Rob Jackson: Creativity required to link Pokémon Go with volunteers

The volunteering consultant says we could learn a lesson from an animal shelter in the US

Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson

By now I’m sure everyone is aware of the Pokémon Go craze. The augmented-reality mobile phone game has featured heavily in the news recently, with child safety concerns being raised and some stunning examples of people’s stupidity while playing (this is my favourite).

Of course charities have jumped on the bandwagon, seizing the opportunity to promote their causes alongside the media scrum for stories of Pokémon Go-related activity. Take, for example, the efforts of Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Research UK and Brooke to engage players in fundraising.

Sadly, I’ve yet to come across any stories of UK charities engaging Pokémon Go players in volunteering. I’m not really surprised. As I frequently say, many UK organisations remain so fixated on money as the only resource they think they need to fulfil their missions that I’d be amazed if they expended any creative effort to support their volunteering teams to try something new with Pokémon Go.

So thank goodness for this creative example from Muncie, Indiana in the US. In summary, the director of the Muncie Animal Shelter, Phil Peckinpaugh, came up with the idea "to combine the new influx of people walking around the city with the shelter’s need for dog walkers". So Pokémon Go players can turn up at the shelter, check out a dog, walk the animal round the neighbourhood while playing the game, then return Rover to the shelter afterwards. As Mr Peckinpaugh says: "If this game connects prospective families with these animals, that is the best we could ask for."

I LOVE this. Here’s why: the shelter’s director came up with this idea. His first thought wasn’t "how can we make some money out of this?" but "how can we use Pokémon Go to engage the community with our cause?" Would that more senior managers were so creative and so open to ideas that go beyond getting people to hand over cash.

The shelter takes a risk-management approach to the idea. Rather than dismiss the concept as dangerous and risky, they seek to manage this effectively. Too much creativity these days is stifled by a risk-avoidance culture in charities.

Muncie Animal Shelter is asking people to give time to help them while spending time doing something they enjoy. Nobody has to give extra time to participate. Nobody has to choose between the game and volunteering. They can do both at the same time. We need more volunteer opportunities people can combine with what they already do rather than asking them to give up additional (precious) spare time to get involved.

The volunteering people do is light-touch and enjoyable. No long-term commitment is required, just a sense of fun, some responsibility for care of the animal and a desire to enjoy themselves. No wonder the role is popular. I can’t help but think more volunteering would be so popular if it took a similar approach.

What do you think? Are you trying to use Pokémon Go to engage volunteers? I’d love to hear what you are doing.

Rob Jackson is a volunteering consultant

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