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Can our Project Rely on Volunteers?

This post is a part of a series of articles which addresses the daily tasks and responsibilities of our Group’s Admin Team. To see all of the posts on Admin responsibilities click here.

In April 2020, about a month after the beginning of Lockdown and the creation of our viral Group, I was exhausted. The number of Members and amount of Group activity was increasing rapidly, and so were the related responsibilities. On 20 April, 2020, I shared a post in the Group, asking our wonderful Members for their opinion and advice about the future of our Community. In that post, I wrote the following:

It has been one month since I created the group. All it needed was a single click of the mouse, for all this wonder to happen, and it happened very, very, very quickly.

We’re already above 310,000 people here, and still more and more people are continuously joining, from 143(!) countries of the world. Only yesterday NBC TV had a news article covering us. What a joy!

At the same time, I am old enough to know that numbers are not the most important thing in life. Love, comfort, solidarity, friendship between people, this is what really counts, and that has been to me the most rewarding aspect of this group, of this experience. I know that many of you shared here meaningful, rewarding moments, and this, to my eyes, is splendid magic.

As the number of people on the group has been rising, its management is getting more and more demanding and challenging. The energy of a bigger group also creates a change, the atmosphere gets different, strange things are happening. It is a serious responsibility, to manage such a group.

This past month, I have had many important things to do and take care of, for the group and in my personal life. This period being at home, like many of us, I also became a full time house holder. My sweet little 5-years old daughter doesn’t have school, so of course I take care of her, with pleasure. I have been also cooking food, cleaning the house, washing and washing and washing the dishes. I am a bit embarrassed to say, it is only with this pandemic, at the age of 46, that I learned how to make the laundry machine work properly! And on top of that, I have been managing a surprisingly viral Facebook group. Intense!

To help me on the group, I recruited moderators, Michelle and Linda, and I am very thankful for their valuable contribution, they are amazing. But still, as the group became bigger and bigger, things have become more and more challenging. I haven’t been getting enough sleep! I am tired… ☺️

So, I wanted to share all this, and to ask for your opinion, what can be done? I feel that the energy is already different, and I would not like the place to die slowly. Can this group allow us to create more, and new, meaningful experiences? How? Should this group have a future? What kind?”

The positive, encouraging response from Members was amazing. I received valuable comments and feedback with great suggestions. Members expressed their wish to see the Group continue, and they gave me kind and wise ideas about how the situation could be dealt with.

One of the main ideas shared, was to recruit Moderators. Here are examples of some of those kind suggestions:

“Love this page!… Maybe get more volunteers to help”

Vickie

“I love this group… Please keep it up and recruit us out here (yes, I am volunteering) to help. Joyful, positive group is hard to find”

Irene

“A group this size probably needs a few more moderators. Maybe get some to volunteer to moderate certain ‘shifts’ so it’s not all on you?

Shannon

At the time, there was myself and two other Group Moderators. One was a kind volunteer, who just started to Moderate, and the other was a freelancer that I had hired since the creation of the Group, and paid for.

Prior to the formation of our Group, I had never had the experience of recruiting volunteers. In personal businesses, I have always paid for service providers. Seeing the encouraging comments from our Members, I followed their feedback and went on a mission to recruit volunteer Moderators.

In this process, I scheduled appointments with many candidates, who were lovely, warm-hearted people. I explained to them the responsibilities of Moderation, and learned about their life experiences and talents. Those who passed the first step of screening went into a period of training.

Training a Moderator is not an easy task! It would require an overall period of about one month of training and supervision for each individual. The Moderation platform provided by Facebook is technically quite complex. It is an intricate task to master. In addition, our particular Group has many content-related rules and policies, and gaining expertise in those fields is daunting. The candidates who succeeded the first stage of training were then invited to Moderate with supervision.

There are positives to working with volunteers, but there are also negatives. I did my very best to provide these good people with efficient training, to make them feel welcome, establish excellent communication, ensure they had access to the resources they needed, and to express my gratitude.

The individuals who volunteered for the task of Moderation in our Group were wonderful and genuine people, but as with every generous volunteer, I witnessed some significant disadvantages usually related to volunteer work. Here are some that I experienced:

  • First, the amount of time volunteers could dedicate per week for the task was usually only a few hours. Given that, and the fact that our Group requires many hours on continuous Moderation, I realized that I would have to recruit many, many volunteers. Such a huge team of Moderators was unrealistic and would have been impossible to hire, train, supervise, and manage.
  • What I found was that my recruits were volunteering for short periods of time, and then leaving. After all time invested in training, it was frustrating for me to have to recruit and train more people again, from the beginning. There were also volunteers who left unexpectedly without notice. This is less likely to happen with a paid service provider.
  • Volunteers were often first motivated by an internal desire to support our cause, but the motivation and desire sometimes didn’t last. In the beginning, their enthusiasm was high, but after a while, when they saw that it was just behind-the-scenes work, they lost motivation and quit pretty quickly.
  • Setting boundaries and asking volunteers to follow guidelines was a challenge. From my experience I have found that policies are followed more closely when people are getting paid.
  • The lack of compensation had an effect on the level of commitment and motivation.
  • The type of work Moderators have in our Project is very intricate and quite challenging. Unlike the Members, who see only positive and beautiful content on the feed, the Moderators are exposed to rough materials and people, such as spammers, scammers and violent individuals.
  • During Lockdown, because they had unlimited time on their hands and had to stay at home, candidates were more available to volunteer. However, when things opened up and people started going back to their daily responsibilities, they were not able to commit their time any longer.

So after all of this, I realized that relying on volunteers just didn’t work or suit the needs of the Project. It was not sustainable or realistic.

What I did next, was resort to paying Moderators. I saw that things improved very quickly. The service I needed came at a cost, but the work was being done, and it was manageable.

So I’d like to say now many thanks, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone who volunteered. I understand and appreciate all of your circumstances, but the lesson I learned has been that not every project and not every situation is suited to volunteer manpower. Ultimately, volunteers are not the right fit for our type of Project.

By Arik Zara

I am Creator, Project Manager and Moderator of "What do you see from your window?". If you would like to learn more about me, here is a post of my life story in my own words, containing some interesting chapters of my life.

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