Defining the Volunteer Project

Defining the Volunteer Project

So what should your volunteer do?

May 1, 2000

A technical volunteer's enthusiasm and know-how may be boundless, but s/he can't fix everything at once without some guidance. The key to a successful volunteer project is a well-defined plan for what the volunteer will do. In order for the volunteer to help you effectively, you need to come up with a manageable set of tasks. The work you do defining your project before you enlist a volunteer will help you write a work plan you can both agree to.

What is reasonable to ask a volunteer to do? CompuMentor's experience matching volunteers with agencies leads to a few observations about different types of successful technical projects.

  • Training: A volunteer can be very successful at providing certain kinds of training to you or your staff. Volunteers can be especially good for one-on-one tutoring, a kind of training that is extremely desirable but not always cost-effective with a consultant. A project could include a volunteer coming in to observe a staff person working, and teaching them how to improve their efficiency and use applications better. A rare volunteer may have the teaching experience necessary to give a full-fledged training to a group of people and prepare materials for it. When you are screening volunteers to perform training, make sure they have aptitude and interest in teaching, not just technical expertise. Ask what teaching experience they have had in the past. See the Training section for more training ideas.
  • Web design: In CompuMentor's experience, creation of a Web site is usually too big a task, with too much follow-up required to be a successful volunteer project. In a few cases, however, if an organization wants a very simple Web site that functions like an online brochure, a volunteer may work out. In most cases, TechSoup recommends either training someone to do the Web site in-house, or hiring a consultant or web development firm to do your site. A volunteer could help get a staff person who has some knowledge already get started with the project, by offering advice about which web editing programs to use, and providing some training. A volunteer can also be useful with the initial brainstorm and planning phase where you think through what you want the site to accomplish, who your audience is, and what is feasible for your budget. See the section on Using the Internet for details.
  • Local area network: In CompuMentor's experience, a volunteer can be successful setting up a local area network if it is small and not too complex. For instance, a peer-to-peer network of 8 computers running on Windows '98 might be a good candidate for a volunteer project, whereas a Windows NT network of 20 computers is probably not. Laying the actual cabling for the network, however, is a job better done by a consultant, since it requires drilling holes in walls and other tasks you might not want to entrust to a volunteer. The cabling should be in place before the volunteer gets there. See the Networks section for details.
  • Troubleshooting hardware and software: A volunteer can be successful at troubleshooting tasks as long as you are very clear about what the specific problems are that you want help with. For example, you might ask a volunteer to look at a PC that keeps crashing or a printer that sometimes garbles your print jobs. In the long term, however, it is best to have a consistent person who knows your systems and is responsible for troubleshooting. See the article Do You Really Need a Consultant? to decide whether you should use a consultant, hire a staff member or rely on volunteers.
  • Assessing donated equipment: How can you use donated equipment most effectively once it shows up at your doorstep? A volunteer could help you assess what you have and what it will be useful for.
  • Assess computers for a memory upgrade: Do you know you need more memory, but don't know exactly what that means or how to get it? An good example of a volunteer project might be assessing five computers and making recommendations for a memory upgrade.
  • Install memory or new peripherals: A volunteer could also physically install new memory, or set up a new printer, scanner or back-up system.


Copyright © 2000 CompuMentor. This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.


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