Answering the Call: Introducing VolunteerReady.org
In the United States, 2017 was the costliest year on record for natural disasters. Whether it was wildfires in the west, hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, and Puerto Rico, or record flooding in the Plains, natural disasters are becoming “the new normal” throughout the country.
Amidst the scenes of tragedy and destruction, there have also been countless examples of heroism and selflessness from members of the local community. After Hurricane Harvey, Texans towed their boats to Houston to perform high-water rescues. In Northern California, neighbors set up temporary campgrounds and distributed blankets to evacuees. Time and time again, we have witnessed everyday people answer the call to help thy neighbor.
Through a new online learning platform, these volunteers can take essential training to ensure their own safety and increase their effectiveness in responding to a disaster. Developed in collaboration with leading organizations in disaster relief, VolunteerReady provides a variety of free, short online courses specifically for community members wanting to join the response effort.
We sat down with Alexis Denny from the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation to learn more about the launch of this new program, the role of spontaneous volunteers in disaster response, and how community groups and corporations can leverage VolunteerReady to mobilize their volunteers.
What is VolunteerReady?
VolunteerReady is an open online learning platform that provides training, free of charge, to spontaneous volunteers responding to disasters in the United States. It is easy to access, the courses are short, and learners can take the training as many times as they wish – whether they are volunteering for the first time, or looking for a refresher.
How did the idea come about?
The Foundation has a long history of providing training in the humanitarian sector, but our focus has traditionally been outside the U.S. We have long considered how we could support domestic response efforts.
We recognized that volunteerism for disaster response was on the rise in the U.S. due in part to the use of social media to quickly spread the word. We also saw an unprecedented number of disasters in 2017 and knew there was a tremendous opportunity to help that individual volunteer to serve more safely and be more effective.
We also work with many U.S.-based disaster response organizations that identified a significant lack of training and resources for this audience. Moreover, these trained responders were often overwhelmed by the task of preparing these volunteers during a time that is often chaotic and stressful. Much of the current training is led by instructors, and in the event of an emergency, that model is just not realistic. Making this training available online relieves this burden and ensures that these less-experienced volunteers are set up to serve more safely and effectively.
What are spontaneous volunteers and what role do they typically play in disaster response?
A spontaneous volunteer is your neighbor, your coworker – really any individual who has no formal response and recovery training, but steps up in the aftermath of a disaster. These individuals are often directly impacted by the disaster, and are also often responding to a call from social media or voluntary organizations to meet a need. They may serve anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
These individuals play a critical role in response and with proper guidance and expectations, they can serve a number of important roles – everything from muck outs to debris removal to handing out water to comforting victims. Impacted communities, professional responders, and voluntary organizations count on them for extra support when disaster strikes.
What types of organizations would benefit most from VolunteerReady?
Really, any organization that recruits, engages and deploys volunteers. This can be a community-based organization who is putting the call out via social media to enlist volunteers to help with clean up to corporations who are deploying their employees to volunteer as part of a CSR/community service event.
What does a typical course look like in VolunteerReady?
We are really proud of the training we’ve developed. With input from experts, we identified critical topics and designed our training accordingly. All of the courses are less than ten minutes. They are engaging, visually appealing and full of helpful information. Each course also includes a downloadable infographic that captures the key points of the course. And, each course has a learning check to make sure you’ve absorbed critical information. All of the training is mobile friendly, so you can access the training from computer, smartphone or tablet and you can refer back to the key concepts when in the field. This is especially convenient for large groups who may be transporting volunteers to a site – they can complete these courses on their way!
What is your vision for VolunteerReady moving forward?
I’m excited about the future of VolunteerReady and see it becoming the premier destination for spontaneous volunteers and the organizations and communities who depend on them. Right now, we are really focused on catapulting the presence of this important resource and collecting input from our learners to inform future course development.
We certainly plan to expand the library of resources and training and look forward to partnering with community-based organizations and corporations to help their volunteers serve more safely and effectively.
Sign up today to explore the catalog of free learning resources on VolunteerReady. If your organization is interested in using VolunteerReady to train employees or volunteers, contact us to learn more.