National Center for Charitable Statistics

The Nonprofit FAQ

How do volunteers use blogs?
Recently there has been concern about whether nonprofits need a "blogging policy" or not. And if one is needed, what should it say? (Ed. 5/2/08)


In her blog in April 2008, Beth Kanter talked about this issue and included a quote describing how one organization had developed its policy. After six months or so, the result was a guideline that "really just says,
    'Use common sense and please don't say stupid stuff. In fact, we'd love it if you told your personal institutional story in a constructive way.'"


(To see the whole story, and be linked to other comments and blogs on the topic, read her blog entry at http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/2008/04/the-urge-to-edi.html)

As these discussions suggest, organizational guidelines for blogging raise all sorts of complicated questions about the boundaries between personal lives and the workplace. For nonprofits, where those boundaries are often already blurry -- for good reasons having to do with passion and commitment for the work -- it can be a challenge to come up with a statement that encourages social networking while cautioning about the various forms of care required when blogging about a workplace.

Paula Burns, Assistant Editor at Stevenson, Inc. reported on September 10, 2003, in ARNOVA-L (see http://www.arnova.org/list_srv.html) that she had been researching the ways volunteers use blogs. This announcement provoked the question "What is a blog?" and other commentary. Here are some excerpts:



From Paula Burns: Here is what I know about "blogging":

"Blog" is short for "weblog". A weblog is a frequently updated personal website. Most blogs have date stamps on the entries and consist of links, commentary, news, photos or other content (sort-of an online journal).

More from the http://www.Blogger.com website: "Many blogs are personal, 'what's on my mind' type musings. Others are collaborative efforts based on a specific topic or area of mutual interest.

Some blogs are for play. Some are for work. Some are both."

There is an annual event called the "Blogathon", created by Cat Conner, that raises money for various NPOs by people blogging for 24 hours. You can check it out at: http://www.blogathon.org/

I am guessing that some organizations could use the Blogathon as a means to raise additional funds. I think there is a list of organizations that received money from the most recent Blogathon on the event's website.

But it could also be used as a means of therapy for volunteers in high-stress organizations, such as hospices or AIDS-related organizations.

I'm still researching the topic, so I apologize for not being more forthcoming. At this point, I'm not exactly sure what else you could use it for, but I hope to find out.

From Jayne Cravens of the UN Volunteer Office: "Blogging" is simply the latest hip jargon for an old practice: keeping a public diary. It comes from the words "Web log."

A few months ago, I had two online volunteers use various online search engines to see how many "blogs" they could find by volunteers, particularly volunteers in developing countries. They didn't find much, but they did find some web sites where volunteers were writing regularly and specifically about their experience as volunteers. I wanted to see how volunteers were using the Internet to talk about their experiences, and what kinds of things they wrote.

From my way of thinking, volunteer blogs can affect organizations both positively and negatively:

On the positive side, they can be seen as neutral, uncoerced and very honest/sincere and personal narratives about both volunteers and those they are assisting. This can be more appealing to some people than official, "slick" web sites presenting volunteer narratives neatly packaged for PR purposes. It can most certainly enhance the official messages an organization is trying to promote regarding its programs.

On the negative side, volunteer blogs can freely chronicle negative aspects of an organization and its activities, a volunteer may present something in his or her own words that the organization doesn't agree with, or a volunteer could present something inappropriate or untrue that the organization would have a hard time countering once it's "out there."

Compounding this is if an organization were to ask a volunteer blogger to stop talking so publicly about their experiences, and the blogger reports this on his or her blog, readers could see this as pressure by the organization to cover something up or stifle discussion.

Note: One of the original blogs in the nonprofit sector is the work of Michael Gilbert in Nonprofit Online News. See http://news.gilbert.org

Nonprofit Online News for October 12, 2003, reported that the Neiman Center at Harvard had published online a collection of sixteen articles about the phenomenon of blogging. See the online edition of Neiman Reports for Fall 2003 -- http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/03-3NRfall/V57N3.pdf (this is a 110 page .pdf file; the section on weblogs starts on page 59).




Posted 9/10/03, 10/13/03, 5/2/08 -- PB