Anything you can do on a computer in the field can be done by a digital volunteer”. This sentence summarizes the premise behind the “Enhancing Aid Capabilities (EAC)” project, which aims to “establish, pilot and evaluate online volunteering models that sustainably strengthen humanitarian aid operations”. To achieve this, it is essential to understand how digital volunteers working through online communication channels can best use their skills to support teams in the field.  

The “Big Picture Report. Options for digital volunteering for disaster response (DIVOLVE)” is a final document outlining findings and recommendations for digital volunteering, based on model-driven reviews of existing programmes.  

EAC is funded by the Red Cross Red Crescent (RCRC) and European Union Aid Volunteers (EUAV) and implemented jointly by IFRC and four Red Cross National Societies (Austria, Bulgaria, Italy, and the Netherlands). The project ran from April 2019 until April 2020. 

(Disclaimer: this report was prepared by the NLRC to inform a pilot initiative and in no way represents the view of any other parts of the RCRC movement.) 


Increasing capacity for remote support is part of efficient disaster response planning. Support can be provided in multiple areas, such as mapping, damage assessment or data processing.  

Many digital volunteers are equipped with various skills and an interest to support field activities of the RCRC. In addition, they can collectively provide continued online support. They are also less affected by risks during disaster times, as their work takes place in an office or in their own home or workspace. To ensure a link to the reality on the ground, a digital volunteer coordinator helps to clarify tasks and prescreens deliverables. 

It is important to establish a framework to best foster volunteer skills, by ensuring a good match with available tasks and set the paths for collaboration with humanitarian practitioners. Finding the right balance between the availability of volunteers with the right skills and the availability of tasks determines whether the process can work, meaning if an organization can rely on the volunteer pool to deliver timely and high-quality results. 


The “Big Picture Report” defines a model for disaster response digital volunteering, consisting of three interdependent components: 

  • Volunteer motivation: what drives a person to sign up as a volunteer for humanitarian action? 
  • Digital workspace requirements: the setting and equipment a digital volunteer needs in order to work, while respecting privacy and maintaining security;
  • Disaster response context: the specifics of the tasks, often fast changing or potentially stressful.  

Using this model as a departure point, the report reviews ten existing volunteer management programmes (eight within the RCRC, two outside) and outlines the findings, learnings and recommendations in each case.  

The research is translated into practical implications for the DIVOLVE model, grouped into three main areas: 

  1. Key requirements for the digital workspace, such as need for clarity of tasks, onboarding, and feedback; 
  2. The strong need for a volunteer coordinator to organise the matching of the tasks;
  3. The integration within current RCRC mechanisms, in order to avoid parallel work. 


The 510 data team is one of the volunteer management programmes that was analysed in the report. Areas described include volunteer community management, skills required, digital tooling, and learning opportunities and sustainability.  

At 510, we have been working with volunteers since 2016, when we embarked on our mission to improve speed and cost-effectiveness of humanitarian aid. Engaging professional volunteers for long term is an important part of how we work.  


This spring, we are piloting a digital volunteering project to look at ways to organize more spontaneous digital volunteering actions in support of disaster prevention, preparation, response and recovery. We will use this pilot in order to gain key lessons on how remote volunteers in the Netherlands can support other movement components, such as Red Cross National Societies in other countries.  

For this programme, we recruited digital volunteers from Ready2Help, a pool of people already involved in Red Cross volunteering. These volunteers already had some familiarity with the movement, a wide range of skills and a high digital literacy. They will work on tasks from several Red Cross partner national societies, such as Zambia, Uganda, Kenya and the Netherlands, as well as the IFRC

Following the pilot, we will analyse success by surveying volunteers and task providers from the national societies and by measuring the quality of work provided by the digital volunteers. Example indicators for success are whether volunteers think their work has contributed to disaster response and if they felt they were part of a digital community. Success is furthermore indicated by the volunteers’ and coordinators’ degree of satisfaction with regards to the efficiency of task distribution.   

Our ambition for this programme is that it will demonstrate a viable way in which we can engage digitally with volunteers in the future, removing geographical boundaries and physical separations for those who want to support the work of the RCRC or its affiliates in times of natural disasters.  


The results of the pilot can be found here in this linked document EUAV-510-IFRC-Blueprint_DigitalVolunteerManagementModel. Describing the blueprint and steps to use when creating a Digital Volunteer Management model.

Written by Joachim Ramakers, Liselot Kattemolle and Catalina Barzescu 

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