolunteerMatch, so Audrey may have trouble getting a mass of interest together to help solve her issue. According to the system, only three user-submitted issues had been marked as completed as of yesterday.

Timing Issues and United We Serve

According to members of the All For Good team, the next big code update is timed for late August. So some of the bugs could persist for some time — perhaps even up to September 11, the new national service day that is the lynchpin of United We Serve.

This raises the question whether some nonprofits that choose to post their opportunities at primary partners might miss out on a big chunk of United We Serve. Considering how much this is being promoted by the President, the Corporation for National & Community Service, and other heavyweights, we certainly hope not.

Have you been able to find your listings at All For Good yet? Let us know.