Just over a week ago I started having a conversation (via the wonders of electronic mail) with Anne Stafford. Anne is the Programme Manager for IT4Communities, an organisation that works on "Introducing Volunteer IT Professionals to Charities Needing IT Help". I have mentioned IT4Communities briefly in a recent post and was critical of the charities that advertised through it and whom I made contact with - they either ignored me or didn't follow through. The IT4Communities website and service are both excellent though - it's very easy to register and start finding people and groups that need skilled IT help.
Anne made a couple of very interesting points. The first is that there is generally a mismatch between the number of volunteers and projects for them to work on - the former is larger than the latter. I experienced this when browsing the IT4Communities database looking for volunteering opportunities. There was nothing in my geographic area (the North West of England) that I thought I could assist with and ended up writing to organisations based in Bradford and Seacroft. But this is probably to be expected. I know from working with community groups in the past that time is the most precious commodity of all and there is generally none spare to invest in training or finding someone who might be able to help them out. So engagement from volunteers is the key - I received a staggering response from one email stating that I was offering my services as a volunteer.
The second point that Anne made was about the sort of volunteer help that is out there. I have thought that a good use of my time might actually be to set up some sort of matching service that places volunteers in the Warrington area with projects that would best suit them. On this subject Anne says "companies seem keener to
respond to team challenges not skills based work". It is quite often the case that companies only have access to a limited pool of skills too and these are off limits because they're busy doing what they're employed to do. This is a shame because community groups need skills too. IT4Communities find that "SMEs are
really responsive but the larger the company the harder it is to release
staff time". As a team leader in a largish company I would agree 100% with this statement - any organisation approaching me for a 'loan' of a member of staff would be flat refused because we don't have the capacity, especially following recent budget cuts. So SMEs are the way to go - and I think the spirit of entrepreneurship and individuality that small IT companies have suit community groups best.
If you're a volunteer or a group looking for help then IT4Communities is a route you should consider following. Here's their website - and Anne is happy to answer any questions you might have.