Snarkommenter Saheli has written out her thoughts on creating a massive global database for volunteering, an especially useful resource post-disaster. Go read Saheli’s thoughts, at Socialtext and on her blog. I posted some thoughts on her blog and I’ll cross-post an excerpt in the extended entry of this post.
It seems like the spine of this consists of three parts:
1) A database of organizations and their attendant info
2) A database of volunteers and their attendant info
3) A database of projects for the volunteers to work on
The first thing that occurs to me is that I do think it should be a centralized database. Among the most important things about this is that it be reliable in times of emergency. I would say the database, not the maps, should be at the core of a service like this. Maps are a fantastic way of instantly visualizing and organizing information, but the key to it all is the information. If we’ve got a good, flexible database at the heart of this, we should be able to port the info to Google Maps OR Google Earth. Or, for that matter, Mapquest, although God knows why anyone would want to do that. So having a stable database (“Dear Brewster Kahle…”) is key.
I’d say the most important unaddressed incentive in charity volunteering right now is the desire to see something accomplished. Right now, when you donate to anything, you only get the dim satisfaction of knowing you gave an amount that seems statistically insignificant in the face of million-dollar gifts from celebs and organizations. Of course, part of you is aware that the aggregate effect of this is huge, but that doesn’t help your feeling of powerlessness.
Pledge drives (and Web campaigns like PledgeBank and Howard Dean’s fill-the-bat drives) combat this by identifying a fundraising goal. You get the satisfaction of knowing your contribution is helping nudge the whole towards completion.
A site like this offers a tremendous opportunity for organizations to post not only broad budget information, but also fundraising/volunteering goals for specific projects. It would be a fantastic way to get even more granular about where we want to direct our money or time. Furthermore, donating to a project gives you a level of investment that’s missing when you donate to an organization. Having given something of your own, you have a marked incentive to see that project through to completion, possibly giving more or amassing fellow volunteers.
I’d argue that’s a big enough deal we could add a fourth column to the three I listed above, although I imagine the goals section of this could be plugged into database 1.