Four Essential Ingredients to Making Online Campaigns Engaging

17 Feb

Creating the “IT” campaign to truly engage volunteers is no easy task. Campaign leaders hope to make participation easy with social media, but there’s a lot more to engaging an audience of volunteers in a campaign than creating space for it on Facebook or Twitter. To make an online campaign engaging for volunteers, 4 key ingredients are required. It must be exciting, digestible, empowering and powerful. I’ll elaborate on these tips with examples for each ingredient.

To make online campaigns that are exciting, structure the campaign around an activity that is interesting and fun. There are many humanitarian themed games that are great examples. A menu of examples can be found on Games for Change and Take Action Games. Other e-activities that can be very exciting can include questions that require a PhotoVoice or even video response. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, and YouTube are all easy tools to use for photo and video sharing. Open your campaign space up to as many social media spaces as possible and maintain an active presence everywhere!  Another example of an exciting activity can be a question posed on all of your organization’s social media channels in the form of a “scavenger hunt” calling for photo or narrative evidence shared easily by the viewer posting the URL response.

To involve volunteers in online campaigns that are digestible, try asking ONE awareness raising question to participants tied to the campaign that they can respond to in one of your organization’s social media spaces in less than ten minutes. I find that when I structure an activity, I sometimes underestimate the amount of time it will take the average audience member to complete it during the pilot run. As a rule of thumb, I set a target (i.e. 10 minutes), then structure the activity around something that I think will take about 20% of that time while crafting it. If you intentionally structure an online activity for participants that will in your mind take 2 minutes, the result will be an activity that can take up to 10 minutes for those who need the most time to complete the activity.

Finally, online campaigns are both empowering and powerful when participants have greater avenues for change making with the full audience, including and especially core stakeholders and inspirational advocates. Take the theme from this post of the awareness raising question. Create a question (or have a list of questions to choose from), that participants have to pose to a leader who would actually have a stake in the question at hand. The leader could be a colleague, a member of the organization, a famous celebrity, industry leader, or humanitarian who is accessible by social media. A list of suitable leaders that fit each of these categories could be included for participants who don’t already have a leader in mind. Those participants who are able to get a response should submit a screen cap of their dialogue with their leader, including the leader’s response . Create a space to feature images of participant interactions with their leaders. Include a contest where interactions with leaders can be judged based on the quality of the interaction and any impact it may have had as well as the suitability or clout of the leader.

For more on engaging volunteers and larger campaign audiences using social media, see the following examples from CharityVillage below.

Poke, Pin and Tag: Using Social Media to Engage Volunteers

It’s Time to Tumble Into the Newest Social Media Phenomenon


Factors Impacting Youth Providing Indirect Volunteering: Strengths and Challenges for Engagement

24 Jan

In my previous post about tracking outcomes of awareness raised, I alluded to my Masters research about youth engaged in indirect volunteering and the outcomes of their work. I am finally happy to share highlights of the results with my network of professionals who work with youth volunteers. A link to the presentation can be found here:

The purpose of my research was to investigate issues related to indirect volunteering of youth volunteers by identifying strengths, challenges, and exploring themes that have and themes that have not yet emerged in prior literature on youth volunteers before.

The following two definitions were explored in greatest detail in the thesis:


Non-front line, volunteer does not directly work with the client.

Awareness raising and fundraising are two common examples.


Role ambiguity is defined as the extent to which volunteers are “unclear about their responsibilities and the extent to which role-related information is unclear” (Fried et al., 2008, p. 307).

Role ambiguity negatively affects the retention of volunteers, but research supporting this finding has included adult participants only (Merrel, 2000; Ross, Greenfield, & Bennet, 1999).

To investigate all relevant topics for indirect volunteering of youth volunteers, three research questions were asked:


—What motivations, barriers to engagement, and opportunities for leadership affect youth volunteers who participate in indirect forms of service?

—How does role ambiguity impact indirect forms of service?

—What strengths and challenges affect youth volunteers who provide indirect forms of service?


—Six core themes emerged from the data analysis.

—Three themes reflected common topics from the literature review:  motivations to volunteer, leadership opportunities, and barriers to engagement.

—Role ambiguity emerged as a core theme for youth who are indirect volunteers.

—Two new themes emerged that are unique to this research: empowerment and power imbalances, and the meaning that youth ascribe to their volunteer roles.

These next images represent the core themes and sub themes that emerged from the literature. (Note: all diagrams can be enlarged by clicking on the image).

main n sub themes 1

main n sub themes 2

The following diagram illustrates that the work of indirect youth volunteers often has to go through many channels to impact the intended clients. The results of this work often takes a long time to become apparent.

Fig 1

To explain, youth volunteers impact the service agencies where they volunteer. At the same time the service agency may empower them by offering clear roles and responsibilities that are supported by access to resources, teamwork, and engaged stakeholders. Alternatively, agencies may disempower their volunteers by offering vague volunteer positions with no clear outcomes. Male youth, younger youth volunteers, and youth who do not speak English can also be disempowered.  Often the volunteer’s work must be channeled through governments and other NGOs. Finally, the channeled work of the volunteers may impact the actual service communities, which are sometimes within their own municipality, but also may be far away in another country.

The next diagram is a conceptualization of the interrelatedness of all themes that emerged from the data analysis. There are two problematic paths and one successful path for engaging youth volunteers and achieving meaningful outcomes with their work.

Fig 2

If an aspiring youth volunteer is faced with barriers to engagement, they cannot volunteer. If their motivations are fulfilled, they land a public education role. They are then either empowered or disempowered. If they face additional barriers to engagement when volunteering, they fail to see the outcomes of their work and may not accomplish outcomes at all. If they do get feedback and are clear about their work, the service outcomes are met and are clear to the volunteer.

It is also important that organizations have a clear understanding of the barriers that create role ambiguity, factors that improve clarity, and the outcomes of these actions. Factors that improve clarity can be accomplished by both staff and youth volunteers as this next diagram demonstrates.

Fig 3

One of the research sub questions asked what strengths and challenges youth face that are unique to indirect volunteering.  Out of the research I came up with strengths and challenges for youth who are indirect service volunteers.

Strengths & Challenges 1

Strengths & Challenges 2

These strengths and challenges should be used as a guide of methods to pursue and actions to avoid by organizations striving to better engage youth in indirect volunteering.

More information about the outcomes with the GTA organizations can be found in the full thesis here:

A Portrait of Awareness Raised

20 Jan

When volunteers raise awareness, what does it look like? Can you define the amount of awareness that was raised? Can you see it? Touch it? Is it a nice tactile and tangible outcome that you can hold in the palm of your hand? For most of us, no. It feels like a vague concept.

Those of us entrenched in the business of “raising awareness” typically have a love-hate relationship with the term. We love the infinite potential for outcomes ranging from improving programs to influencing policy. We can engage any number of people in a public audience who may en masse pay our message forward to others or self-organize to create a follow-up campaign or even an entire movement.   We hate the ambiguity of not knowing exactly how motivated our audience is to pay our message forward. How many members of our audiences learned from us, received our message, and committed to a follow-up action? What were the differences in learning for each audience member? As for larger outcomes, what slice of the public influence pie did we have in improving policies and programs? Do we know exactly how many people benefited from these improvements? Can we quantify and qualify those improvements for each and every individual impacted?

When I ask myself these questions, I like to think of this image and quote from Advertisers Without Borders. To me, it captures the dilemmas that come with trying to track all outcomes of raising awareness:


“Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”

It is difficult to capture the linear relationships between every individual stakeholder of an awareness raising event or movement. This can create a sense of ambiguity for volunteers at the origin of the awareness raising activity hoping to have a clear picture of the outcomes of their work, especially when their work is international in scope. It is important for organizations to communicate back to their volunteers all available information about audience feedback, policy change, program enhancements and service population outcomes. Additionally, organizations can help their volunteers fill in all pieces of the awareness raised puzzle by guiding their volunteers in dialogue that helps them visualize and co-construct the connections between all stakeholders in the awareness raising network and really see the full outcomes of their work.

When completing my Masters thesis back in 2011 about youth volunteers and the outcomes of their indirect service work, I identified awareness raising and fundraising as two types of volunteer activities common to youth and explored the ambiguity dilemmas they identified as well as solutions to help make the outcomes of their work more clear. I did so by conducting in-depth interviews with youth engaged in indirect volunteering and asked them several questions helping them identify all of the stakeholders of their work as well as all of their anticipated outcomes for each stakeholder. One of the results was a framework modelled closely after Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological System’s Theory that places youth in the centre of their indirect service network with the outcomes of their work trailing from stakeholders in their micro-system out to those that fall within the macro-system of their service network. A survey and sample framework modelled after those developed for my Masters thesis is provided below, and can also be viewed as the second of my two approaches to evaluating outcomes of youth volunteer projects here.


What impact do you imagine your awareness raising and fundraising efforts via club meetings and campaigns have had on the following communities:

  • —The members of your youth group?
  • —Students in your school who have participated in your activities?
  • —Teachers/professors in your school who have participated in your activities?
  • —The greater population of local youth volunteers within this organization?
  • —The greater population of all local staff and adult volunteers within this organization?
  • —The greater municipality in which this youth group is located?
  • —Staff/volunteers from this (or a partner) organization providing the services abroad that your activities supported?
  • —The vulnerable population being served in the international communities you supported?
  • —All citizens within the international communities you supported?
  • —Other service partners/stakeholders working on the ground in the international communities supported by your activities?

Sample framework:


A Volunteer’s Journey: Looking Back

8 Jan

I’ve boasted before about why volunteers should journal.  Since I have decided to inject a little more life into my blog for the New Year I felt it would be appropriate to take a snapshot of my most memorable former  volunteer roles and reflect on what I’ve learned and my accomplishments with each. The collection here of course does not include paid positions, internships or episodic volunteering.

Organization: Canadian Red Cross

Volunteer position: International and Youth Services Leadership Volunteer

Duration: February 2003-June 2007 (position ended upon gaining employment as Coordinator of the program)

What I learned: The most important thing I learned as a volunteer in this program was the civilian impact of conflict. In my team of volunteers we raised awareness across the Niagara Region and other cities in the Province of Ontario about humanitarian issues in conflict such as the global impact of indiscriminate weapons use (i.e. landmines and cluster munitions), and how vulnerable populations are impacted by conflict such as women, children as child soldiers and refugees, and migrants. The Seven Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement became and will always be my guiding principles for raising awareness about humanitarian issues.

I also learned much about the real impact of raising awareness through presentations and workshops, from the mechanics of tracking outcomes (i.e. number of attendees, pre-test, post-test, and evaluation scores) to monumental indirect outcomes such as follow-up campaigning and fundraising from inspired attendees, as well as follow-up service and policy changes from stakeholders in the field.

What I accomplished: In my volunteer team, we piloted the first scripted presentation for the Canadian Red Cross Even Wars Have Limits Campaign and utilized high profile support in the form of a guest presentation from a local de-mining officer with his de-mining dog. We also included the always compelling relief video from the IFRC: “Where the Streets Have No Name” with the song generously donated by U2. As the team evolved, I helped market and deliver over 20 Even Wars Have Limits assembly sized presentations (audience of 500-1500) across the Niagara Region which inspired many follow-up campaigns and donations from local high schools.


Organization: Corporation of the City of Kitchener

Volunteer Position: Volunteer Research Consultant

Duration: February 2010-June 2010

What I learned: How to harness my qualitative research skills and interest the public in an innovative participation process through facilitation of a World Cafe.

What I accomplished: With an intern co-leader I helped develop a World Cafe Facilitator’s Toolkit for a round of Who Are You Kitchener 2, a citizen engagement process that allows the public to choose success indicators for the City of Kitchener so that a citizen council can evaluate City of Kitchener Departments on an annual basis. By delivering a presentation to launch the facilitator’s toolkit to staff and volunteers of the Corporation of the City of Kitchener, I helped gain faith from staff and volunteers in the qualitative research process. By co-facilitating one of the scheduled World Cafes and evaluating one of the indicators that re-emerged (Environment), I witnessed first-hand the power of individual and collective input to influence the operations of Municipal Government.


Organization: Ian Somerhalder Foundation

Volunteer Position: Volunteer Consultant

Duration: January 2011-October 2011

What I learned: How to maximize outreach, support and engagement to affect real change by connecting with networks of like-minded organizations, grassroots support groups, major media outlets, and celebrities using social media. I also increased my eco-know-how and discovered how connecting with individuals who are passionate about similar causes via social media can spark a few long-lasting professional relationships and friendships.

What I accomplished: In a small volunteer team, I helped behind the scenes to research, write, and launch the organization’s first campaign to lobby the BC Ministry of Agriculture for stronger animal cruelty penalties and a retirement plan preserving the lives of working animals. This followed the slaughter of 100 sled dogs in Whistler, BC. With the support of over 60,000 people who signed our petition, celebrities, and major media outlets the Foundation was named as one of the top influencers in the task force report. Once the BC Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was amended according to the recommendations in the Task Force Report, the Foundation celebrated our efforts as a major success. In my volunteer team, we were also responsible for gaining the Foundation a partnership with the Best Friends Animal Society.

I also lead a team of international youth volunteers and supporters in the Foundation’s participation in the upcoming UN Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development in 2012.  This involved writing the Foundation’s first campaign page and developing a Sustainable Development Survey seeking input from our youth audience towards the Foundation’s contribution to the MGCY Zero Draft document.  After analyzing the survey responses and sharing the results with the international youth team, the survey results were compiled with their additional input so that I could write our contribution in the form of feedback to the draft of the Zero Draft from the Major Group Children and Youth. The final Zero Draft document from the Major Group Children and Youth which included feedback from contributing organizations like the Ian Somerhalder Foundation was submitted to the UNCSD on November 1st, 2011.

They Cracked It! Youth Who Track “Awareness-Raised” with Culturally Relevant Social Media Campaigns!

29 Jan

I wanted to share this example of a by-youth-for-youth organization online that uses the vampire phenomenon to raise funds and awareness for the environment. They have already raised over $16,000 for Gulf Relief and have garnered celebrity support. Check out my guest blog on about their work and look out for my comments on how they’re tracking awareness raised. What are your thoughts?

Special thanks to all who retweeted the post!

Changing the Face of Youth Leadership in 2011: Vampire Support

What do you get when you combine environmentally conscientious vampire craze fans with innovative grassroots web campaigns that support a partner organization founded by a celebrity role model? Vampire Support, a promising youth-led organization for 2011 with a mission to “raise awareness about causes by using the vampire phenomenon to start projects and encourage the world’s youth to speak up for what they believe in.”
Its founders Chloe Dawn and Amber Davis have led several campaigns already to support the launch of the Ian Somerhalder Foundation and help with Gulf of Mexico relief through theNational Wildlife Federation. Their new campaign requires youth to demonstrate their awareness of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to compete in a raffle for a basket of Twilight prizes. All proceeds will support the Ian Somerhalder Foundation. What better way to engage youth in taking action than by raising money for an organization supporting innovative partnership projects resulting in real outcomes for the environment.

What really give this campaign impact are not only the long-term environmental outcomes that will result thanks to funds raised for the IanSomerhalder Foundation, but also the results it will have for participants as well. The contest ballots will represent tangible evidence of participants’ “awareness raised” about the oil spill in the Gulf and the prize is truly enticing due to its pop culture relevance.
Want to participate in the contest but need to brush up on your knowledge of the oil spill first? Visit the official website of the Ian Somerhalder Foundation to do your research. Be sure to enter Vampire Support’s contest before January 22nd.
Follow Vampire Support on Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch with culturally-relevant grassroots youth leadership online.

My New Favourite Youth Action Ideas: Part 2

7 Jan

I took the discussion about youth engagement to the Volunteer Match LinkedIn Group in December and asked:

What are some examples out there of youth coming together around a common personal/social interest to support a common humanitarian interest?

The response was incredible, and I would like to continue the discussion about my favourite youth action ideas in part 2 of this blog.

1)      Party With a Purpose: This form of engagement is for older youth, in the 20+ crowd. A sample project is discussed here. It is a great way for older youth to raise funds and awareness for a cause that they care about with their friends.

2)       Showcasing to Youth Leadership: One of the best ways an organization can demonstrate their commitment to youth leadership is by designating an official website of the organization to the activities, resources and opportunities delivered by and available to their youth. Plenty of examples can be found on

3)       Social Interest Clubs – Know of a social interest club at a high school or post secondary institution with a high volume of engaged youth attracted to the club’s activities? Encourage them to host a fundraiser or campaign for a cause you think might be important to them where activities supporting both the social and humanitarian interest can be the theme. This encourages innovation and creativity in youth groups and helps them hold stock in their interests and skills while affecting real change in their communities.

My Contribution to the Birthday Project

4 Dec

It is likely clear from my prior post about my favourite youth engagement ideas that I have been amazed by all of the online activity that has supported the launch of the IS Foundation. One of the IS Foundation partners, the Natural Resources Defense Council, explained recently in their blog post about the IS Foundation why the online activity supporting the foundation is so remarkable:

“It’s not often that you associate vampires (bloodthirsty night-dwellers) with environmental activists (solar-loving vegetarians) but friend of NRDC Ian Somerhalder is trying to bridge the gap by launching the IS Foundation.”

With this seemingly unlikely relationship between fandoms, environmentalists and Vampire Diaries enthusiast environmentalists taking place, I was impressed with the ingenuity and success of all of the work supporting the IS Foundation. I wanted to help, to contribute to the Birthday Project by making a “donation” to the Foundation before ian Somerhalder’s Birthday. With a family vacation looming around the corner and my “overseas” launch taking place on December 8th, I decided to make that donation a small guest blogging project that would hopefully attract a large network of nonprofits and volunteers to support the IS Foundation.

My guest post on Volunteer Match demonstrates how the IS Foundation is a model social innovation for the environment. Check it out below, and don’t forget to donate to the IS Foundation!

The Launch of the IS Foundation: A Model of Social Innovation

A remarkable model of social innovation has been taking over the Twitterverse and blogosphere and has motivated networks of environment-minded people to create meaningful change. That movement is the launch of the IS Foundation, founded by Ian Somerhalder (Lost, The Vampire Diaries).

What makes the launch of the IS Foundation so remarkable is the self-organizing of support networks that has been taking place online in order to address all of the complex components that are involved with protecting the environment. Below we look at the Foundation’s pre-launch activity using some of the core components of social innovation. This shows how the IS Foundation is a model for other nonprofits and volunteers to follow to achieve their goals for protecting the environment.

Read on to discover more about the IS Foundation and learn how to “team up to become a united spirit for change.”

Complexity – According to the Social Innovation Generation, one feature of social innovation is complexity, whereby “subtle rules of engagement, between and among elements, gives initiatives a life of their own.” This typically starts where a problem reaches a tipping point, motivating a leader to act. For Ian Somerhalder, this tipping point was the aftermath of the BP oil spill in his home state of Louisiana. His involvement in the cleanup and subsequent PSAs motivated environmentally conscious people, including his fan base, to act.

In his interview with Ian stated:  “Rather than be Generation Extinction, the youth of today could become Generation Green. Our mission strives to transform – with every willing person, organization and government body – our destructive relationship with our planet into one that is a true symbiotic relationship.”

Building Relationships – Ian’s influence secured support for the launch from powerful online communities of fans of his work on The Vampire Diaries – people who also happen to be passionate about the environment. One notable mention is the Ian Somerhalder Birthday Project and their Bash on the Bayou event on November 13th, 2010 in support of the St. Tammany Humane Society, along with the organizations supporting the Foundation (Conservation International, Natural Resource Defense Council, Go Green Mobile Power, the National Wildlife Federation, New Leash on Life, and the St. Tammany Humane Society).

Resilience – The book “Getting to Maybe” by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, and Michael Patton, describes resilience as “the capacity to experience massive change and yet still maintain the integrity of the original innovation.” Since the collaborative efforts of partners of the Foundation have involved the “self-organization” of “powerful strangers” working towards environmental change, the resilience of the Foundation looks promising.

According to Ian: “In order to solve the interconnected issues facing humanity, we must work in full collaboration with other organizations and government bodies to create and provide tangible solutions that will empower people to protect their health and the environment. Any organization, business or person committed to creating positive change is invited to reach out and partner with us.”

How You Can Get Involved: If you are working towards improving the environment, your vision for change can be accomplished by collaborating with others who share your vision. To find out more about how you can join the IS Foundation in this collaborative innovation, visit the official Facebook page.