I am emerging from that time of year in the planning cycle where you find yourself evaluating what has gone before and planning for what lies next. What's worked and what's not. Consequently, I thought it would be an opportune moment to share with you our experience of ivo here at Volunteer Centre Brighton & Hove.
It's been an extraordinary journey for the Centre over the last few years in many aspects, one notable one being our journey into the world of social media. 3 years ago we were a Centre that invested huge ongoing resources in maintaining an unwieldy and inflexible paper-based library of opportunities and struggled constantly with a Do-it technical set-up that did not meet the requirements of our enquirers. 3 years on we are paper-free and experiencing the real benefits of investing in ivo and other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Looking back, I can barely imagine how we ever managed without them.
The beginning of our journey was our participation in a social media pilot which was set-up to test the 'legs' of a volunteering specific social media platform - the then-called i-volunteer - as well as the generic platforms Facebook and Twitter. The pilot was not an easy experience. As a small team we had to drag ourselves technically and culturally into a different era of technology and communication. Not all of us were willing! But the advantages of using web-based media, and in particular ivo, emerged early on and having worked through the inevitable early challenges we have never looked back.
Perhaps what is most surprising is the range of benefits that have come with using ivo and other social media. At first this was mostly a brokerage exercise. As a Centre, we receive approximately 3000 online enquiries each year. Rather than gatekeep all of these interactions, we wanted to get more information out to people, more quickly, in a more attractive format, and crucially in a way that enabled them to access that opportunity more easily. All of this has been achieved. Both feedback from volunteers and organisations about the ivo system is very positive. Organisations have cited a very healthy response to ivo adverts and volunteers are really pleased by the opportunity to respond to organisations directly. Meanwhile, we're happy as our stakeholders are getting what they need, our time in 'managing' these online interactions is lessened but, through email alerts, we still get to know that they've happened. So no data is lost.
But aside from brokerage we've used ivo to meet the increasing importance of our marketing role and the need to get a range of communications out there relating to volunteering. Through our ivo groups (one open, one closed) we've passed on good practice updates, local news on volunteering, promoted events, said thank yous, spread word on consultations, promoted training... It is not an exaggeration to say that most of this is work that we couldn't have done before. Well, certainly not with same reach, speed and flexibility. Our material published on ivo is what provides the springboard to re-publish on Facebook and Twitter.
Flexibility is key for us. Aside from needing to do things quicker, we've grappled with a number of thorny volunteering issues of late such as volunteering in the private sector and, mandated volunteering programmes and its great to be able to use a site that we can tailor to meet our conclusions on these issues - conclusions which may differ for everyone. One example that comes to mind was our want (under certain conditions) to advertise opportunities that took place in the private sector. Where other national sites do not support these listings, ivo leaves us in control.
I wont eulogise further (we're not funded by ivo - promise!). And it is important to say that we are not advocating that online brokerage platforms replace tailored face-to-face brokerage. But in conclusion I would highly recommend Volunteer Centres explore how they might use the ivo platform to enhance their services, reach out to the volunteering community, run alongside and/or replace their existing online brokerage systems or other volunteering applications.
Looking forwards? We haven't got the full potential from ivo yet - we have the volunteer profiles to explore, our images and events page and the potential for how we manage ESV enquiries. But moreover, it has opened our eyes as to how technology might support getting messages and information out to the people we are working for. As a partner in the local Transforming Infrastructure Programme, we will be feeding that learning into the design of new volunteering services for Brighton & Hove. Busy times!
Project Leader, Volunteer Centre Brighton & Hove.