In October 2011, the Colombian Red Cross (CRC) started engaging online volunteers in their work through UNV’s Online Volunteering service. “We wanted to open up new fields for voluntary action, be more inclusive and diverse, but also move with the times”, Fabio Betancur, National Director for Volunteerism, says. Today, online volunteers are an integral part of the CRC volunteer force, which “thanks to the many online volunteers who are contributing their time and skills, has no borders anymore.”
Around 40 online volunteers have participated so far through the UNV Online Volunteering service and directly with the CRC. Their contributions range from designing strategies and promotional material for various campaigns, advising on the use of social media for internal communication, to translating project fact sheets from Spanish to English in order to enable a wider dissemination of good practices.
Youth Volunteering is one of the CRC programme areas that benefits from the support of online volunteers, who bring fresh perspectives and a wealth of ideas to attract more young people to volunteer with the CRC.
Guillermo Fuentes, a Mexican graphic design and communications expert, conceived a campaign targeting university students. The campaign included innovative volunteering opportunities and artwork that conveys a modern image. After a successful implementation in Bogotá, the campaign is planned to be replicated in other parts of the country. “Guillermo’s ideas and contributions inspired many new ideas, innovations and creativity in the area of Youth Volunteering,” the members of the local Youth Volunteers say.
Argentinian online volunteer Vicky Brunori develops strategies to attract young people to engage in social and community work. With her design work, such as a set of personalities “like you and me”, she seeks to generate a change of CRC’s image amongst youth. Vicky, who is also an active on-site volunteer, appreciates the opportunity to “share with young Colombians the marvel of an active participation in society and to engage in the spirit of volunteerism and humanity”.
“The collaboration with our online volunteers has been a wonderful experience”, says Lisa Zitmann from the CRC, who has been working closely with many of them. “Their enthusiasm and dedication are huge and their contributions are of high quality.”
Mario Gérman Pérez, National Rescue Coordinator, adds: “For over 95 years, the CRC has seen volunteerism as the heart of its humanitarian mission and has strengthened the development of its various volunteer groups. Online volunteering represents a new form of participation in our organization.”
Online volunteers work hand in hand with local volunteer groups. A mixed team of online and on-site volunteers, for instance, collaborates on a campaign that aims to sensitize CRC members on various volunteerism related topics. A blog in which online and on-site volunteers present themselves and their contributions, as well as videoconferences, help to connect the volunteers.
The blog, created with the support of online volunteers, also helps to spread the word about online volunteering across the organization and particularly to local CRC offices, which are not yet tapping into this new resource.
Another important tool that online volunteers helped create is the online volunteer management manual, intended to promote the efficient engagement of online volunteers, because, as National Youth Representative Ángela Sánchez explains, “it is important that this is done in a well-structured and organized way, as the persons who help us online deserve time, respect and adequate processes, motivation and above all, we have to make them feel that they are part of the movement and that their contributions count for us.”