What we’ve learned about volunteering in a digital age

Solferino, Italy, 24 June 2018  More than 10,000 Red Cross volunteers representing more than 60 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies from around the world have gathered in the northern Italia

Solferino, Italy, 24 June 2018 More than 10,000 Red Cross volunteers representing more than 60 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies from around the world have gathered in the northern Italia

[Editor note: Guest post by 510 (Netherlands Red Cross) and Laurent Fernandez (Consultant)]

Volunteering is in the heart of all we do with the Red Cross Red Crescent Societies. With 13.7 million volunteers located around the world, there are many types of activities both online and in person that support all the various needs from health, climate, migration and crisis & disaster. It is a gift. Fast paced digital innovation and the emergence of new technologies change the way we live, interact and work, providing new opportunities and challenging established practices while entailing potential threats. Volunteering makes no exception to this trend. We convened six digital consultation meetings in various time zones and involving representatives from 28 National Societies and colleagues from the secretariat of the IFRC to ask – what can we learn about volunteering in a digital age.

Our consultations process led to the identification of a elements to consider the requirements for digital volunteering, and associated expectations. We identified eight aspects to think about to define the stakes and contours of digital volunteering:

  • Organization support (business opportunities)

  • Digital infrastructure

  • Access

  • Skills

  • Tasks

  • Motivation

  • Volunteer Management

  • Reach /Engagement



Leverage the experience of existing successful initiatives and existing volunteers' networks such as the Volunteer Alliance to define a shared overarching strategy, framework and build shared platforms for all stakeholders to have a shared conversation, knowledge and skills relating to digital volunteering, and to encourage direct interactions between volunteers across National Societies, which could foster inspiration and innovation. The COVID-19 Innovation Think Tanks for volunteers showed the value of such an approach.


  • Adapt existing platforms at local level to communicate with the Movement platforms

  • Recruit/screen in the digital space (e.g. chatbots can help)

  • Train new and existing volunteers on how to work digitally

  • Design tasks that suit the digital, mobile environment to adapt to volunteers' capabilities and devices

  • Monitor volunteer motivation to attend to their needs

  • Help volunteers supporting each other independently of their location (or National Society)

  • Appoint digital volunteer coordinators that can serve as mentors

Three pre-conditions for digital volunteering

Connect: volunteers should be connected on both technically and socially, to each other, and to the National Societies;

Shared knowledge: have clear go-to point that would serve as reference or sharing space, nurture innovative approaches, add value to digital volunteer communities;

Advocate: digital volunteering is new for most of our Movement’s components. We should work to increase awareness on its potential with attention to local needs, capacities and experience with volunteering.

These insights will be used by the Volunteer Alliance to support their movement wide efforts. We also encourage National Societies to consider this feedback on their journey to shape volunteering in the future.


See the full Digital Volunteering Insights Report - You can read more about the insights here: IFRC Digital Consultations - digital volunteering - final

Thanks to all the participants and the team who made it possible (Joachim Ramakers, Liselot Kattemölle, Adjmal Dulloo, Margarita Griffith, Ian O'Donnell, Laurent Fernandez, Heather Leson, and Dirk Slater of Fabriders.) This project was conducted by IFRC, 510 (Netherlands Red Cross) and with the support of Norwegian Red Cross to support the Digital Pledge.

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