Do Something NOW! Just-In-Time Volunteering with Your Mobile

Posted by CorinneRamey on Apr 08, 2008

Ben Rigby imagines people sitting in airports during a layover, using their mobile phones to do something for a cause. Using an application called Volunteer Now!, potential volunteers could instantly be connected with short-term "mini" volunteer opportunities near their present location. "We could utilize people's spare time to do good in the world," he said. "There's no method right now for that kind of thing, but there should be."

The application doesn't exist yet -- it's still in the planning stages -- but Rigby told MobileActive that the Google Android Developer Challenge deadline has been a motivating factor for the project and that he plans to submit a draft of the application for the competition's April 14th deadline. Volunteer Now! also made it to the finalist round in the Net Squared Mashup Challenge.

Rigby said that the application has the ability to restructure the way that people view volunteering. "Organizations offer traditionally longer-term volunteer opportunities," he said. "This application offers opportunities of 20 minutes or half an hour. This hasn't really been done before." Potential volunteers would need to download the application -- which only works on Internet-enabled mobile phones -- onto their phone in order to access a volunteer database. Rigby said that the application currently only works on Android, but he plans to make an iPhone version available and explore other platforms as well. Screenshots of Volunteer Now! are available here.

Rigby acknowledges that there are potential challenges and problems with the application. He said that one concern has revolved around security issues. "How do you vet someone who volunteers to deliver an elderly person's groceries?" he asked. But, he said, he envisions Volunteer Now! functioning like Craigslist, an online marketplace in the U.S. "Craigslist pretty much just works," he said. "People talk to each other on the phone before they make a transaction. There's some kind of trust that happens when you make that snap decision call."

Rigby said that several volunteer organizations have already shown interest in the application. Costs have been kept to a minimum because, fittingly, people have volunteered their time to work on the application. "You're beholden to no one if you can build an application that doesn't cost anything," he said. "It's great to keep it in a donated state." Short-term volunteer opportunities that Rigby imagines would work well with Volunteer Now! include delivering groceries and picking up trash. He also envisions more skill-specific opportunities such as multi-lingual people volunteering to serve as translators and lawyers helping to review contracts.

Overall, Rigby says that he hopes to increase civic engagement. Not only will the application connect organizations and volunteers, but it will connect volunteers to each other. "It could connect you to other people in your neighborhood who need your help or are giving help to people," he said. "That's the social compenent -- it brings people together who are engaged in their communities."

Another organization, called Do Something, has already begun using mobile phones to recruit volunteers. The New York-based nonprofit connects teenagers with volunteer opportunities and works to get more young people to volunteer. In an email to MobileActive, Chief Marketing Officer Aria Finger said teens are four times more likely to volunteer when asked.

The Beta version of its mobile program, which was launched in March, allows young people to sign up through a form on its website by providing a phone number, zip code, and selecting volunteer interests from a pull down menu. The organization sends out one or two text alerts with volunteer opportunities each month. According to Finger, opt-out rates have been less than 5%.

The program is funded by the Sprint Foundation. Finger said that over 1,000 people have signed up for the text alerts in the past month and that Do Something hopes to have 10,000 by the end of the year. When asked about the challenges that the program has faced, Finger said that it had been tough to tailor longer messages about volunteer opportunities into text-message sized bits. "Obviously one of the main challenges with SMS is that you get so few characters!" she wrote. "And we have so much info we want to jampack in there."

re: android

Yep - I'd second the mobile user experience comment. There's a lot you can't do on mobile web browsers - that you can do in an application - and there's a great speed advantage. Also 3 other advantages:
1. interface directly with location (lat+long) data
2. presence on the deck of the phone. this is key for mindshare.
3. possibility of ~100K by winning android competition and support from google!

-ben rigby

Mobile User Experience

I think that the advantage of a native app is simply that web-browsing is pretty terrible on most phones -- largely because there are so many page to go though to get to the *page that you want.*

But regardless of the technological implementation, I think it is very, very good practice to brainstorm these ideas about the possible user experience of volunteerism and activism.

No ad agency is going to think about these concepts on behalf of the poor.

App vs. Web Page

I'm curious as to what advantages an Android-based mobile application brings to a volunteer brokerage like this rather than just a web page formatted for mobile phones?

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