January 18, 2012
In my recent piece, "Notes for a Young Activist," I outlined ways for activists to get involved using social media and the internet. It occurred to me recently that AIDS Service Organizations, especially in Canada and smaller U.S. cities could maybe use a crash course too.
Confession time: Not all those who are or seem inactive are by choice. Some of us work or live too far away from our local organization to volunteer so we do the next best thing: Write blog posts, tweet, share important articles via Facebook, sign petitions. But, the thing is, we should be able to be more involved.
So here are my suggestions for ways you can help us and we can help you, be the best we can be, together.
Websites: I severely sprained my ankle in September which gave me lots of time to sift through my out of control HIV/AIDS bookmarks folder. One thing I noticed, is that while ASO's have websites and using them, they really aren't keeping on top of things. Some still have things from as late as 2005 on their front page. Others weren't updated with the dates of recent events. Still more had broken links to important pages. I know it can be hard to keep up a website, I've tried and failed more times than I care to count. But the thing is, if I were doing a project on AIDS now, I would be more likely browse my local organization's website and e-mail than to call. The same goes for if I wanted to volunteer, or needed resources to educate a group, or simply needed red ribbons to distribute.
It is crucial that your About, Contact, Donation and any page you have information about volunteering on, work. It is unacceptable to have them under construction. Make sure all e-mail addresses are valid and current and if you run an organization that divvies out role based e-mails (e.g., bloggerATflamingredDOTca) make sure you update the information online when the person in the role changes.
Having a way for people to donate online either through PayPal or credit card is excellent, these days so many don't own cheques -- myself included.
Archive the outdated stuff.
If your website does have to be under construction, relaunch when you say you will, or change the date. A couple years ago a website said it would be up on a certain date and didn't actually launch until 3 months later. Not good.
Maybe most importantly, if you do a massive site overhaul, make sure you aren't making things harder to find. TheBody.com is a great example of a website that has gone through some changes but is still easy to navigate.
Twitter: I love Twitter. In fact, December 1 I spent the beginning of my day before the sun was even up sitting in Starbucks reading through tweets and making a couple of my own while sipping a caramel hot chocolate, $0.05 of which was donated to the Global Fund in honor of World AIDS Day, a fact I found out on Twitter, not through anything a barista did to inform me.
The thing about Twitter, is you're not going to get 1,000 followers right away, and you have to keep up with it. The Nova Scotia Legislature might get away with one or two posts a day and keep followers, but for the most part, out of sight out of mind, and if you let it go for weeks or months there are actually sites that help your followers unfollow you. This is not what you want.
Maybe the idea of condensing things into 140 characters is intimidating, but if I can do it, anyone can. There are even websites online to help you if you can't figure out how to abbreviate something.
Examples of places doing great things on Twitter include:
Facebook: Facebook for all it's faults is a wonderful tool and I would say I love it about as much as I hate it, it's privacy anyway. My newsfeed is always full of wonderful articles posted by like minded people I found through trial and error, Twitter, mutual strangers, and occasionally my old Myspace account.
But, as with Twitter, you have to use it. I won't name names, but several organizations don't interact with their meager number of followers. Others haven't actually posted anything since the time of discussion boards, which is a slight improvement on those who haven't posted anything since joining Facebook.
A shining example of an organization that uses Facebook right is the San Francisco AIDS Foundation they interact with their followers and regularly post questions, facts, and events for people to get involved in.
I follow many different AIDS-related organizations through Facebook. Some never pop up on my newsfeed, and again, out of sight, out of mind. So if you decide to use it, use it!
Virtual volunteer opportunities: One of the topics I brought up with Olivia when I met her was the absence of Canadian virtual volunteer opportunities. The situation is this: There aren't any advertised for Canadian ASO's which leads me to believe there are none, and U.S. ASO's don't want Canadians. Volunteer Match is a great website for finding and listing virtual volunteer opportunities.
So here's a hint: What I mentioned above (website, Twitter, Facebook) are all excellent opportunities for volunteers, virtual or otherwise.
My theory is simple: There is no reason for anyone who wants to be involved, not to be. Even if my plea for more virtual volunteer opportunities falls on deaf ears in Canada, there is no reason for us to not become more connected. Social media just seems hard. Once you use it, it's simple. Kind of like riding a bike.