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Keeping members engaged

Posted Fri, 01/02/2015 - 14:11 by Scott Robinson

For any organisation, especially volunteer organisations, keeping members engaged is a difficult task and two keys areas to address this issue are

1. to have a means to distribute information to the members
2. to provide the members with a voice to connect with other members and the executive/board of the organisations

The framework that was chosen to build the VolunteerRescue service on is specifically designed to meet these two needs as the framework is a content management system, typically defined as

"A content management system (CMS) is a computer application that allows publishing, editing and modifying content, organizing, deleting as well as maintenance from a central interface. Such systems of content management provide procedures to manage workflow in a collaborative environment."

The following identifies the features in VolunteerRescue that can be used to meet these two requirements.

1. Information Distribution

Call out feature

Strictly not a feature of a content management system this feature does allow an organisation to send communications to its members by Voice call, SMS text message and e-mail and whilst typically used to activate members for a task many groups also use this feature to send out SMS reminders to members about upcoming events.

E-mail outbox

As VolunteerRescue stores all contact details for the organisations' members including the members' e-mail addresses e-mails can be sent direct from VolunteerRescue to members.

Where supported by cell phone providers VolunteerRescue can also send the e-mail as an SMS text message using the cell providers e-mail to SMS gateway, this is in addition to the SMS messages mentioned above for the call out feature. The advantage of using an e-mail to SMS gateway over and above the call out feature SMS option is that the sending of the text messages is free to the organisation.

E-mail forwarding

Often the administrators of an organisation will receive e-mails in their personal e-mail inboxes (e.g. gmail, outlook mail, iCloud mail) from outside parties where the e-mail is intended for wider distribution to the members of the organisation. Again as VolunteerRescue already has all the e-mail addresses for the members VolunteerRescue can be used to forward a message by creating mailing lists in VolunteerRescue.

Calendar events

The main information organisations tend to need to make members aware of are upcoming events such as training. VolunteerRescue has a full events calendar where organisations can post details of upcoming events which is all well and good but if members need to periodically check the VolunteerRescue online calendar it is inevitable that some members will forget to do this and thereby miss these events.

Therefore members can subscribe to one or more VolunteerRescue calendars from their personal calendar (e.g. gmail, outlook mail, iCloud mail) resulting in details of the events posted on an organisations' VolunteerRescue calendar also showing on members' personal calendars.

As an additional feature an organisation can also subscribe to third party public calendars from within their VolunteerRescue site enabling events from other organisations to be shown to members (e.g. training also provided by stakeholders).

Published content pages

An organisation can create and publish web pages of whatever information they need to make available to their members. There really is no limit here to what can be published, as long as it can be written down it can be published and content can include images, movies, documents, links to additional sites etc...

Subscribing to new/updated content

Subscription of calendar events has already been mentioned but what if you change a published content page, for example the safety policy; you need to make your members aware of the change so they can review the updated content.

Well you could use the e-mail feature of VolunteerRescue to send out an e-mail to all your members and this is a very viable and often used option. Another option is to enable the Subscriptions module from where your members can subscribe to content pages and when changes are made to these pages VolunteerRescue will automatically send an e-mail to all members subscribed to that content that a change has been made prompting them to go and review the changes.

2. Giving your members a voice

All the above have covered getting information out to your members but as mentioned at the start it is just as important to give your members a voice so they can truly feel part of the organisation, the following are ways to give this voice to your members; all the following features are security controlled so organisations can appropriately restrict access where required.


The comments feature allows your members to add comments to any and all of the published content pages and events. This provides your members an option to comment on both information and past and upcoming events providing a threaded conversation.

Comments also support the subscriptions mentioned earlier to keep content authors and members updated when new comments are added.

E-mail outbox

Members can also use the e-mail feature of VolunteerRescue to send e-mails to the other members of the group without needing to know that members e-mail address as VolunteerRescue knows the recipient members' e-mail address.

Private messages

In addition to e-mail VolunteerRescue provides a private message feature, essentially the same principal as e-mail but whereas once an e-mail is sent the participants of an e-mail can exchange e-mails directly therefore bypassing VolunteerRescue, with private messages the message exchange and therefore the whole conversation is kept entirely within VolunteerRescue.


Readers of this will likely know what a forum is and have probably used forums on other sites, in the case of VolunteerRescue a forum is a combination of published content pages and comments. Where typically the published content pages mentioned above will be under the control of the site administrators with forums the administrators can create the forums (e.g. equipment, training, general discussion) but thereafter all members can add topics to the forum and the entire membership can then comment on the forum topics.

Forums also support the subscriptions mentioned earlier to keep topic authors and members updated when new topics or comments are added to the forums.

Custom forms

Sometimes an organisation will require structured feedback from members, for example a survey of what equipment to apply for grants for or what additional training is required. Using the webforms feature of VolunteerRescue organisations can create their own forms for their members to complete.


If all that is required is a simple vote VolunteerRescue also provides a poll feature, yes the forms feature can also be used as a poll but often for a quick poll of a few options the poll feature is simpler and quicker.


The following features may not strictly fall under the two categories discussed above but are also worth a mention here.


Rather than just providing information to members a sa single page it may be a requirement to present a structured series of pages and optionally quiz the reader on the content.

The VolunteerRescue course feature allows multiple pages to be combined together to generate a presentation of content rather than a single page of content; think powerpoint presentation. In fact it is often the case that a powerpoint presentation is exported as images and those images uploaded to VolunteerRescue and a course created in VolunteerRescue to show the presentation online which removes the need for the reader to have a powerpoint viewer.

If this is a presentation then why is it called courses; well you can also add questions with or without a mandatory pass rate to the presentation and upon completion assign a certification to the member that completed the course. An example here might be an annual awareness course such as the organisations' safety policy of an annual swifwater awareness refresher.

Coming in early 2015 the courses feature will also be able to print and/or e-mail a certificate which will be of use if your organisation is an accreditation body and the course is made available to the public as well as members.

Field guides

Also coming in early 2015 field guides allow you to create grouped pages or a book on a specific topic. Field guides differ from the courses feature in that whilst they are similar to a presentation in that they consist of a number of pages they do not follow a strict order and do not require questions and/or assign a certification.

Field guides can also be downloaded to the mobile app for use whilst offline or in other words whilst in the field.

Example field guides might include

  • Rope rescue guide
  • Swiftwater rescue guide
  • Use of the organisations' vehicles
  • The organisations' safety policies
  • Search theory
  • etc...