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Volunteering: ID Experience Through Non-profits

Most people trying to break into the field of Instructional Design know that having a portfolio is essential. A portfolio helps you showcase your design skills, how you put together a learning solution and, if you have a good case study, it can help you demonstrate how you solve problems. 

However, building a portfolio without an actual client is challenging. In her blog post, Kristi Oliva talks about how she built a portfolio without an actual client, and members of the IDOL course Academy are urged to get a volunteer client as part of the DoItMessy Challenge. If you don’t know where to start, you can get some ideas from this video on how to get a volunteer client for your portfolio projects.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t get a volunteer client. That’s mainly because I’m from an older cohort where this idea wasn’t pushed yet. Instead, I focused on perfecting my portfolio only to realise that it wasn’t enough for the hiring managers. So eventually, I had to realise that I needed to get real experience to be able to talk about it during the job interviews. 

Since I’d already earned the necessary credentials to qualify for the IDOL Talent Pool, I took on some paid projects through it. Because frankly, I wasn’t ready to take on real freelancing clients without some kind of safety net around me, the other route I took was volunteering through an organisation. 

There are many non-profit organisations out there that are happy to take on volunteers to help them with their projects, and some of these are related to digital learning or learning content creation. If you don’t know what organisations I’m referring to, don’t worry, I didn’t know any either when I first started out. Because I’m still not aware of a resource that lists these with some information about them and I know how much it would have helped me, I decided to write about them myself in this blog post. 

Please note that the following summaries of the organisations are based on experiences I gathered from fellow IDOL members. Because experiences can differ, these might not apply to everybody and the information should be taken as guidance only. 

 

Rumie

Rumie is a non-profit organisation providing microlearning lessons they call “bytes” to help young adults with transferable life- and career skills.

How is the volunteering application process?

The application process involves submitting answers to some questions, a quick writing sample and feedback on a published byte. My sources all said that they heard back from Rumie within a month of their application. They then had a live onboarding welcome call and had to complete some training on the Rumie platform.

How does the volunteering experience work?

Once the volunteers are onboarded, they take part in 2-week sprints. In each sprint, the first week they choose and write their byte that then gets peer-reviewed in the second week. There’s a break after each sprint and then it starts again. On average, I was told it takes about 3-4 hours to write a lesson and less than half an hour to peer-review.

How did the volunteers I spoke to find it?

While it’s mostly a lonely experience as each content creator works alone, the volunteers I spoke to appreciated the flexibility it came with. They said that there were times when they skipped sprints and then they just picked it up again the following sprint with no problem. They also said that Rumie introduced some project management tools they’d not used before. It also helped them narrow down topics and focus on writing concisely. They very much appreciated the fact that they could feature these lessons on their portfolios.

When asked what they’d have liked to be different about their experience, they said that because the organisation relies on volunteers, at times they didn’t get timely feedback on their lessons, but they could turn to their squad leaders to help push those lessons forward.

More info: https://about.rumie.org/

DesignXHumanity

DesignxHumanity is a design collective and apprenticeship program pairing experienced creatives with fresh faces to collaborate on real-world projects advocating for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). They work on all topics regarding equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism.

How is the volunteering application process?

The application process simply involves filling in a Google Form asking about skills and preferences. There’s no additional task or interview. However, according to my sources, it can take a few months to hear back. As for the onboarding experience, there is an initial welcome call and the more recent volunteers said they had some videos to watch. 

How does the volunteering experience work?

Based on what I gathered from the volunteers I spoke to, it sounds like the way the experience is organised has changed quite significantly in the last year. In the most recent cohort that lasted 8 weeks, participants were assigned to teams and each team had about 8-10 members responsible for different aspects of the projects. They used the Agile method and the teams had weekly standups and bi-weekly meetings with the other teams and the DesignXHumanity director. 

How did the volunteers I spoke to find it?

My sources said that this experience gave them an insight into how Agile works and what it takes to create a prototype and then roll it out as an MVP (Minimum Viable Product). They appreciated the opportunity to work on real-life projects and experience team collaboration. Many mentioned being able to contribute to DesignXHumanity’s mission as an added bonus.

When asked what they’d have liked to be different about their experience, they commented on the lack of direction, slowly dissolving teams and half-finished projects. However, most of this feedback came from older cohorts.

More info: https://www.designxhumanity.com/

Sustainable Living Guide

While it’s not an entirely free service, Sustainable Living Guide offers resources for healthy, and sustainable living. Amongst others, they offer online classes, children’s programs, and special events.

How is the volunteering application process?

The application process involves sending a resume directly to Sustainable Living Guide and then having an online meeting with the director. While the process sounds similar to a job interview, my sources said that the organisation was keen to get volunteers.  As for the onboarding experience, the more recent participants said they were given guides and videos to go through and they had someone they could turn to with their questions.

How does the volunteering experience work?

The people I spoke to were not able to define the processes the organisation followed clearly enough. Some worked on a series of lessons independently while others worked as a pair building content around a topic they were given.

How did the volunteers I spoke to find it?

My sources said that the experience helped them come across some tools they’d not used before. They also learnt how to run meetings and got some insight into project management. Some people mentioned the mission of the project as something they believe in. 

When asked what they’d have liked to be different about their experience, the majority of feedback concerned the lack of direction. There were comments about the need for shared vision, clear agendas and assigned SMEs. 

More info: https://sustainablelivingguide.org


Learn Appeal*

Learn Appeal is an eLearning charity based in the UK that aims to serve disadvantaged communities through learning on a domestic and worldwide scale.

*For Learn Appeal, I couldn’t find many participants, so this summary is based on only one volunteer’s feedback from 2 years ago.

How is the volunteering application process?

There’s an online form on the Learn Appeal website with a few questions and a text box for a message. My source said that they received a message from the organisation the next day. The onboarding was conducted over a series of emails and following that, they had plenty of resources available to help them.

How does the volunteering experience work?

The volunteer I spoke to worked individually on the courses they were assigned to. They had regular contact with their supervisor but they were given the freedom to design and execute the learning content the way they saw fit. They said that they gave about 30 hours towards the project within 3 months and delivered 2 full courses in that time.

How did the volunteers I spoke to find it?

My source was overwhelmingly positive about their experience. They appreciated the fact that they delivered something that was going to be used in deprived areas in Africa that don’t have cellular power and they said that they even received videos of the launch of the project after they stopped volunteering. They also said the experience gave them an insight into managing and presenting online information and taught them a lot about LMS management. They were very complimentary about the team and said the feedback my source received made them feel valued.
When asked what they’d have liked to be different about their experience, the only comment I received related to the flexibility of the time commitment. 

More info: https://www.learnappeal.org.uk/


KeelWorks Foundation**

The KeelWorks Foundation is a non-profit foundation dedicated to supporting upward mobility by supporting interns in career skill application and goal management.

**I could only find one participant to ask about the KeelWorks Foundation, so this summary is based on their feedback alone.

How is the volunteering application process?

According to the website, volunteers should email the director explaining their interest, indicating the role, and attaching a resume. I personally didn’t hear back from them when I did that, but the volunteer I spoke to applied through VolunteerMatch and they received an invitation to a meeting with the director and the Lead Instructional Designer promptly. The onboarding included providing the volunteer with a textbook about ID theory, email and login details and an overview of the different programs the organisation uses.

How does the volunteering experience work?

My source said that they were assigned to a team and they had weekly check-ins; otherwise, they worked independently. The projects covered both academic and corporate topics and the volunteers could decide how many hours they wanted to invest as long as they communicated their schedule to the Lead ID. 

How did the volunteers I spoke to find it?

My source said the experience taught them a lot about the design process, especially the needs analysis. It also introduced them to some project management tools they’d not used before.
When asked what they’d have liked to be different about their experience, my source mentioned that they’d not been able to take part in the full project cycle due to the time they joined the programme.

More info: https://keelworks.org/



Catchafire & VolunteerMatch

Catchafire and VolunteerMatch are both volunteer portals that match professionals who want to donate their time with non-profit organisations that need their skills. They have volunteer projects for various skills, time commitments, and people can even filter for projects in their local area.

How is the volunteering application process?

These organisations function as job platforms for non-profit work experiences. Anyone can browse through the posts on the website, but to apply, people need to register with the platform first. The rest is similar to a job application; volunteers need to go through the posts and when they find one they think is a good fit, they need to submit an application and go through an interview. The onboarding process and the volunteering experience itself then depends on the actual organisation they work with.

I have spoken to a few people who have found volunteering positions through these websites, but since their experience is more of a reflection of the individual organisations rather than the platform, I decided against including them. 

More info: https://www.catchafire.org/, https://www.volunteermatch.org/



As I mentioned, experiences vary and what works for one volunteer might not work for another. Besides, remember that these are mainly non-profit organisations where volunteers can gain valuable experience or even portfolio pieces in return for their time investment. Many of them are also working on improving their processes to better their volunteers’ experience. Overall, they’re a great way to get real-life experience and learn more about Instructional Design processes. Apart from providing a list of organisations where you could find volunteering projects, I hope this post helped give an overview of what to expect from each.

Many thanks to Luke Gleadall, Starla Wehri, Sara Velasco, Alina Lopez and all the other IDOLs who wish to remain anonymous for sharing their volunteer experiences with me.



Written by: Ivett Csordas

Ivett is a teacher turned Instructional Designer / Learning Content Manager based in the UK. As a life-long learner, she is passionate about sharing knowledge and creating meaningful learning experiences. Her niche is breaking concepts down and anticipating potential learning obstacles. Before the pandemic, she loved watching plays in the theatre and going on backpacking adventures. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her portfolio.

 

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