It is becoming easier and less expensive to connect virtually, and in a user friendly way.  Some of you reading this will be familiar with a wide range of communications technology, some of you perhaps less so. And of course it is the same for your volunteers. With the right tools, you can find ways for people to stay in touch when and how they want to.

SocialMediaSUTTraditional engagement methods such as face-to-face volunteer meetings or suggestion boxes have a place, but increasingly technology can replicate some of the benefits, without the need to travel. Here are a few tools that you might find useful.

Google+ hangouts Hangouts are a great tool that allows you to run free video, voice or text based conferences and meetings.  For people to take part they have to set up a Google+ account.  This is easy to do. Google hangouts are free for up to 10 participants and are private. There is a second way of using hangouts, known as Hangouts On Air.  These are essentially public broadcasts and great if you are delivering an online seminar and want others to be able to see the recording afterwards if they missed something.  You can choose not to share your broadcast with the general public but be aware that they are still being broadcast so are not for confidential information. You don’t need a Google+ account to view a Hangout On Air, only if you wish to take an active part. You might also like to investigate Helpouts, another tool from Google+ that draws on the hangouts technology in a way that allows you to offer online support, either free or for a fee, and which you could use to help your client groups or offer support to volunteers.

Wiggio   This is a free user-friendly collaboration tool. Wiggio is great for facilitating communication within a small group. You can upload documents, set up a shared calendar, and post messages which can then go out via email. One advantage of this system is that you can add people to a group as long as you have their email address. It might be a good option if you have volunteers who are new to social media, or have privacy concerns and therefore don’t want to communicate through one of the big social networks.

Facebook We know a number of organisations who have set up private Facebook groups for volunteers, and if most of your volunteers already use Facebook and are comfortable with it, it’s worth considering.  Posts will not show up publicly, although a list of members will. You can also set up a super secret group where the membership is hidden from public view, but to do this you need to Friend all the members, which some people may not want to do.

Ning For larger organisations, it might be worth looking into building volunteer forums using a proprietary tool like Ning.  Masses of functionality, integration with social media tools, and privacy controls so you can use the system for confidential discussions as well as wider information sharing.  This is not free, but you get a lot of tried and tested functionality for your money.

Doodle If you haven’t come across Doodle yet, this is a super easy tool to use whenever you need find a date to suit a group. It’s ideal for volunteer socials, group training sessions etc.  Offer a choice of dates and people select the ones they can do, so you can see at a glance which dates work. You can integrate the tool with the most commonly used electronic calendars.

What tools have you used?

What do you think?