WATPA: FW: Building and Launching Regional Database

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From: Norman J. Jacknis (njacknis@ix.netcom.com)
Date: Wed Oct 27 1999 - 19:39:42 EDT

I expressed somewhat similar ideas to the person who posted the original
email, but I thought all of you might like to see that WATPA is not alone
in trying to get non-profits to get on the Web.



>The chief obstacle we face is not the technology (although that
>is expensive and difficult to sustain); it is (as anyone in this
>field knows) traditional existing human relationships and mind sets.
>For example, as powerful as the database structure is, we will have
>a tough job of getting all the entities listed above to realize the
>value of having such a regional platform as this populated with their
>data for the region and the whole world to see. To make matters even
>more difficult, THEY (not we) have to assume the responsibility to
>populate the database with the necessary information. We do all we can
>to assist them (including holding hands and coaching them in workshops
>if necessary).

Goodness -- I have heard this lament oh so many times, from oh so many
developers of databases of volunteer opportunities (volunteermatch.org to
name but one) and other similar databases.

Other organizations that have tried to do similar things to what you are
doing learned the hard way that "if you build it they will come" does not
apply to online resources, particularly when you are expecting others to
maintain and build your content. Even if there are lots of advantages for
them to do so, the fact remains that you are trying to do more than get
them to input information regularly -- you are trying to get them to change
their entire mindset. And you are expecting automatic trust -- that has to
be earned.

An example: after many, many false starts, what Volunteermatch.org (part of
Impact Online) did to get other organizations (volunteer centers, etc.) to
input their information regularly and to keep it maintained was to
concentrate on just two or three key organizations in the Bay Area -- get
their buy in, get their trust, hand hold them through the entire process,
don't make them feel stupid for not being able to use it correctly the
first few times, etc. It was INCREDIBLY labor intensive -- the staff was on
the phone or even visiting these organizations onsite, over and over again,
to get these organizations to input and update their materials. It was not
always easy nor pretty. But as these organizations started getting
volunteers in droves, and started hearing from people more and more who
said, "I saw this on the Web," the prompting and assistance from the VM
staff was gradually reduced and the orgs took over themselves.

Once VM got these organizations using the site regularly, and really seeing
the value, these organizations started spreading the word, through their
existing channels (DOVIAS, NSFRE, etc.), about the value of the service.

After that, the VM staff built these one-to-three org partnerships with key
orgs in other areas of the country. These small but effective successes
built the reputation they needed to convince agencies to use the service.
And now, voila, it's got more listings of volunteer opportunities for just
about every major metropolitan area of the country than any other service.

Another good model is LibertyNet (libertynet.org) in Philadelphia (was a
nonprofit, now is a for-profit). They did the same thing -- starting with a
few key organizations and hand-holding with them through the entire
process, over and over again, although they relied much more on volunteers
to provide the hours and hours needed. LiberyNet held regular community
meetings, and lots of them. They put faces with the technology tool, made
it seem friendly, part of the community, almost a neighborhood feel.

I could go on and on... and I have. I advise you to START SMALL -- find one
or two organizations that would be willing to pilot this and demonstrate
its value to others, and find lots of volunteers who would be willing to
input the information in for the organizations for the time being. Also,
consider not duplicating the wheel in some areas -- there are dozens and
dozens of organizations listing volunteer opportunities in your area (the
top three are VolunteerMatch.org, ServeNet.org, and idealist.org) -- these
groups have established reps with many orgs and can really help.

Also think about approaching exisiting networks -- DOVIA (energizeinc.com
can help find the one in your area) and NSFRE chapters will get you in
touch with the people that it sounds like would be actually inputting this
information into your database. Go to their meetings -- not just to talk
about yourself, but to establish yourself as part of THEIR community.

This was a huge, unwieldy brain dump -- sorry. If you want more rants,
email me offline.

Jayne Cravens <vv@serviceleader.org>
Manager, Virtual Volunteering Project
at the University of Texas at Austin
Tech Tips for Not-for-Profit &
Public Sector Organizations

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