The IT Volunteeer Awards showcase the talents and achievements of volunteers that have made a real difference to their chosen charities. John Riley takes a look at the winners
The 2006 IT Volunteer Awards are part of the third anniversary celebrations for IT4Communities, the organisation that provides an infrastructure for effective IT volunteering.
Since its launch in November 2002, IT4Communities - set up by the Information Technologists, a City of London livery company, with the support of Computer Weekly - has registered almost 4,000 IT professional volunteers and more than 1,600 charities needing IT help. I
n the past three years IT professionals have donated more than £2m of their time to help local charities and communities through IT4Communities,
Guest speaker Tom Ilube, former CIO of online bank Egg and currently CEO of ID verification start-up company Garlik, does a considerable amount of volunteering.
Speaking at the awards, Ilube said, "It is often the people who are extremely busy who carve out time from their busy schedules to volunteer and give something back. The world runs your diary, but when you volunteer you are in control."
When examining the entries, judges were looking at the time commitment volunteers gave to their projects, and the volunteer's reliability and technical competence. They also looked at the volunteer's communication skills, particularly their effectiveness at explaining technical issues to the charity staff, as well as the sustainability of the project.
The judges also considered it important that the volunteer provided charity staff with the skills to keep things going once the project had been completed.
Volunteers come from a variety of different backgrounds and make a real difference. Many of the volunteers in the IT4Communities awards benefited from their experience - it helped their careers or broadened their experience in a way that was beneficial for their careers.
Stephen Henden, volunteer with Dulwich Picture Gallery, won the Best IT Volunteer Award. Henden introduced a new ticketing and event management system, a new membership database, a credit card handling process, and trained staff in their use.
"Without Stephen's time and project management skills, the project could not have been implemented," said a senior gallery official.
The Best Accessible IT Volunteering Project Award was won by Edward Jung, volunteer at the National Phobics Society. The project took 30 months of volunteer time.
Jung developed a robust website for the society which was very well received by the membership. The site includes a secure area that enables people with anxiety disorders to communicate with one another in a safe environment.
Panikos Panayi, volunteer at Halton Citizens Advice Bureau, won the award for Best IT Volunteering Project - Impact on Organisations. For this award, the key issue is impact the project must have made a real difference to the way in which the charity functions.
Panayi developed a web-based online referral system for the bureau which enables shortcuts through the "first come first served" system to help urgent cases or particularly disadvantaged people who would otherwise have missed out on services.
IT and telecoms manager at Global Investments Group, Panayi saw an article about IT4Communities in Computer Weekly four years ago, and now spends 10 to 15 hours a week in his spare time working with the bureau.
"It sounds a lot but it was not because the bureau manager knew what he wanted - he would give me a flow chart design and I would implement it. My work with Halton CAB helps my day job too," he said. "The IT industry needs to raise its profile and get involved in the community," Panayi added.
The Best IT Volunteering Project - Innovation Award was won by Brent Longborough, a volunteer for Age Concern. Longborough designed an accessible and simple to use virtual in/out system to track staff whereabouts.
The system is quick to use and it enables Age Concern Exeter to present a more professional and accessible face. The system has also helped the charity improve service.
Longborough has been in the IT industry nearly 40 years. He started his career with British Airways, working on the Boadicea airlines reservation system in 1967, then spent 20 years with IBM, mainly in Brazil, before coming back to the UK as a contractor.
He gravitated to volunteering his skills to charities to get practical real life experience of implementing web technology.
"I came from a Iron Age mainframe background - that was good, but I was also interested in the web and modern IT, but could only get involved in it as an amateur. Volunteering offered me the opportunity to work in this area as a professional. I have probably gained more from volunteering than Age Concern."
The Best Charity for Volunteering Award was won by Usable Websites, selected by volunteer Maria Hubbert. Usable Websites was set up in 2006 to help UK charities develop accessible online presences.
The charity supported its IT professional volunteer Maria Hubbert in various ways, including making her feel a valued part of the team and supporting her professional development.
Among the other finalists, Paul Campbell is a volunteer for No Limits young peoples' charity and is a second year computer science undergraduate at Manchester University. It was here that a lecturer put him in touch with IT4Communities.
Campbell has been working voluntarily two to three hours a week over several months for the Southampton-based charity.
Vicki Orba, database manager of No Limits, said: "We had a clear need for a complex information database. We had been using the old one to death and knew what new system we wanted to have, but doing it on our own was intimidating. Paul has been able to communicate and translate our needs into results."
Finalist for the Best IT Volunteering Project - Innovation Award, IT manager Beth Dodd developed an electronic Christmas card system for employees at Yorkshire Water to raise money for WaterAid, a water industry charity which aims to provide clean water and sanitation to 17 of the world's poorest countries.
It is a fun, innovative way of helping the charity generate more than £1,000 a year, and Dodd hopes to scale the system to include other festivals such as Divali and also extend it to other water companies.
Dodd manages 13 senior IT professionals, and has been at Yorkshire Water for seven years. She used to raise money for WaterAid by selling paper Christmas cards. "I thought that there must be an easier way to sell Christmas cards," she said.
"We put the Christmas cards onto our company-wide Lotus e-mail system. People have to pledge a sum of money and then they can send as many e-Christmas cards as they want to. The cards are not only being used for greetings, they are also being used for recognition, with, for example, managers using these e-cards to say thank you."
Dodd added that the time she saved by not selling physical cards freed her up to help organise a charity ball that raised £80,000.
2006 volunteer awards winners and finalists
Best IT Volunteer
- Winner: Stephen Henden, volunteer for Dulwich Picture Gallery
- Finalist: Lenna Cumberbatch, volunteer for Galop
- Finalist: Irene Waller, volunteer for Eastlea Community Centre
Best Accessible IT Volunteering Project
- Winner: Edward Jung, volunteer for the National Phobics Society
- Finalist: Stella Bernadi, volunteer for the Fibromyalgia Support Group for Surrey and Sussex
Best IT Volunteering Project - Impact on Organisations
- Winner: Panikos Panayi, volunteer for Halton Citizens Advice Bureau
- Finalist: Daniel Guth, volunteer for Dhiverse
- Finalist: Joe McNulty, volunteer for Bromsgrove & Redditch Advocacy Group
Best IT Volunteering Project - Innovation
- Winner: Brent Longborough, Age Concern
- Finalist: Beth Dodd, volunteer for WaterAid
Best Charity for Volunteering
- Winner: Usable Websites, entered by volunteer Maria Hubbert
- Finalist: No Limits (Southampton), entered by volunteer Paul Campbell
Advice for volunteers: how to get it right
- Do not over-promise
- Keep it simple at first
- Ensure all parties have agreed the project definition
- Check that the charity's management is committed to the project
- For complex projects the management role should be located within the charity
- Ensure that the project is sustainable without you
- Cover potential risks and liabilities
- Define from the start when the project will end, and when any reviews will occur
- Spread the good news
- Do it again
What is it4Communities?
IT4Communities is an organisation that brings together IT professionals that want to volunteer their skills and charities that need help with IT.
Acting as a clearing house and a source of advice to both volunteers and charities, IT4Communities has brought a much needed structure to the process of volunteering, and several hundred projects have been successfully completed .
In 2005 IT4Communities joined up with four other charities to form the ICT Hub. The initiative received £400,000 funding from the Home Office to support the effective use of IT across the voluntary sector.
The ICT Hub members are: IT4Communities, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action, AbilityNet and the London Advice Services Alliance.
IT4Communities is especially active with smaller local and community charities.
More information on volunteering:
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This was first published in December 2006