Designing structures more effectively, using tools correctly, and digitizing volunteer work. What opportunities do associations and clubs have in digitization?
The importance of the digital transformation is not only evident in the large number of networking opportunities and the ability to make one’s own work known to a larger audience through the reach. It also creates new opportunities for engagement that enable people to participate whose situation (e.g., due to age or distance) did not previously allow it. But what does digitization in volunteering mean in concrete terms? Possible approaches are presented below:
Make existing structures more effective
Digitization makes it possible to optimize existing engagement formats and thus make them more effective. For rural regions in particular, it can prove to be a great opportunity for associations, because they often have greater difficulty in recruiting new members and active members for their association due to the low population density and sometimes long distances. This decline in the number of volunteers has often led to the dissolution of clubs. The main reasons for this are demographic change, migration from rural areas to larger cities and the aging of the rural population.
Against this backdrop, the opportunities created by digitization can now help to overcome the aforementioned problems, especially in rural regions. Tools such as collaboration platforms make better networking among all members possible, the flow of information can be increased and communication and exchange among each other can be improved. Through the use of social media (e.g. event report or volunteer applications on Facebook), interested parties could be made aware of the association more easily due to the high distribution and reach.
Developing new formats for volunteer work
The digital transformation also enables the creation of new formats for volunteer work. The motives why people want to get involved in today’s world are diverse and individual. Flexible life models, the mobility often expected for professional reasons, and little time have led to a change in expectations of volunteer work in recent years. Young people in particular, who have the appropriate digital know-how, are willing to volunteer, but often do not find access to the previous, classic formats, as these do not fit the needs of the young and digitally affine target group. This is also evident in the current situation due to the Corona virus, among other things: young people are still organized in clubs and associations, but are increasingly getting involved outside of established structures, e.g., in civic hackathons such as the two hackathons #WirVSVirus (German Federal Government) and #EUVSVirus (EU Commission), where the goal was to develop and implement (digital) solutions in interdisciplinary and international teams in times of Corona. For this, they used the full range of digital information and communication technologies: networking and information exchange took place entirely digitally.
Here, associations now have the opportunity and points of connection to address precisely these people and involve them in their association through the use of digital tools (e.g., Slack, Atlassian Confluence). Online-based engagement is no longer a rarity these days, but for more and more associations a natural part of their work.
Further article: Social media in voluntary work – How associations benefit
Digitization in volunteer work
Shaping the digital transformation requires expertise, time and, of course, financial resources. For many associations, this is a major challenge due to tight budgets. At the same time, it does not mean that they have to know and/or be able to do everything. The first and most important step here is to open up to the new digital ways of working and tools and to question existing structures. It can be helpful to network with other associations and organizations that may already have more experience in this environment and to share experiences and best practices with each other. There are now also many online offerings, some of them free of charge, such as webinars on various topics. This gives volunteers the opportunity to continue their education online. This enables the association to build up its own expertise, which will benefit it in the long term by finding volunteers and retaining them through the changed structures and formats and the flexibility gained.