Let’s start off this blog post with a confession: I was supposed to post this yesterday. But I was traveling and just couldn’t finish up before I had to board my plane. So rather than subject you all to substandard drivel for the sake of making a deadline, I asked for permission to post today instead and boarded the flight with a clear conscience.
As the plane was taxiing for takeoff, the flight attendant said “Wifi is available in-flight for a small fee.” I said “Ooh! Maybe I can finish my blog post after all!” To which my seat-mate replied “Yes, after three 12-hour days of work meetings, you should definitely log onto the internet and blog during this flight instead of talking to the people sitting next to you, with whom you are friends.” Since I had been reading an article entitled “Is Facebook making us lonely?” during takeoff, the irony was not lost on me.
Several of the points in the article are pretty depressing, with a discussion of the unhealthy side effects of loneliness and how Facebook can contribute to feelings of isolation and narcissistic personality disorder. While the article is talking about person-to-person relationships, it got me thinking about how one of the constant drumbeats lately in the nonprofit space is about using social media to connect more closely with your constituents. Is it even possible to build a real relationship using technology?
Well, I think that technology can help. If the staff members who are behind the curtain Facebooking, tweeting, blogging, pinning, LinkingIn, and writing the emails are speaking with an authentic voice, then it certainly can contribute to a feeling of connectedness. But it’s not the end-all-be-all. What also helps a bundle is to welcome volunteers in real life at a real-life event, face-to-face, where they can contribute something. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a well-run, productive volunteer program is worth a thousand “Likes.”
The most recent time I volunteered was at the National Arboretum helping to ready the grounds for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The opportunity was organized by some co-workers on the Convio Volunteer Committee. I had a great time hacking up tree roots, shoveling dirt, and tearing down ivy from cherry trees, all the while talking to colleagues in a different setting. The National Arboretum staff provided a great training, appropriate tools and enough real, hard work to do that at the end of the day, we really felt like we had accomplished something (and had a few blisters). I left feeling more bonded to the Arboretum and with a commitment to return.
Here are a couple of questions:
- If you are reading this and work at a nonprofit, ask yourself: what’s our volunteer program like? Do volunteers have substantive work to do when they arrive? I can tell you from experience that it feels bad to show up to volunteer, but the organization isn’t ready for you and you leave feeling like you haven’t contributed anything substantive.
- If you’re reading this and don’t work at a nonprofit, tell me this: when was the last time you volunteered? Even if you’re not feeling lonely, maybe it’s time to get back out there and do it again. Bring friends and co-workers! Amber gave us some tips about how to create and coordinate a workplace volunteer program. She’s done it before at two places, so she knows from whence she speaks.
PS – are you wondering about the title of this post? Here’s the backstory: my two-year-old daughter likes to sing the chorus of “All By Myself” by Eric Carmen, which has guaranteed that it’s running on a nonstop loop in my head at all times. Pondering social media loneliness and volunteerism as an antidote has finally given me a semi-legitimate outlet to share this with the world beyond my Facebook friends. You’re welcome.