30 Free SEO Tools – Are You Using Them?

A great list of free SEO tools from the folks at SEOptimise, if you’re not using most of these you probably should be.

Keyword Research

Site Check

Link Tools

Ranking

Analytics

Various

Afraid of Voluntourism?

GREAT article by the Philanthrobuzz blog – are people afraid of volunteering abroad? What are you doing on your website to ease those fears??

by Anis Salvesen

There’s a fabulous recent trend of people becoming really excited about volunteering.  However, there are still some of us who are sitting on the sidelines waiting for the perfect volunteer opportunity to come along before we jump in.

Recently I was baking cookies, and while they were in the oven becoming extra delicious, I decided to do a quick Google search on why people don’t volunteer.   Straight away, I came across a couple interesting links.

One was Top Ten Reasons to NOT Volunteer on Youthnoise.com.  It was a list that I suppose was meant to illustrate the lack of substance of most of our excuses for not volunteering.  Take, for example, reasons eight and nine:   9. I’m waiting for Spaceman Spinkeedoo to return from planet Zumar with the bag of cheese puffs he stole from me.   8. I’m counting the dust specks in the ray of light from my bedroom window.

Now, I have been guilty of coming up with some pretty creative excuses of my own in the past, but the one which I found deterred me the most was a fear of not liking the volunteer experience.  What if I volunteered at a soup kitchen and bumped into someone carrying a couple of pitchers of very hot coffee, and hot black liquid spilled all over that person and me and someone walking by?  What if after colliding with the coffee server I then slipped on the caffeinated liquid and pulled the person who tried to help me stand upright down too?  This sounds rather far-fetched, but I should tell you that I was one of the clumsiest people in college.  I managed to make myself bleed with a gummy worm and hit a tree trunk with the roof of my car without flipping the vehicle over.  Yes, I was that clumsy.

But what about most people?  Did anyone else share my fear of a bad experience?  In conducting my quick Google search, I did notice that at least a couple of sources also mentioned this fear of a bad volunteer experience tarnishing future efforts to volunteer.  It makes sense, but there’s something else I should add.   Actually, I’ll just paint a quick scenario.

Okay.  So say you decide you want to volunteer somewhere.   You know you want to go abroad, and you know you want to work with children.  So you go to http://www.universalgiving.org because you read our blog, and you like our site, and you select “children” as your focus area.  You get 168 results, and you’re really excited because you find a great project with a fantastic organization, and you know it’s fully vetted, or that organization wouldn’t be on our site.  So you get any vaccines you need, and you hop on a plane.  You get there, and then you realize that the two most obnoxious volunteers in the entire world are your new roommates.

Is this a perfect volunteer experience?  No.  Does it mean you’re not going to volunteer ever again?   Hopefully the answer is also a “no.”   Those two crazy volunteers may have driven you insane, but at least they make a good story.  They might even be fodder for that book you’ve been thinking of writing.

What I’m getting at is that even if one volunteer experience is far from perfect, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again.  Last time we went camping, my husband and I had no tent, so we “slept” in the car with a puppy that refused to stop barking at the dog in the next camp site.  My husband burned himself making dinner, and in the morning he awoke to realize he had a really bad flu.  Our speedometer stopped working minutes after we got on the road to head home – this was after I awoke the entire campground by stepping on the gas instead of on the brake pedal on our way out.   We took a one hour detour to see a lighthouse that we ended up not actually being able to see because of the thickest fog ever, and then we narrowly missed hitting a cow that decided to wander onto the road.

We’re hoping to go camping again in August.  I hope if you’ve had a bad volunteer experience that you also try again.  Thanks for reading this blog post!

Scholarships and Voluntourism – How Can They Work Effectively?

David Weindling of the Farther Foundation talks about how they select students to support and travel providers to partner with in order to have the best shot at good outcomes.

At Farther Foundation, we provide deserving, low-income high school students opportunities to learn, grow and succeed by participating in educational travel programs. We believe travel is singular in its ability to open the eyes and unbind the aspirations of students whose experiences rarely escape the boundaries of their own neighborhoods. Inspired by experience students become active and engaged learners, full of potential and more fully aware of the world and its opportunities. More and more these days, educational travel incorporates service as a key part of its itinerary.

Farther Foundation scholarship students are currently traveling and volunteering in Vietnam, Ghana, El Salvador, Argentina, Peru, Costa Rica and Hawaii. We do not require applicants for our support to choose a program that includes service learning, but our scholarship selection committee knows that such experiences can be particularly rewarding, inspiring and enlightening.

To ensure that the students we support have the best experience possible we look to work with the best possible partners.

The travel programs and providers we work with have established relationships with organizations that provide service opportunities that are designed and well supervised as appropriate for our high school aged participants. Our travel partners also make it a priority to reach out to underserved, minority and low-income students. They have developed an expertise in successfully integrating individuals of disparate backgrounds into a cohesive group that reaps benefits from its diversity. Travel providers our scholarship recipients are traveling with this year include: The Road Less Traveled, Putney Student Travel, Visions Service Adventures and AFS.

A successful outcome is not just contingent on the experience provided however, it is also dependent on the experiences and expectations each student participant brings to the program. We require all candidates for scholarship support to submit an application in conjunction with an “Education Partner”. Education Partners are schools and community based organizations that provide students with extra-curricular support such as; tutoring, mentoring, internships, after-school programming, leadership training, and college preparatory activities.  These partnerships ensure that our applicants are students who have been proactive in seeking opportunities and that they are receiving ongoing support to help them succeed.

It is neither simple nor easy to overcome negative influences and years of lost opportunity.  But, at Farther Foundation we believe that by building strong partnerships and augmenting existing networks of support with unique, inspirational and transformational travel experiences we can make a real and lasting difference in the lives of deserving students.

Farther Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization providing scholarships to low-income students to inspire them to reach their highest aspirations through educational travel experiences. http://www.fartherfoundation.org.

Legislative Update on Voluntourism

Just got an email update from Paul Joss, thought i’d share with those beyond the BBC world. Basically there are two developments that represent strong government endorsements about the importance of international volunteering.

1) As you know from our recent advocacy work mobilizing the coalition, the US Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs held a markup of the 2010 funding bill last week.  In their markup, they included strong language recommending that USAID support the Volunteers for Prosperity program.  The same subcommittee from the US House of Representatives made a similar recommendation a few weeks ago.  Both the House and Senate funding bills include funding increases for USAID, along with their recommendations that the agency support Volunteers for Prosperity.  In summary, this is good progress towards securing the full $10 million funding for the VfP program, which was authorized in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act earlier this year.  Many feel that this was one of the most positive outcomes we could have hoped for.  Very strong language from Congress in support of the VfP Serve program was included and many indicated that out work was pivitol in making this happen.

2) The House and Senate subcommittees have also both recommended funding increases for Peace Corps.  The House of Representatives recommended $450M, which is an amount that the More Peace Corps campaign has been advocating in support of the goal to double Peace Corps.  The Senate recommended $373M, which was in alignment with the budget submitted by President Obama.  The Senate indicated a willingness to fund doubling the Peace Corps pending the selection of a new Director and more specific plans for modernization and reform.

Outdoor Industry Association Survey Reveals Industry Cautious About Economic Recovery

Boulder, CO, – In a survey released June 1, 2009, by Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), small businesses reported they have lowered revenue expectations, reduced inventory levels, and believe their businesses will rebound later than they expected last fall.

OIA, in conjunction with Piper Jaffray Companies, recently surveyed industry executives with respect to their view of current economic prospects, recovery timeline, cost inflation, and the effect of tightened credit market on near-term business operations.  Results of that survey are now available in a new report entitled, The Piper Jaffray Outdoor Industry Survey.

This was the second survey conducted by OIA and Piper Jaffray in the past six months, and reflected a cautious and realistic picture of the economic situation facing the industry.

Nearly all respondents were independent businesses with revenues less than $50M annually, which provides an excellent gauge of the independent channel within the outdoor community.  The majority of respondents identified themselves as either vendors or retailers.

Among the highlights:
* Concern has grown:  When asked to indicate the level of concern surrounding current economic conditions affecting their business, 98% indicated they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned, up three percentage points from last fall.  The level of concern was higher with vendors, where 49% signaled they are “very concerned” versus 36% of retailers.  This is a marked increase in the past six months.
* Recovery expectations pushed back: Last fall, the majority of respondents said they expected the recovery to come in late 2009.  Nearly half said they believed business would turn in the second half of 2009 and 35% viewed the first half of 2010 as the inflection point.  However, based on the results of this more recent survey, that was an optimistic view.  Now, only 15% believe the recovery will take place this year.  Nearly fifty percent believe the economy will improve in the first half of 2010, one-fourth say the second half of 2010, and 15% believe it will not improve until after 2010.
* Vendors and Retailers are in sync:  Last fall, retailers were far more optimistic than vendors about the pace of economic recovery.  That disparity has dissipated in this survey with both vendors and retailers having similar perceptions about recovery expectations.  This more balanced view is leading to appropriate inventory levels in the channel, which should also lead to improved profitability and pricing integrity as revenues stabilize.
* Businesses prepared for slow-down:  Revenue expectations for 2009 have declined since last fall.  In the fall survey, more than three-quarters of respondents projected revenues in 2009 would be above 2008.  Now, only about one-third expect 2009 revenue to top 2008 and nearly one-fourth expect revenues to decrease significantly.
* Looking Back:  The majority of respondents indicated revenues were down over the last three months vs. the prior year.  This issue hit retailers harder than vendors, with a majority of retailers saying revenues were down and just over one-third of vendors registering a decline in revenues.
* Looking Ahead:  In general, expectations are higher for the next three months, with just under half of respondents expecting revenues to continue declining over the next three months.  Overall, we believe a slightly negative outlook on revenues is prudent given that the second quarter of last year was impacted by the federal stimulus package, the personal savings rate is now higher, and the current unemployment rate is higher than in the past.
* Lower sourcing costs:  Cost inflation concerns have declined since our last survey as the price of commodities and excess capacity has driven production costs lower.
* Inventory reductions on tap:  In response to these economic shifts, respondents report that they have taken appropriate steps in terms of inventory reductions.  More than one-half of all businesses are planning inventory levels below last year.  Inventory growth below the rate of future sales trends is critical in the current environment to help maintain profitability and keep price integrity.
* Stabilization in the credit markets:  There are some encouraging signs in the credit markets with interest rates at historically how levels and some company’s now accessing the market for liquidity.  More than three-quarters of all respondents observed no change in their ability to access capital with only a few expressing increased access to capital and 15% seeing a decrease in access to capital.

“This survey reveals that our smaller companies are taking appropriate steps to weather the economic storm,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, OIA President & CEO.  “These companies are critical components for our entire industry, and they have made appropriate changes that may accelerate the recovery timeline.”

As the report concludes, “In short, respondents maintain a realistic view of current business trends, sourcing costs, and inventory reductions which should benefit future profitability if sales trends remain stable or improve.  While revenue declines are prevalent throughout the sector, for both retailers and vendors, we believe employment reductions; cheaper goods and fewer markdowns will stabilize margins in the second half of the year.”

A copy of the full report, as well as all OIA research is available to members at http://www.outdoorindustry.org.

About Outdoor Industry Association

Outdoor Industry Association® (OIA) is a national trade association whose mission is to ensure the growth and success of the outdoor industry. OIA provides trade services for over 4000 manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, sales representatives and retailers in the outdoor industry. OIA programs include representation in government/legislative affairs, market and social research, business-to-business services and youth outreach initiatives. Educational events include the annual Rendezvous®, Outdoor University®, and the Capitol Summit. Outdoor Industry Association is based in Boulder, Colorado, and is the title sponsor of the Outdoor Retailer tradeshows. For more information go to http://www.outdoorindustry.org or call 303.444.3353.

Young Americans Interested in Voluntourism

Interesting, but not surprising, survey on young Americans volunteering by UCSD – was sent the below release.

The number of Americans interested in volunteer vacations continues to climb, according to a new University of California San Diego Extension survey, but there are dramatic differences between the generations.

Two-thirds of high school students and about half of the college students surveyed say they have participated in discussions in the past year related to traveling to other regions to provide volunteer service, whereas less than half of the adult population, and only one-quarter of retirees, say they have done so.

Overall, the survey found that over two-thirds (69 percent) of Americans have participated in donating money or time to a global cause, up from the 48 percent in a spring 2008 poll conducted by UC San Diego Extension.

“More and more people in all stages of life are thinking of becoming global ‘voluntourists’,” says Bob Benson, director of the Center for Global Volunteer Service at UC San Diego Extension. “People are looking to volunteer their time in meaningful ways that make contributions to people in regions other than their own, and younger people are especially eager to make voluntourism part of their lifestyle.”

The 2009 poll was conducted by Caravan Opinion Research Corporation during March 2009 by telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults, and supplemented by an in-depth online survey of more than 300 adults conducted in May 2009 by UC San Diego Extension. The margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points.

The top five types of volunteer assignments the survey respondents want are:

1. Education or artistic and cultural development 23 percent
2. Provide spiritual or emotional assistance 19 percent
3. Improve health and nutrition 18 percent
4. Construct roads, homes and technology infrastructure 14 percent
5. Environmental clean up or agriculture assistance 12 percent

Despite the interest in frequent service to the global community, surprisingly, fewer than 7 percent of respondents, regardless of age, expressed an interest in making global service a type of career. The top three motivations for a desire to volunteer were:

1. (tie) Pursue a cause or purpose you believe in 30 percent
1. (tie) Contribute something meaningful to the community 30 percent
3. Feel needed and helpful 23 percent

Survey respondents plan to prepare for future voluntourism in a variety of ways:

1. Talk to others who have done so 86 percent
2. (tie) Take a class or read a book 77 percent
2. (tie) Visit Web sites to see what is available 77 percent
4. Learn some of the language of the place you want to go 76 percent
5. Start saving money and look for financial sponsors 70 percent

Approximately two out of three Americans (63 percent) would prefer their volunteer vacation outside of the United States, with Africa topping the list of desired places to help. The top four desired global travel destinations for volunteering are:

1. Africa 14 percent
2. (tie) Australia 11 percent
2. (tie) Europe 11 percent
4. South America 8 percent

Benson, who spent two years in the Peace Corps in South America in the 1990s, helped start the Center for Global Volunteer Service because UC San Diego Extension saw a need for more grass-root approaches that match U.S. citizens of all ages with volunteer opportunities. The Center offers voluntourism experiences and online learning about global service.

UC San Diego Extension has created first-of-its-kind, self-paced online courses to help potential volunteers determine if foreign volunteering is right for them and prepare them to have a productive, safe experience. Information is available at extension.ucsd.edu/cgvs