Being A Digital Volunteer For A 130-Year-Old Non-Profit

August 29, 2011

During large natural disasters like Hurricane Irene, the American Red Cross deploys a team of public affairs volunteers to the disaster site. Ten years ago, they’d do live interviews, find satellite trucks to deliver the latest stats, take photos and draft stories for the website. A few years ago, they added videos, digital/mobile photos, social updates, Skype interviews, etc.

After the recent spate of spring disasters, the Red Cross evolved the team of public affairs volunteers once again. Now, pre- and post-landfall for Hurricane Irene, the Red Cross volunteers are serving as digital volunteers –bolstering staff resources and ensuring that online trends and issues are tracked along with answering Red Cross questions.

This Red Cross video (starting around 2:55) explains the role of the digital volunteer.

Working with Twitter, the Red Cross ensured that each digital volunteer has a short-term “verified” check by their accounts – adding authenticity while using the main @RedCross account for timely updates.

As a Red Cross public affairs volunteer, I’m taking my turn today from 7 to 11 a.m. CST. We’ll be watching for any trends or issues — locations that are missing services, misperceptions about donations, brewing problems in different states and counties. Most of this will be on Twitter @amandam and Facebook.

While this is the first go-round for digital volunteers, the Red Cross plans on increasing these efforts, allowing volunteers who couldn’t deploy to a disaster site to be an active part of the operation and freeing up capacity for those located near the disaster.

As volunteering changes its form and shifts from in-person community aid to digital advocacy to monitoring and information-sharing, how do you see volunteering changing? Any unique examples from the groups and organizations that are near and dear to your heart?