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About online volunteering: Information non-profits can use
01 December 2006
by Joydeep Chaudhuri

Winnipeg, Canada: Interview with MYS Montreal-Based Online Volunteer Lav Plourde (Web Designer)

“I’m used to eating breakfast with a cup of coffee in one hand and a mouse in the other”. This statement typically describes Lavlette (Lav) Plourde, Macdonald Youth Services’ (MYS) longest serving Online Volunteer who recently clocked up an amazing 1000 hours of volunteer service. Lav, who resides in Quebec, was one of the first virtual volunteers to use Volunteer Canada’s online recruiting Web site (then called “Volunteer Opportunities Exchange”) in response to a May 1999 virtual volunteer posting by MYS.

Virtual Volunteer Manages MYS’s Active Online Job Board

Lav’s primary work over the last seven years has been maintaining MYS’s Web-based Job Board. In this capacity Lav has complete password-based access to a Web interface that allows her to add, delete and modify all MYS Job opportunities, where attention to detail and honesty is paramount.

“At first we were really worried about letting the Job Board do its ‘job’ for us. We were concerned that our Aboriginal candidates might not have access to a computer to find jobs easily with the Agency. However, it didn’t take us long to realize that this was the way to go in the work-a-day world and that even the most remote communities that we draw from have access — and people use it”, stated, Philipa Caplan, one of two Macdonald Youth Services’ Human Resource Officers.

The entire job posting works in a well organized process, wherein the Human Resources division of MYS emails Lav job advertisements in a document format and she then uses a server side script to add, remove and/or modify jobs. Thus, most of her work involves interacting with Christine Sohan (MYS Human Resources Administrative Assistant) and Philipa Caplan and Randy Tyler (MYS Volunteer Co-ordinator/Webmaster) for other matters. With Lav consistently maintaining the MYS Job Board, job seekers are increasingly looking online for employment opportunities with MYS.

Lav’s Consistent and Regular Postings Has Made MYS Job Board Effective

With Lav consistently maintaining MYS’s Job Board, the power, reach and effectiveness of MYS’s online employment recruiting tool has become evident as illustrated below.

“The best story we can share about the success of our Job Board is this time last year, after Lav did some updating for us regarding a Program Manager position and a Therapist position, I received a long distance call from Scotland from a young Canadian couple working abroad in this field wishing to come back home to Winnipeg to live after a few years away. They searched our Job Board and found the two recently posted positions. Each applicant had the credentials we required so we interviewed them via phone. They came home in August and we have not looked back since,” Caplan recalled.

“There are several other stories just like that one from American candidates wishing to return home and others from other parts of Canada completing their education and looking for work and searching it out through our Job Board,” added Caplan.

Plourde Demonstrates Online Volunteers Can Be Trusted

Lav Plourde is not only a classic example of the effectiveness of virtual volunteering in general but also of being able to assign an individual (you will likely never see) to a position of trust.

“Some non-profits are slow to embrace virtual volunteering because they can’t connect with them face-to-face — as if you can’t trust someone that you can’t see. Lav has proven not only that a virtual volunteer can be very committed and loyal to an organization but that they can also be trusted to perform roles where inherent trust is involved”, stated Randy Tyler.

Along with standardized industry screening methods, developing a sense of trust with an online volunteer is a composite of an innate sense, a feeling and surfaces by the work the online volunteer actually performs.

“Christine and I have this innate sense of who Lav is. She somehow has given us this feeling that she really cares about what she does, the quality of her work, the service she provides to us, the results we get. She always asks us how she can improve her service to us (imagine that). So we completely and totally trust her in all we give her to do and voila, commented Caplan.”

“We find it so interesting that she is over a thousand miles away, doesn’t do hands on what we do everyday but seems to instinctively ‘know’ what works for us and she is always continuously improving her methods for us without us really asking.  She and Christine ‘speak’ via e-mail regularly, but more often than not, her work speaks for her (Lav). She is timely, organized, and caring, and willing to accommodate Christine at the last moment.  Who wouldn’t trust Lav?” continued Caplan.

MYS: Positive Experience and Memories for Lav

Lav has had a wonderful experience working with MYS in general and Christine, Philipa and Randy in particular. She fondly recalls the initial days when she was unaware that weekends at times get busy with last minute job postings and how human resources at MYS went frantic trying to contact her during one such weekend. Lav also recalls another busy weekend when she was “incommunicado” when phone lines were down following an accident that involved a “movie style car chase” in the small community where she lives.

Besides maintaining the Job Board Lav, has also been involved in creating web pages and conducting research. Her most recent research work involved examining the effectiveness of computer use in job hunting and whether it was feasible to use the MYS Job Board as the main recruitment tool, rather than expensive print advertisements.

 “I like the virtual volunteer concept. One can help out without having to move from the comfort of the office. There’s also the time factor: work can be done when it’s convenient, as long as it gets done in a timely manner”, stated Quebec-based virtual Lav Plourde.

A Quebecor with Virginian Roots

Lav lives in a small bedroom community 25 miles north of Montreal. Originally from Virginia, she studied history at University of Virginia and Software Design and Systems Analysis from McGill University. She ended up settling in Quebec after her marriage to a Canadian (though every winter, her southern upbringing kicks in and she longs to hibernate until spring).

Lav, a dedicated and committed virtual volunteer with her own special sense of humor, has made a significant contribution to MYS. And she is undoubtedly an online volunteer who would be very difficult to replace. “Lav is a valued and trusted member of our team,” commented Caplan.