Structuring a Successful Volunteer Project

Structuring a Successful Volunteer Project

Getting the most from your technical volunteer

By: TechSoup

February 4, 2002

Here are some guidelines to developing successful technical volunteer projects:

  • Commitment:

    The volunteer will take cues from you and the organization about how committed you are to the project, and how important the project is to your organization. If the organization is not 100percentbehind the project, then the volunteer won't feel inspired to be either.

  • Sustainability:

    The most important aspect in the success of mentoring projects is the commitment of the nonprofit to becoming self-sufficient. Nonprofits shouldn't rely on volunteers to be available on a long-term basis for on-call troubleshooting. The volunteer will not be around forever, and the reason you are asking a technical volunteer to help you out is because s/he has more knowledge than you about the particular issue. Take the opportunity to learn from the volunteer, so that you are incorporating a level of sustainability into the project.

  • Flexibility:

    Volunteers have limited time, especially during school or business hours. The best projects are ones that have flexible time-schedules. Delays are sometimes unavoidable; but also be aware if the volunteer is losing interest, because the early these issues are addressed, the sooner you can get back on track.

  • Workplan:

    The core of your volunteer project is a work plan that you and your volunteer agree on. The work plan is similar to the contract you would sign with a consultant, just shorter and more informal. Even if you are one of the lucky organizations with an ongoing relationship with a volunteer, you will still find it useful to create work plans for specific projects. A work plan will help you reach a shared understanding of the volunteer's work. It will also help you make sure you aren't placing too many demands on him/her or requesting conflicting timelines.

The essential elements of a work plan are:

  • A list of specific tasks to be accomplished: What will it take to finish the project? Listing out the tasks will clarify expectations for the volunteer and also for yourself.
  • A plan for training and sustainability of the project: Training and sustainability should be part of any project for the volunteer's work to have a lasting effect. For example, if your volunteer is configuring a network, make sure that training staff on how to make changes to the network is a part of the work plan. Similarly, if your volunteer is installing new database software, make sure that training on how to use the software is part of the plan.
  • A timeline: How long does the volunteer have to finish the project? In CompuMentor's experience, it is best to limit the project to approximately three months, since volunteers' schedules can be variable. Include the weekly schedule for work on the project. What hours are both the staff contact and the volunteer available?

Sample workplans

General Needs Assessment

  • Volunteer will identify nonprofit system of work and nonprofit work needs.
  • From this, volunteer will identify solutions (not necessarily computer based) which will meet the nonprofit needs according to the system of work, including changes in the system of work.
  • Volunteer will be appraised of nonprofit limitations (monetary, technical, administrative). Nonprofit and volunteer will agree upon one or more solutions as their goal.
  • Volunteer will then identify costs associated with meeting that goal (including computer equipment costs), and present a draft of the needs assessment.
  • After a discussion of the variables, the volunteer will present a detailed needs assessment for meeting the work needs of the nonprofit or improving the system of work.
  • The volunteer might be called upon to present this needs assessment to the Board for approval.

Designing a new database

  • School will furnish data sets and relations, as well as all sample input and output screens, and reports they wish to generate, to volunteer. School will also justify the use of any particular DB product they wish to use.
  • Volunteer will evaluate this information to see if appropriate, and develop model layouts and reports.
  • Once the modeling is agreed upon, the volunteer will program the database, and bring it back to the school for beta testing.
  • The school and the volunteer will agree on the final form, after which the volunteer will provide documentation and negotiate future support.

Designing a LAN:

  • Nonprofit and/or volunteer will determine need and justification for LAN.
  • Nonprofit will identify a person to act as system administrator, who is responsible for learning and documenting the ongoing maintenance task of the LAN.
  • Volunteer will work with the system administrator to identify the type of LAN and configuration necessary, and subsequently the equipment needed (including upgrades for machines which would otherwise not be compatible).
  • The volunteer and system administrator will work together to determine the workload for setting up the physical LAN, and the ongoing workload for maintaining the LAN.
  • Volunteer and System administrator will produce plan, work and cost assessment for the LAN installation.
  • Volunteer and nonprofit will install cables and software, as well as do any H/W configuring of computers.
  • Volunteer will train system administrator in ongoing maintenance issues, and be available for another month for phone support.
  • Discuss documentation and staff backup procedure

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