Research & Case Studies Regarding Virtual Volunteering


The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook is available for purchase as a paperback and an ebook from Energize, Inc. It is the most comprehensive publication available regarding virtual volunteering, including online microvolunteering (micro tasks completed by online volunteers), virtual teams and crowd sourcing for the benefit of nonprofits, government agencies and other mission-based programs. The book is filled with case studies and guidelines regarding engaging and supporting volunteers using Internet / networking tools that are based on the work of many different organizations across the USA and around the world. The purpose of the book is to be a practical guide for programs that want to involve online volunteers, or want to expand that involvement, but it also has a great deal of information that will be of use to those researching issues related to virtual volunteering, online civic engagement, online mentoring, microvolunteering, remote volunteers, crowd-sourcing for good, etc.

In association with The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook , the authors provide this wiki, including this compilation of research, evaluation reports and case studies regarding online volunteering / virtual volunteering, including studies on the various different activities that are a part of online volunteering such as online activism, online civic engagement, online mentoring, microvolunteering, remote volunteers, or crowd-sourcing, etc. (these are not opinion or PR pieces - these provide hard data, case studies, etc.). Note that sometimes articles do not call the unpaid contributors "volunteers." There are also articles on virtual teams, which often involved paid staff; these research studies are especially applicable to virtual volunteering scenarios. These mostly go in reverse publishing or research date order. And if you are interested in researching virtual volunteering, this blog can give you guidance before you get started:

Form to submit research papers or studies to this wiki page.

  • Managing Casual Contributors. Ann Barcomb is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the University of Limerick in Ireland. Her research focuses on the management of episodic, or casual, volunteers in open source and builds upon her prior work comparing free software and social entrepreneurship, some of which also cited on the wiki page you are reading now. She did a presentation at the Open Source Summit Europe 2017 (October) on what she calls "Casual Contributors" to open source projects: episodic online volunteers. Her presentation, based on her research, reviews factors of engagement and retention of "Casual Contributors" and offers tips on effective management of these volunteers.

  • Task Workflow Design and its impact on performance and volunteers' subjective preference in Virtual Citizen Science . By James Sprinks Jessica Wardlaw Robert Houghton Steven Bamford and Jeremy Morleya. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Volume 104, Pages 50-63, August 2017. "A study was performed with the Planet Four: Craters project to investigate the effect of task workflow design on both volunteer experience and the scientific results they produce... The interface with the least number of task types, variety and autonomy resulted in the greatest data coverage. Agreement, both between participants and with the expert equivalent, was significantly improved when the interface most directly afforded tasks that captured the required underlying data (i.e. crater position or diameter)."

  • Significant concerns influence online pro bono volunteering of faculty members . By Osama Ahmed Abdelkader. Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 73, August 2017, Pages 547-553. "This study investigates the significant concerns that prevent faculty members (FMs) from providing additional efforts of Online Pro Bono Volunteering (OPV). The influences of gender, age and academic achievement (degree/experience/specialty) were tested with the Willingness to provide OPV (WOPV) and the Extent of providing OPV (EOPV). Twenty-three concerns were tested to explore their impact, nine of which were deleted after the Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA). The other significant fourteen concerns were grouped in four categories depending on EFA to losses, interest, followers and proficiency. This study presents two main contributions: first, a new instrument to measure the concern factors of OPV, second, a proposed model to support practitioners, developers and researchers who are interested in OPV. Future researchers can extend the applicability of this model to other areas of research and they can present comparable studies that consider various nationalities, cultures, religions or occupations."

  • "Temporal Motivations of Volunteers to Participate in Cultural Crowdsourcing Work ." By Sultana Lubna Alam, Department of Information Systems and Business Analytics, Deakin Business School, Deakin University, Geelong, Australia and John Campbell, Research School of Management, ANU College of Business and Economics, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. Information Systems Research, July 2017. "Crowdsourcing (CS) by cultural and heritage institutions engage volunteers in online projects without monetary compensation. Uncertainty concerning online volunteer motivation has led to a growing body of academic research. This study contributes to that debate, by extending focus to CS volunteer work in nonprofit cultural institutions where no monetary benefit is offered to volunteers. This study examines motivations of high performing volunteers in a newspaper digitisation CS project, initiated by the National Library of Australia. Volunteers are motivated by personal, collective, and external factors, and these motivations change over time. Volunteers initially show intrinsic motivations, though both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations play a critical role in their continued participation. Volunteer contributions range from data shaping (e.g., correcting digitised optical character recognition data) to knowledge shaping (e.g., shaping historical data through tagging and commenting, but also through development of norms and social roles). The locus of motivation (intrinsic or extrinsic) also changes with different kinds of contributions. The distinction between data and knowledge shaping contributions, and the locus and focus of motivation behind these activities, has implications for the design of CS systems. Design for improved usability through cognitive and physical system affordances and development of social mechanisms for ongoing participation is discussed."

  • Centralized Crowdsourcing in Disaster Management: Findings and Implications . By D. Auferbauer, Austrian Institute of Technology, Vienna, Austria and H. Tellioğlu TU Wien, (Vienna Univ. of Technology), Vienna, Austria. Presented as a part of C&T '17 Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Communities and Technologies, Troyes, France June 2017, Pages 173-182. "Computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) has become an important aspect in crisis and disaster management. Volunteers undertaking relief efforts in affected areas are increasingly using information and communication technologies to coordinate their work. Relief organizations are recognizing this trend and have started to adapt new communication channels to interact with citizens. In this paper, we describe the crowdtasking approach, a centralized form of crowdsourcing for crisis and disaster management. We present a prototype implementation of the approach and report on our findings from the system's first field trial. We conclude by discussing implications of this approach for CSCW and community building in crisis and disaster management. Lastly, we give an outlook on future research based on our experience with crowdtasking."

  • "A framework for analyzing digital volunteer contributions in emergent crisis response efforts. " By Chul Hyun Park and Erik W Johnston. Arizona State University, USA. New Media & Society, May 22, 2017 "Advances in information, communication, and computational technologies allow digital volunteer networks formed by concerned publics across the globe to contribute to an effective response to disasters and crises. Digital volunteer networks are event-centric and emergent networks. Currently, the literature is sharply growing in the fields of communication, computer science, emergency management, and geography. This article aims to assess the current status of the literature and suggest a comprehensive conceptual framework of digital volunteer networks in response to disasters and crises. This framework is based on a traditional input–process–output model consisting of three dimensions: the disaster and crisis context, a voluntary response process, and outputs and outcomes. We also discuss challenges of digital volunteer networks for crisis response. This article is expected to contribute to the development of related theories and hypotheses and practical strategies for managing digital volunteer networks."

  • "Prioritizing Disaster Mapping Tasks for Online Volunteers Based on Information Value Theory. " By Yingjie Hu, Krzysztof Janowicz, and Helen Couclelis. Geographical Analysis, The Ohio State University, 13 October 2016. "In recent years, online volunteers have played important roles in disaster response. After a major disaster, hundreds of volunteers are often remotely convened by humanitarian organizations to map the affected area based on remote sensing images. Typically, the affected area is divided using a grid-based tessellation, and each volunteer can select one grid cell to start mapping. While this approach coordinates the efforts of volunteers, it does not differentiate the priorities of different cells. As a result, volunteers may map grid cells in a random order. Due to the spatial heterogeneity, different cells may contain geographic information that is of different value to emergency responders. Ideally, cells that potentially contain more valuable information should be assigned higher priority for mapping. This article presents an analytical framework for prioritizing the mapping of cells based on the values of information contained in these cells. Our objective is to provide guidance for online volunteers so that potentially more important cells are mapped first. We present a method that is based on information value theory and focus on road networks. We apply this method to a number of simulated scenarios and to a real disaster mapping case from the 2015 Nepal earthquake."

  • "Episodic volunteering in open source communities ." In Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Evaluation and Assessment in Software Engineering. By Ann Barcomb, published as part of the proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Evaluation and Assessment in Software Engineering, 2016. "Episodic volunteers, who prefer short term engagement to habitual contributions, are present in Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) communities. Little is known about how they are viewed within their communities, how they view their communities, how community managers are managing them, or even how many episodic volunteers contribute to FLOSS projects and how much they contribute. Knowing more about the prevalence and management of episodic volunteers in FLOSS will help community managers make better decisions for engaging and utilizing these volunteers. My dissertation addresses these questions, providing a picture of what episodic volunteering looks like in the context of FLOSS communities."

  • Digital Humanitarians: Citizen journalists on the virtual front line of natural and human-caused disasters by Wendy Norris, College of Media, Communication and Information, University of Colorado Boulder, USA. 16 Sep 2016. "Networks of virtual volunteers act as digital humanitarians who rapidly assemble situational awareness at the onset of natural and human-caused disasters through crowdsourcing, data analysis and crisis mapping to aid on-the-ground emergency response.... This exploratory study contends that the knowledge-based content produced by these groups is citizen journalism akin to data-driven investigative news."


  • Involvement and Perception of Microvolunteering: published in July 2016. 238 people responded to a survey by Help From Home over 13 months, through June 2016. The majority of respondents were female. ‘It was easy’, ‘quick’, and ‘on demand’ all scored highly as answers for the question regarding motivation to volunteer for microtasks. 13% of respondents stated they had stopped microvolunteering because they ‘couldn’t find time to do it’, which confirms that even this form of virtual volunteering takes real time, not virtual time. Previous research regarding online micro volunteering can be found below, and at this Help From Home page.

  • Not So Passive: Engagement and Learning in Volunteer Computing Projects. By Laure Kloetzer, Julien Da Costa and Daniel K. Schneider. //Human Computation///, 2016. "This paper focuses on an unexplored dimension of Citizen Science: the educational potential of Volunteer Computing (VC). VC has been one of the most popular forms of Citizen Science, since its beginnings from 1997, when the first VC platforms, such as SETI@home, were created. Participation in VC is based on volunteers donating their idle computer resources to contribute to large scale scientific research. So far this has often been seen as a rather passive form of participation, compared to other online Citizen Science (or citizen cyberscience) projects, since volunteers are not involved in active data collection, data analysis or project definition. In this paper we present our research conducted in 2013-2014 with the BOINC Community “Alliance Francophone”, and demonstrate that part of the volunteers in Distributed Computing research projects are not passive at all. We show that the dynamism of BOINC hugely relies on community-led gamification and that participation may lead to important learning outcomes on most dimensions of our ILICS (Informal Learning in Citizen Science) model. This includes extending one’s scientific interests, ability to find and engage with people who share similar interests, and offering a range of potential learning outcomes, particularly within the fields of (a) computer and Internet literacy, (b) scientific knowledge and literacy, (c) communication: English and social skills. As demonstrated by our recent ILICS survey research (2015), these latest learning effects happen for all kinds of participants and are even stronger for people who have a lower education background, which is an interesting finding for lifelong education policies. Altogether, VC projects engage volunteers emotionally, far beyond a simple use of their computers’ time and power, and may have an educational value. For a minority of very active volunteers, they become real “Opportunity Spaces”, where they can get new friends, skills and experiences, which they could not have found easily elsewhere in their everyday environment."

  • Julia Bear of Stony Brook University’s College of Business and Benjamin Collier of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar published "Where are the Women in Wikipedia? Understanding the Different Psychological Experiences of Men and Women in Wikipedia" in the journal Sex Roles January 2016. "We proposed that masculine norms for behavior in Wikipedia, which may be further exacerbated by the disinhibiting nature of an online, anonymous environment, lead to different psychological experiences for women and men, which, in turn, explain gender differences in contribution behavior. We hypothesized that, among a sample of individuals who occasionally contribute to Wikipedia, women would report less confidence in their expertise, more discomfort with editing others’ work, and more negative responses to critical feedback compared to men, all of which are crucial aspects of contributing to Wikipedia. We also hypothesized that gender differences in these psychological experiences would explain women’s lower contribution rate compared to men in this sample... Significant gender differences were found in confidence in expertise, discomfort with editing, and response to critical feedback. Women reported less confidence in their expertise, expressed greater discomfort with editing (which typically involves conflict) and reported more negative responses to critical feedback compared to men. Mediation analyses revealed that confidence in expertise and discomfort with editing partially mediated the gender difference in number of articles edited, the standard measure for contribution to Wikipedia. Implications for the gender gap in Wikipedia and in organizations more generally are discussed." Their study was summarized in this 02 June 2016 article Why Do So Few Women Edit Wikipedia?. Note: Those that edit Wikipedia are called Wikipedians, and they are online volunteers. But relatively few of them are women. The most recent survey of users, in 2011, found just 9% of worldwide contributors to the site were women; in the U.S., it was 15%. In 2015, Jimmy Wales, the founder of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the site, said that the organization failed to meet its goal of increasing women’s participation to 25% by 2015, despite launching several initiatives.

  • Two journal articles look at "serial activists", who are independent online volunteers using their social media channels to support protest movements in other countries: “Serial Activists: Political Twitter Beyond Influentials and the Twittertariat, published in May 2015, and Being a Serial Activist, published in January 2016, are both by Marco T Bastos of Duke University, USA and Dan Mercea of City University London, UK. In the papers, researchers said they found that these activists don't have huge followers, but that they "bridge disparate language communities and facilitate collective action by virtue of their dedication to multiple causes." The researchers also note that how serial activists differ from "influentials" or traditional grassroots activists. The papers also review the motivations of these volunteers and how they balance their substantial time online with work and family.

  • VolEx Research Project: Volunteer Experience in the Digital Age. This is an interdisciplinary research project involving researchers from three UK universities: the School of Management at Royal Holloway University of London, Department of Sociology and the Digital World Research Centre at the University of Surrey, and the Department of People and Organisations at The Open University. "There is a need for both academic and practitioner knowledge in understanding how volunteers are integrating new technologies into their volunteer activities, how third sector organizations are utilising digital tools to support and enhance the practice of volunteering, and what challenges and opportunities are arising as a result. As a consequence, our research seeks to address the issue: How is the practice of volunteering being reconfigured in the digital age?"

  • Gauging Receptiveness to Social Microvolunteering. This white paper by Erin Brady, Meredith Ringel Morris, and Jeffrey P. Bigham, for Microsoft Research and submitted to the Association for Computing Machinery’s Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2015), defines the term social microvolunteering as "a type of intermediated friendsourcing in which a person can provide access to their friends as potential workers for microtasks supporting causes that they care about. We explore this idea by creating Visual Answers, an exemplar social microvolunteering application for Facebook that posts visual questions from people who are blind. We present results of a survey of 350 participants on the concept of social microvolunteering, and a deployment of the Visual Answers application with 91 participants, which collected 618 high-quality answers to questions asked over 12 days, illustrating the feasibility of the approach." Also "Facebook users responded positively to the suggested application in a survey, and many went on to install the application. Overall, the questions posted to volunteer’s Facebook accounts were answered correctly and quickly, and volunteers reported positive attitudes toward the application after the pilot period was complete, demonstrating the real-world feasibility of our approach."

  • Human factors in East Asian virtual teamwork: a comparative study of Indonesia, Taiwan and Vietnam . By Ngan Collins, Yu-Min Chou, Malcolm Warner & Chris Rowley. Published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management, Volume 28, 2017 - Issue 10: Human resource management in Asia: Distinctiveness of Asian Human Resource Management. Oct 2015. "There has been considerable research into the technical aspects of virtual teams. By contrast, few studies have focused on their ‘human factors’, such as the way team members cooperate within the context of cross-national boundaries. This study applies a ‘mixed method’ approach to research virtual teams in three Asian economies: Indonesia, Taiwan and Vietnam. We find that critical human factors, including individual cultural intelligence, cultural openness and self-efficacy, significantly influence team member knowledge sharing willingness in cross-national virtual teams. However, a positive relationship between team member knowledge sharing willingness and knowledge sharing behaviour is not supported because other elements, such as interpersonal trust, leadership, team interaction and member language ability, can significantly affect the effect of the above mentioned factors on virtual team knowledge sharing. Our study offers a new model to improve the study of virtual teamwork and provides practical applications for managing cross-national teams, especially in the selection, training and development of team members."



  • Designing a Micro-Volunteering Platform for Situated Crowdsourcing. By Yi-Ching Huang, Graduate Institute of Networking and Multimedia, Taipei City, Taiwan Roc. March 2015. Dissertation research paper presented at the 2015 Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing conference (CSCW). Investigates "whether micro-volunteering can be applied successfully to a situated crowdsourcing platform for contributing problem-solving efforts with high-quality results."



  • "The media festival volunteer: Connecting online and on-ground fan labor" by Robert Moses Peaslee, Jessica El-Khoury, and Ashley Liles. Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, United States. Published in 2014 in Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC), ISSN 1941-2258. "Online fan labor occurs via interactive media devoted to objects of fan esteem, while on-ground fan labor is best illustrated by the act of volunteering at a media-related festival or event, for example a film festival, a comic con, or a technology expo..." The paper considers fan labor as volunteers because contributors are unpaid, and uses qualitative research data gathered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, in September 2012 for the paper. "Our data suggest that paying attention to volunteerism—much like paying attention to fan fiction—is crucial for understanding fandom in the context of an increasingly decentralized and user-powered, though not user-owned, media industry, and that consideration of the media festival or fan convention environment is crucial for understanding relationships between the volunteer impulse, social and cultural capital, and power. We conclude that volunteering at Fantastic Fest, and by extension at other media-related festivals, is an ambivalent activity: while it promotes the building of social capital and thus aids a kind of civic engagement, it often simultaneously encourages those communities to provide unpaid, on-ground labor to the industries of which volunteers one day hope to be a part."

  • Two researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany, Ann Barcomb and Dirk Riehle, are working on a project to understand the concepts, processes, and tools that make open collaborative communities work. A particular goal is the creation of a best practices handbook for managing such communities. "Open source projects, wiki communities, and Wikipedia all share something in common: They are open collaborative communities steeped in technology with typically no single person in charge; in this they are very different from more traditional projects. Our prior analysis showed that these communities follow three core principles: They are egalitarian (everyone may join, no apriori barriers to entry exist), meritocratic (decisions are based on the merits of an argument, not on status), and self-organizing (communities choose their own processes rather than get them dictated)."

  • Carmit-Noa Shpigelman (2014). Electronic mentoring and media. In D. L. DuBois & M. J. Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of youth mentoring (2nd ed., pp. 259-272). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

  • The Virtual Volunteering Wiki and The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook by Jayne Cravens and Susan Ellis. The book was published January 2014, the wiki is continually updated. The book is the result of several years of research and experience by the authors regarding nonprofit organizations, schools, government agencies and other mission-based organizations using the Internet to support and involve volunteers. It is a practical guide to help organizations start, improve or expand virtual volunteering activities, including micro volunteering, online mentoring and other Internet-mediated volunteering. Whereas the book provides details on suggested practices regarding introducing virtual volunteering to an organization, recruiting online volunteers, screening and training online volunteers, working with online volunteers, evaluating virtual volunteering efforts, creating policies, etc., and includes short case studies to illustrate suggestions in practice, the wiki is a dynamic online resource that is focused on showcasing research on subjects related to virtual volunteering (the page you are reading now) and tech tools that are used or can be used to engage with or support volunteers.


  • The ICT4EMPL Future Work project , which included research on Internet-mediated volunteering (virtual volunteering, microvolunteering, etc.) with regards to how it is practised in Europe, how widespread it is in Europe, and any role it does or could play with regard to employability (career exploration, skills development, job connections, job promotion, etc.) and to social inclusion. Its wiki is a knowledge base of resources used to create the final report. This research was undertaken by Jayne Cravens from April - August 2013, for the overall ICT4EMPL Future Work project by: European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Information Society Unit, http://is.jrc.ec.europa.eu.


  • “Welcome !” Social and Psychological Predictors of Volunteer Socializers in Online Communities. CSCW’13, February 23–27, 2013, San Antonio, Texas, USA. 2013 ACM 978-1-4503-1331-5/13/02. by Gary Hsieh, Youyang Hou and Ian Chen, Communication Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University and Khai N. Truong, Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto. Abstract: Volunteer socializers are members of a community who voluntarily help newcomers become familiar with the popular practices and attitudes of the community. In this paper, we explore the social and psychological predictors of volunteer socializers on reddit, an online social newssharing community. Through a survey of over 1000 Reddit users, we found that social identity, prosocial-orientation and generalized reciprocity are all predictors of socializers in the community. Interestingly, a user’s tenure with the online community has a quadratic effect on volunteer socialization behaviors—new and long-time members are both more likely to help newcomers than those in between. We conclude with design implications for motivating users to help newcomers.


  • Micro-volunteering: doing some good through smartphones? Johnathan Paylor (2012 June). Institute for Volunteering Research. A report on a survey of people who used the smartphone app Do Some Good, available through the telecommunications company Orange, conducted from June 2011 until December 2011. 3,598 people completed the survey. Participants were largely from the U.K.. 56% were female, and 78% between 16 and 34. However, the survey did not explore what motivated volunteers to choose tasks or organisations to support (only their motivation for using the app and being interested in microvolunteering) and the report does not note what kinds of tasks volunteers undertook. Also, the survey did not explore the perspectives of the organisations that recruited online volunteers using the app, and this restricts what can be said about the impact of the volunteers’ actions beyond benefits for themselves.

  • Virtual Volunteering and Digital Engagement: A Qualitative Investigation. Volunteering Queensland (Australia) "conducted in-depth interviews with five diverse organisations, took a close look at the practice of three organisations in the form of case studies, and undertook a crowdsourcing experiment on Twitter." The findings are presented, followed by "a discussion of their significance for policy and practice." This research was authored by James Schier, Erin Gregor and Sarah McAtamney and supervised by Mark Creyton. January 2012.


  • "Social Capital, Social Networks, and the Social Web; The Case of Virtual Volunteering," by Dhrubodhi Mukherjee, Southern Illinois University, USA, from the book Virtual Communities: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools and Applications., published in 2011. Abstract: Social interaction technologies create communicative possibilities that go beyond dyadic interactions and across physical boundaries, bringing a qualitative shift in the functioning of the Internet. The present chapter employs social capital and social networks perspectives to identify the social determinants of virtual volunteering in the age of Web 2.0, explores the social motivation of volunteers who perform tasks using the Social Web in the context of online volunteering, and addresses the dynamic interplay of social capital, social networks, and the Social Web with implications for virtual volunteering. The argument furthered is that active participation in social networks generates social capital and facilitates the development of the Social Web.


  • "Participation of Older Adults in Virtual Volunteering: A Qualitative Analysis." by Dhrubodhi Mukherjee. 2011. Published in Ageing International. "This study takes the initiative to generate new knowledge on how the Internet can play an active role in facilitating volunteerism among older people. It explores the demographic characteristics, motivation, and types of tasks performed by older adults while volunteering in a virtual environment. Given the emerging support infrastructure to facilitate virtual volunteering among older adults, this study sought to better comprehend the profiles and motivations of older virtual volunteers. In particular, the study wishes to understand if parallels could be drawn between on-site volunteering and online volunteering among older adults. Correspondingly, the study also explores whether participation in virtual volunteering by older adults increased their sense of belonging."

  • "Is virtual volunteering beneficial or challenging to an organisation and its volunteers?" by Mohammed A Abdullahi mbdullahi@gmail.com, abdull17@uni.coventry.ac.uk. Masters thesis for Coventry University, UK. 2011. Abstract: Volunteering research has continued to grasp the attention of many researchers in recent years (Wilson and Musick 1997; Harris 2000; Starnes 2004). This is due to the importance of volunteering to the lives of people and the society’s at large (Little 1999; Primavera 1999; McClintock 2002; Susan et al 2011). However, virtual volunteering which is an emerging aspect of volunteering has significantly been under researched (Pena-Lopez 2007), despite the existence of this type of volunteering for over a decade (Cravens 2006). The researches that exist on virtual volunteering are based on assumptions or borrow from the literature of home working, telecommuting or virtual organisation (Adveco 2005, Sauder 2011). There is a clear lack of scholarly research into virtual volunteering (Pena-Lopez 2007). Thus, this study is one of the few studies on virtual volunteering which has conducted empirical primary research in the UK. In this study, the benefits and challenges of virtual volunteering were explored, using a dual perspective (organisational and virtual volunteers perspectives). Virtual volunteering, was identified to have benefits such as greater coverage of volunteers, fits into volunteers personal commitments (due to its flexibilities), and encourages the development of social capital and employability skills amongst other benefits. Virtual volunteering was identified to have challenges such as volunteer management, volunteer isolation, miscommunication between the virtual volunteers and their organisation amongst other challenges. The study compared and contrasted the views of the virtual volunteers and their organisation as to the benefits and challenges of virtual volunteering.


  • Wikipedia Survey – Overview of Results, by Ruediger Glott, Philipp Schmidt and Rishab Ghosh. Published in March 2010. In a survey of contributors to all Wikipedia sites (22 language editions in 231 countries) by UNU-MERIT, a joint research and training centre of United Nations University (UNU) and Maastricht University, in cooperation with the Wikimedia Foundation, the largest share of responses was provided by users who accessed the survey via the Russian or English Wikipedia sites, followed by users of the German and Spanish versions. Contributors were split into four approximately equal age-groups: those under 18, those between 18 and 22, those from 22 to 30 and the remainder between 30 and 85. About 23% of contributors had completed degree-level education, 26% were undergraduates and 45% had secondary education or less. 87% of respondents were men and 13% were women. Download from http://www.wikipediastudy.org

  • "An exploratory study of older adults' engagement with virtual volunteerism." Dhrubodhi Mukherjee. 2010. Published in Journal of Technology in Human Services. Interviews done with volunteers through SeniorNet. "Implications of this study include reconceptualization of virtual volunteering as a strategic tool to recruit older adults and greater usage of information communication technologies to promote civic engagement among older people and, thus, positively influence their health and well-being."

  • "Volunteered Geographic Information and Crowdsourcing Disaster Relief: A Case Study of the Haitian Earthquake," by Matthew Zook, University of Kentucky, Mark Graham, University of Oxford, Taylor Shelton, University of Kentucky, Sean Gorman, FortiusOne. From World Medical & Health Policy, Vol. 2: Iss. 2, Article 2, published in 2010. Abstract: This paper outlines the ways in which information technologies (ITs) were used in the Haiti relief effort, especially with respect to web-based mapping services. Although there were numerous ways in which this took place, this paper focuses on four in particular: CrisisCamp Haiti, OpenStreetMap, Ushahidi, and GeoCommons. This analysis demonstrates that ITs were a key means through which individuals could make a tangible difference in the work of relief and aid agencies without actually being physically present in Haiti. While not without problems, this effort nevertheless represents a remarkable example of the power and crowdsourced online mapping and the potential for new avenues of interaction between physically distant places that vary tremendously.

  • America Online volunteers : Lessons from an early co-production community , by Hector Postigo, in the International Journal of Cultural Studies 2009. This article continues previous work that analysed the case of America Online (AOL) volunteers from critical perspectives of immaterial and free labor, and incorporates newly acquired documents and interviews by the United States Department of Labor (DOL) with volunteers. Specifically, this article puts forth the AOL volunteers’ case as an instance of co-production that eventually met its demise when organizational changes resulted in the rise of a labor consciousness among some volunteers that made the ongoing relationship impossible. This article shows the types of co-productive labor that took place during the height of the AOL/volunteer relationship and the structures put in place to help AOL harness the power of a free distributed workforce. The research posits that the success of the co-productive relationship was a function of a balance between a numbers of elements: (1) the perceived reasonable compensation on the part of volunteers, (2) social factors and attitudes towards work such as a sense of community, creativity, and (3) a sense of accomplishment.

  • E-Mentoring for All, by Carmit-Noa Shpigelman, Patrice L. (Tamar) Weiss, Shunit Reiter. Department of Special Education, Faculty of Education, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel and Department of Occupational Therapy, Faculty of Social Welfare & Health Sciences, University of Haifa, Israel. This paper presents the results of a study that evaluated an electronic mentoring intervention program designed to provide social and emotional support for protégés with disabilities by mentors who also have disabilities. Using a primarily qualitative research design, the study characterized the electronic mentoring process and its contributions to this population. The findings provided support for the potential of electronic mentoring for personal development and empowerment of youth with special needs. Furthermore, the findings supported the usability and utility of the e-mentoring intervention based on a conceptual framework that characterized an electronic support process for people with special needs. Implications for implementing feasible electronic mentoring programs are discussed. Computers in Human Behavior. 01/2009

  • Carmit-Noa Shpigelman, Reiter, S., & Weiss, P. L. (2009a). A conceptual framework for electronic socio-emotional support for people with special needs. International Journal of Rehabilitation Research, 32, 301-308. doi: 10.1097/MRR.0b013e32831e4519


  • Quando a ajuda chega por mail: o voluntariado online como oportunidade e realidade by Alcides A. Monteiro, Doutor em Sociologia, Universidade da Beira Interior (UBI). "Escassamente (re)conhecido em Portugal, o voluntariado online (ou voluntariado virtual) é hoje uma opção já seguida por muitas organizações da sociedade civil, encarado não só como forma de cooptar novos voluntários (jovens, reformados, profissionais e pais de família), mas também de satisfazer necessidades emergentes no seio dessas organizações (nos domínios da tradução, da assessoria, do desenho de projectos ou do e-learning). Distingue-se num tal panorama, não só pela credibilidade da organização mas também pela sua abrangência, a iniciativa de voluntariado online desenvolvida pelas Nações Unidas e a partir da qual se estabelece uma definição 'oficial' para esta nova dimensão do voluntariado: 'tarefas completadas, no seu todo ou em parte, via Internet a partir de casa, do trabalho, da universidade, de um cibercafé ou telecentro'. À luz das experiências já desenvolvidas um pouco por todo o mundo e documentadas online, o presente texto visa enunciar as condições de adopção de projectos de idêntica natureza por parte das organizações do Terceiro Sector em Portugal, a partir das oportunidades e constrangimentos que rodeiam o voluntariado online." Vi Congresso Português de Sociologia. Mudons Socias: Saberes e Prácticas. Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Faculdade de Ciências Socias E Humanas. 25 - 28 June 2008.

  • "Potential and promise of online volunteering" by Yair Amichai-Hamburger, Bezeq International Research Center for Internet Psychology, Sammy Ofer School of Communications, Interdisciplinary Center, Israel. 2008. Published in Computers in Human Behavior 24(2). "Advocates a model to explain the potential and promise of online volunteerism from the perspective of the volunteer." Primarily anecdotal information and hypothesis.

  • Why Do People Write Free Documentation? Results of a Survey , published in June 2007, by Andy Oram. "A unique survey ran on O'Reilly's web site during the first three months of 2007, aimed at people who contribute free documentation to online mailing lists, web sites, and other forums. The survey garnered 354 responses, which in itself indicates the thriving state of free documentation and the dedication of the people who write it… Thousands edit wikis, answer questions on forums, and blog about experiments with technology--mostly for free. Their contributions may go on sites that are advertising-supported, but they rarely share in the revenue. Some receive fees elsewhere for articles and books, but the writing done gratis often comes up in search engines at rankings equal to or higher than official corporate sites such as Sun Microsystems' Java documentation."

  • "Online Volunteers: Knowledge Managers in Nonprofits," by Ismael Peña-López. Published in The Journal of Information Technology in Social Change, Spring Edition - April 2007. Analyzed 17 web sites devoted to fostering volunteering to find out (a) if there was a broadly accepted definition of the concept of online volunteering and (b) if there was a list of tasks thus designed as the core or ideal competencies of online volunteers.

  • "Voluntary Engagement in an Open web-based Encyclopedia : Wikipedians, and Why They Do It" by Joachim Schroer, Guido Hertel, University of Würzburg, 8 January 2007. Available from texte intégral en ligne

  • "What Motivates Wikipedians?" by Oded Nov. Printed in the Communications of the ACM in November 2007. Association for Computing Machinery. Available from http://faculty.poly.edu/~onov/Nov_Wikipedia_motivations. This study focused on online volunteers who contribute information to the English version of Wikipedia on an ongoing basis: people who had created a user page on the site, in addition to contributing information to other pages, were asked to complete a web-based survey. 151 people responded. On average, respondents have been contributing content to Wikipedia 2.3 years, and the average level of contribution was 8.27 hours per week. Overall, the top motivations for their continued volunteering online for Wikipedia were "fun" (volunteering as an opportunity to undertake an enjoyable activity) and "ideology" (a passion for the mission of the organization). Motivations related to meeting and engaging with friends online or related to career exploration or skills development were not found to be strong motivations for contribution.

  • "Online mentoring: the promise and challenges of an emerging approach to youth development." by Rhodes JE1, Spencer R, Saito RN, Sipe CL. Lead by MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership with America Online, People magazine, PowerUP and the Waitt Family Foundation, this online mentoring program, the Digital Heroes Campaign (DHC), brought together 242 youth with online mentors over a two-year period, beginning in 2000. Survey, focus group, and interview data, in addition to analyses of the e-mails that pairs exchanged, were examined in order to assess the nature, types, and quality of the relationships that were formed. Despite youths' generally positive self-reports, deep connections between mentors and mentees appeared to be relatively rare. The findings suggest that online mentoring programs face significant challenges and that further research is needed to determine under what conditions online mentoring is likely to be most effective. The Journal of Primary Prevention. 2006 Sep;27(5):497-513. Available for purchase from Springer, or through a university or library access from a database such as through ProQuest.



  • "Virtual Volunteering: Current Status and Future Prospects", by Yvonne Harrison and Vic Murray, published in Emerging Areas of Volunteering by ARNOVA in 2005. Other articles by these authors include a chapter, "Bridging the Effectiveness Divide: The Case of Online Recruitment in Canada," in the book Nonprofits and Technology: Emerging Research for Usable Knowledge , edited by Cortes and Rafter, 2007; a summary of the research carried out by Harrison, Murray and Jim MacGregor on the impact of information and communications technology on the management of Canadian volunteer programs, featured in The Canadian Journal of Volunteer Resources Management Vol. 12, No. 2, 2004; "Information and Communications Technology: Navigating Technological Change and Changing Relationships in Volunteer Administration," the lead article in the Journal of Volunteer Administration, Vol. 22, No. 3, 2004; "The Use and Effectiveness of Information and Communications Technology in the Management of Volunteer Programs", (2004); "The Impact of ICT on the Management of Canadian Volunteer Programs: Information and Communications Technology: Beyond Anecdotes, (2004); "Virtual Volunteering in Canada Fact Sheet 2002"; "The Impact of Information and Communications Technology on Volunteer Management" (2002); and "Virtual Volunteering: Current Status and Future Prospects", regarding online volunteering in Canada (2002).

  • Power to the Edges: Trends and Opportunities in Online Civic Engagement- Final Edition 1.0 - May 6, 2005, by Jillaine Smith, Martin Kearns and Allison Fine. This paper explores trends and strategies related to the current (as of May 2005) and future state of online activism, fundraising, and democracy. It draws on a review of articles, studies, online discussions, and interviews with 19 leaders in the fields of online technologies, nonprofit capacity building, citizen engagement and social networks. By civic engagement, the authors mean "activities by which people participate in civic, community and political life and by doing so express their commitment to community." The authors stress that "online engagement does not preclude, exclude or even dilute the need for "on land" (or offline) engagement such as house parties and door-to-door canvassing. Rather...traditional forms of engaging citizens remain the most effective for connecting and organizing. The relationship between online and offline citizen engagement requires a constant flow back and forth that balances the need for scale with the need for the intensity and personal connection that comes from in-person gatherings and activities." Authors also note that: "New models of civic engagement require a different set of benchmarks, skills and training. In fact, the changes have very little to do with technology or the Internet and everything to do with building entirely new organizational cultures." The report concludes with a series of findings and recommendations of the ways that organizations, individuals, and philanthropic groups can help build such cultures. This 43-page paper was commissioned by the USA-based Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE).

  • Lessons from onlinevolunteering.org, 2001 - 2005. A compilation of material from the UN's Online Volunteering service, formerly a part of NetAid, from 2001 - 2005. The resources including testimonials from host organizations and online volunteers from 2002 to 2005, an article providing user statistics as of April 2004, case studies about online volunteering projects, and support materials for the OV service.

  • Leading and motivating virtual teams in volunteer organizations, by Andrew Wong. 2004. In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Management Graduate Management Program The Center for Creative Change Antioch University Seattle. This paper is an inquiry into the challenges associated with leading and motivating virtual teams in volunteer organizations: challenges in communication due to distance, time, and cultural diversity, and challenges in technology due to technical abilities, equipment costs, and meeting base technology requirements. Following a review of how these challenges should be considered, the author concludes that the traditional approach in leadership when combined with the special considerations that are required to lead virtual teams will produce effective virtual teams that can maintain their effectiveness through to the end of their purpose.

  • Free/Libre and Open Source Software: Survey and Study FLOSS, Deliverable D18: FINAL REPORT Part IV: Survey of Developers. By Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, Ruediger Glott, Bernhard Krieger, Gregorio Robles, Published in June 2002 by the International Institute of Infonomics, University of Maastricht and Berlecon Research GmbH, The Netherlands. The survey and study included several questions about the motivations of unpaid contributors to contribute to FLOSS projects. According to the study, more than 78% of 2,784 FLOSS survey respondents indicated that the reason why they volunteered for FLOSS projects was to “learn and develop new skills”. The second most popular reason was to “share my knowledge and skills” (49.8%), followed by the motivation to “participate in a new form of cooperation” (34.5%). In answer to the question about why they continue to be involved in FS/OS development, the percentage of respondents who cited the desire to “share my knowledge and skills” increased to 67.2%. The motive to “learn and develop new skills” was still the most prevalent (70.5%), followed by the desire to “improve FS/OS products of other developers” (39.8%) and “participate in a new form of cooperation” (37.2%). Available from http://www.flossproject.org/report/Final4.htm

  • "Social Movement Participation in the Digital Age: Predicting Offline and Online Collective Action," by Suzanne Brunsting and Tom Postmes. Published in Small Group Research, vol. 33, issue 5, October 2002 "Motives to participate in online versus offline collective action were investigated among environmental activists in the Netherlands... This research gives an empirical insight in the influence of Internet on motives for collective action and on the participation of peripheral members."

  • Handheld computer technologies in community service/volunteering/advocacy: This was a pioneering article, published in October 2001 and researched and written by Jayne Cravens. It provides early examples of volunteers/citizens/grass roots advocates using handheld computers, then called personal digital assistants (PDAs), or cell phones (pre- smart phones) as part of community service/volunteering/advocacy, or examples that could be applied to volunteer settings. It was part of the United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS) online knowledge base.

  • Technology-Assisted Delivery of School Based Mental Health Services: Defining School Social Work for the 21st Century, which was co-published simultaneously as the Journal of Technology in Human Services, Volume 21, Numbers 1/2 2003, by The Haworth Press, featured a paper by Jayne Cravens, Online Mentoring: Programs and Suggested Practices as of February 2001.

  • Human Services Online: A New Arena for Service Delivery, which was co-published simultaneously as the Journal of Technology in Human Services, Volume 17, Numbers 1 and 2/3 2000, by The Haworth Press, featured a paper by Jayne Cravens, "Virtual Volunteering: Online Volunteers Providing Assistance to Human Service Agencies."



  • The Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, by Susan Ellis and Jayne Cravens. Published in 2000, based on the Virtual Volunteering Project (see above). Also translated into Spanish (see below).

  • How Open Source Software Works: "Free" User-to-User Assistance?, Eric von Hippel, Karim Lakhani, MIT, Sloan School of Management, Sloan Working Paper 4117-00, eBusiness@MIT Working Paper 132, May 2000. Unpaid contributors to open source projects are rarely called volunteers - this is usually called distributed engagement. Yet, they have much in common with what we think of traditionally as online volunteers, and the way these unpaid contributors are constantly motivated and continually involved across development levels is definitely something from which nonprofits could learn.

  • Why telecollaborative projects sometimes fail (PDF). A short case study by Dr. Judi Harris, then of the University of Texas at Austin, regarding the pioneering Electronic Emissary initiative, a curriculum-based online tutoring program for high school students. From Learning & Leading with Technology, Volume 27 Number 5, 2000, International Society for Technology in Education.

If you know of a study, research project or evaluation report regarding online volunteering, online activists, online civic engagement, online mentoring, microvolunteering, crowd-sourcing, or unpaid people contributing to open source projects -- even at just one organization -- please contact Jayne with the name of the study or evaluation and a link for more information (even if the entire report is not freely available online). This can include informal evaluations of individual programs.

If you are a university-based student or faculty member researching any aspect of virtual volunteering, or you are researching some aspect of virtual volunteering for an academic or professional journal, please contact Jayne with information about your research project.

Also the academic articles that have cited Jayne or Susan's work regarding virtual volunteering are listed at academia.edu (here is http://open.academia.edu/JayneCravens|Jayne's account at academia.edu] and Jayne's Google scholar account

Jayne and Susan also welcome information about research using other terms, in addition to the ones already named, that are used to talk about people doing work away from a work site, using networked technologies, as employees, consultants or volunteers, formally and informally, short-term or long-term. These concepts may influence virtual volunteering practices. These terms include:
  • crowd computing
  • crowdcasting
  • distributed computing
  • distributed development
  • distributed thinking
  • hive mind
  • microtasking
  • smart mob
  • virtual community of practice
  • virtual management
  • virtual teams
  • virtual workforce
  • wisdom of the crowd

If you are interested in researching virtual volunteering, this blog can provide guidance.