Freegle promotes reuse. In doing this we:
1. Keep goods that still have life in them out of the waste stream.
2. Promote community spirit by sharing between local people.
3. Provide people with an opportunity to help the environment.
4. Look after each other as Volunteers by offering support if needed.
We want to do all this as well as we can, so we need to make sure that using Freegle Groups is as quick, easy and enjoyable as possible for us and our members.
Many of us started our Groups several years ago. Reuse was a brand new idea in 2003 and the rules and ways of working that evolved were aimed at trying to keep groups safe from possible problems, and we didn't know much about how people behaved online. Since that time internet use has increased substantially and we have learned a lot more about online behaviour. There have been many developments which mean that members now expect to be able to do things very,very quickly. There are also many other ways now of reusing items via the internet. We now know that if a Freegler encounters barriers they are likely to be put off from using our Groups, so we need to strike a balance between ‘protecting’ our Group, and making it welcoming for members. Experience shows that groups who have restrictive rules are unlikely to thrive, so all volunteers should think carefully about these best practice suggestions.
The intent of this is to support Freegle and group members, and to safeguard our reputation. All the advice below is within the context of the Basic Requirements of a Freegle Group#Local Rules.
Number one question
Do you have emergency arrangements for your Group?
To safeguard your group, there needs to be back up arrangements in place, so
- Have at least two volunteers with owner status/full privileges..
- Make sure all of your Volunteer Team know they can contact Mentors to get some help - email email@example.com
- Let Mentors or GAT know who all the Volunteer Team are so that support can be given if there is a major problem.
- Having at least 2 volunteers with owner status/full privileges means if there is a problem with volunteer availability, all your hard work doesn’t goes to waste as service can be maintained for your members.
- Volunteers with owner status/full privileges don’t have to all be active moderators, they could be:
- backup moderator - steps in and runs the Group immediately there seems to be a problem
- a volunteer who does other work in running the group, eg publicity, tech etC
- silent moderator - helps rescue a Group if it has been declared abandoned after set procedures.
- All of your Volunteer Team should have the interests of the group members as a priority, so should be competent enough to basically moderate messages and memberships, answer emails to the owner address and, most importantly, know who to contact in Freegle nationally if they need help.
- Making sure all volunteers know they can contact Mentors to get some help - email firstname.lastname@example.org - means you all know there is somewhere to turn in difficult situation. All volunteers can join Freegle Central, so why not?! It is the easiest way to communicate with other people around the UK and to ask for help.
- Yahoo can close any account or group at any time. Each volunteer with owner status having completely separate ID's (not linked to each other) registered on the Group and keeping in touch with each other will safeguard you personally from being denied access by Yahoo.
In order to help reduce barriers here are some more questions that owners/mods might like to think about.
What is a new Freegler’s first impression of your Group?
Your group’s home pages (Yahoo, FD, Facebook etc) should be welcoming, quick and easy to read and understand, include the Freegle logo and link, and be up to date and personal to your community.
- Your Group is autonomous so your homepage content is your choice, but clear identification as a Freegle Group will help you with publicity.
- Including the Freegle logo and national link on your home page(s) are requirements of affiliation to Freegle and show that it is an official, quality group.
- Making your joining options prominent on Yahoo to promote any alternative access (Freegle Direct, apps etc) helps members find the best option for them.
- Keeping your home pages up to date also keeps your current members interested, so review regularly.
- There is help available:
How easy it for a new Freegler to get started?
- Use open membership to keep your joining process as quick and simple as possible.
- Ensure all posts, especially first posts, are dealt with swiftly and sympathetically.
- Don’t overwhelm new members with lots of admin emails.
- The less time and work there is for a new Freegler to use your Group, the more likely they will be a contributing member.
- Open membership with new members being moderated is an easier and more welcoming experience. (Using Modtools can automate a Yahoo "Closed" group)
- Approving new members is an obstacle to participating - research by Freegle and elsewhere has proven that the more steps someone has to take to join and use a website the more likely they are to abandon doing it.(1)
- New member moderation will pick up spammers, especially if you use the ModTools.
- Sending only one very welcoming joining message with the Disclaimer and a link to your guidelines - and keep that as short as possible - is more effective. Delete the standard Yahoo message. No-one wants reams of admin messages when they join your group, but you do want them to get on and freegle!
- Avoiding rejecting first posts if you can, amending them to suit if possible and only sending them back if accompanied by a kind and friendly email to say why is kinder! No-one likes to be told off or have their first efforts fail.
- If you must approve members do not send long questionnaires or request personal information as that can be very offputting.
- If a new member joins via Freegle Direct, most obstacles are removed whatever the Yahoo group settings.
(1) In 2012 a prototype on Freegle Direct asked members a question to join. 87% of people who saw the form gave up. Sites on the Web which try to attract members don't make them jump through hoops nowadays. Why would people do that when they don't really know whether the site is worth joining or not? There are plenty of other sites they can use
How long does it take for a Freegler to see the message they have posted appear on the Group?
Ideally, moderation of messages needs to be at least every few hours . Put members who correctly format their messages on Group settings (unmoderated) as soon as practicable for your team.
- You will lessen the time you have to spend moderating.
- Messages will be posted more promptly on your message board, which is good for the person posting as well as those that respond.
- Moderating once a day is the absolute minimum for a Group to survive.
- Using ModTools makes moderating very easy - http://modtools.org
- Members are adults, and you can always put them back on moderation if they slip up.
- The fewest obstacles put in the way of speedy messaging will enable the maximum items reused.
- Your team can have confidence that your group is efficient with moderation taking place throughout the day, which you can make happen by having a rota or system in place to support the aim to keep delays to a minimum.
- Help is available - Mentors are available for holiday/emergency help email@example.com.
What rules do you have?
Keep rules to a minimum to enable the smooth running of the Group. A lot of Groups impose rules that members have no idea existed! Try to apply them fairly with flexibility where appropriate. Because:
- The fewer rules you impose, the less work it is for you to moderate your Group.
- No-one is keen on reading or remembering lots of rules, so too many just means that your members don’t know what they are.
- The Disclaimer statement covers legality, so there is no need to duplicate that with a long list of illegal items.
- It is better to approve a message if at all possible and send a reminder about how to get it right than it is to reject a post and lose a member because their first contact was negative.
- The fewer barriers in place for people to reuse items the more effective we are.
Do you restrict the number of Wanted posts?
Best Practice advice:
People that want other’s unwanted stuff are essential for your Freegle Group to work, so encourage people to think ‘reuse’.
- Difficult economic times have increased the number of members who are in a situation where they can offer very little e.g. students setting up house, people on benefit who cannot afford to buy new stuff etc.
- Wanted posts are as valid as Offer posts in keeping things out of the waste stream. Encouraging people to Freegle even when they have little to offer may lead to them thinking of Freegle in the future when they do have things to offer.
- People go through different phases in life - at some times they may post a lot of Wanted posts, and at others a lot of offers.
- People - including us - overestimate the number of Wanted posts. Most Groups have more Offers than Wanteds.
How many messages do you reject?
Best Practice advice:
Members have made the effort of posting a message, unless it contravenes the basic rules (free and legal), try not to reject it. Helpful, friendly, personal mod messages can be more effective than standard replies. The experience of Freegle mods is that members who post messages that are rejected often do not post again. No one likes to be rejected, particularly as part of the pleasure from freegling is the satisfaction of choosing to give an item of yours away. Some members will feel hurt at being told they have not used the right words to offer their personal possessions. They may never consider freegling again.
- Do messages need to be rejected or can they be dealt with in other ways?
- Personal messages from mods explaining exactly which rules they have broken and why your group has these rules are more effective than sending out lists of rules.
- Promoting Freegle Direct by placing a link on your home page for people to join and use Freegle Direct. This provides a way of posting that won’t need correcting.
- Promoting the Message Maker with a link on your home page to it and link in message footers. This also results in a way of posting that doesn’t need correcting.
- Using ModTools to edit subject lines of messages, then sending a note afterwards to help the member get it right next time.
What impression do your messages to members give of you and Freegle?
Best Practice advice:
You are providing a service which is helping your members get in touch with one another to keep stuff out of the waste stream, so be a good host.
- Friendly, helpful messages are far more likely to get the response you want.
- No-one enjoys (or can be bothered) reading long messages, so keep things brief (but polite!).
- English may not be the first language for some of your members, clear straightforward messages will make it easier for them to understand how to use you Group.
- Members have often put time into posting a message and having it rejected may either get their backs up or make them feel freegling is an obstacle not worth bothering about.
- Sometimes members feel they are being told off or punished for a genuine error. Messages that are helpful, polite and appreciative that people are using your group are more likely to encourage members to understand rules and guidelines. For example, when you put a member on moderation it may help to explain it is so you can help the member and advise on how to avoid the error in future. When you send a reminder or a return a post make it clear that it will probably help the member if they follow the appropriate guidelines.
- It may help to ask someone neutral to read your standard messages to see how they come across.
- Yahoo terminology can be offputting to members. It can be changed though in ways that are more friendly.
- The word ‘reject’ isn’t good! Try the word ‘return’ instead in the subject line of rejection messages.
- Signing off as “Freegle Volunteer” is a better description of our role than “Group Owner”
How do you deal with problems?
Best Practice Advice:
Handling problems and complaints from members can be one of the trickiest jobs for a moderator. Finding the balance between running the group how you would like it to be run and how members would like you to run the group is not always easy.
There is a wealth of advice in the Wiki that has been compiled by experienced Freegle moderators on dealing with issues and complaints
How many potential Freeglers do you lose?
Best Practice advice:
Check, with an open mind, your rules, guidelines and working practices on a regular basis to ensure that interested people are not put off being an active Freegler.
Libraries, many public bodies and work places do not allow the use of Yahoo Groups.
- Installing Freegle Direct and opting for the Freegle Direct page to be the first page that a new Freegler sees. This opens up Freegle to people in your community who may really benefit from your Group. There are clear links from Freegle Direct to your Yahoo Home Page if Freeglers prefer to use that route.
- Are any rules you have about reposting, crossposting, and limits on numbers of posts simple and very easy to remember?
- Replying to emails to the owner address within 24 hours.
- A friendly leaving message for Freeglers who do leave your Group with a link to the Find a Group page on the Freegle website.
What tools do you use to make it easier to run your Group?
Best Practice advice:
Yahoo is not the easiest platform for you or your members, so don’t be afraid to take up some of the helpful tools that Freegle makes available.
Do you know where to turn for help?
Best Practice advice:
You are not alone. All Freegle volunteers are in this together, we have a shared mission, so take advantage of others’ experience and advice.
- Freegle Mentor Group
One to one help from experienced mods for new Groups
Assistance for struggling Groups and mods
- Freegle Central
Sharing experience, information and helping each other on a range of issues
- Freegle Development
Join in with discussions and putting into place ideas on how we can help Groups grow and thrive.
- Support helpline
Help with general problems or questions, particularly techy type stuff!
- ModTools Group
Help with problems or questions
- Freegle Direct help
Help with any issues about Freegle Direct
- This Freegle Wiki
Full of useful information on all aspects of running your Group, publicity tips and how you can help Freegle nationally http://wiki.ilovefreegle.org/
- Local Mod Groups
If you have a local mods groups, join it. If there isn't one, why not encourage your neighbouring volunteers to set one up - you can work and share together.
Best Practice advice:
Chatting to other Freegle volunteers can help put a 'face' to people and to establish better rapport for good and bad times.
- Freegle Rock, online social chat group http://Groups.yahoo.com/Group/FreegleRockCafe/
- Freestock is the annual summer meet up for Freegle Mods http://wiki.ilovefreegle.org/Freestock
- Organising a meet-up of your local Groups.
Note: These guidelines were discussed and amended on Development Group in 2015/2016.
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