A lot people have been asking me about how SnowCrew works, our plan for expansion, and how they can get involved and bring it to their town or city. Below is my response.
What is SnowCrew?
How long has it been around?
How Does SnowCrew work?
What difference does SnowCrew make?
What about privacy or safety?
Are you planning on expanding SnowCrew?
Is SnowCrew funded?
How do people learn about SnowCrew?
What operational support is needed?
How does the technology between SnowCrew – GovDelivery and SeeClixFix work?
Is SnowCrew your full time job?
What media coverage has SnowCrew received?
WHAT IS SNOWCREW?
SnowCrew is a volunteer community initiative that matches neighbors who are elderly or disabled with nearby neighbors who can and want to shovel them out after snow storms.
Snow Crew is supported by two private sector leaders in Government Digital Communication and Engagement and Open Government and not-for-profit 501c3. Via it’s API SeeClickFix provides the “shovel request” submittal, mapping, notification, commenting and case management system. GovDelivery provides automated emails and text messaging notifications for Shovel Requests. The not-for-profit, NeighborsForNeighbors.org, which I founded and organized in my free time, provides the online support community for Snow Crew organizers.
I started SnowCrew in 2009 using google maps and a google form. After I learned about then Mayor Cory Booker digging out his constituents via twitter requests I wanted to see if I could build on Bookers success but remove him as a bottleneck and use technology to allow everyone to be a Snow Angel. The result is the Snowcrew of today.
HOW DOES SNOWCREW WORK?
Those who are elderly or disabled submit a Shovel Request via the SeeClickFix widget (an online case management and mapping tool) on http://neighborsforneighbors.org/page/snowcrew
Those who wish to help dig out their elderly or disabled neighbors sign up to be notified via email or text message at http://neighborsforneighbors.org/page/snowcrew.
When a Shovel Request is submitted GovDelivery (our digital communication management system) notices the request and distributes it to those who have subscribed to be notified based on the town or neighborhood where they live. SeeClickFix also notifies neighbors that are users of its platform via email alert in locations where they have shown willingness to help.
SnowCrew volunteers who receive the message, have time, and are nearby notify the requestor via comments on SeeClickFix that they are on the way. The SnowCrew volunteers then head over – shovel-in-hand – to remove their neighbor’s snow. When the project is complete, the volunteers report back via a comment on the SeeClickFix case that the job is done. If they were unable to complete the project, they can comment on what still needs to be accomplished.
If a SnowCrew volunteer is not able to dig the person out because they have other plans or are traveling, they are invited to share the message via email forward, share by Facebook and/or Tweet on Twitter to help get the word out that a neighbor needs help.
Please note: In order for SnowCrew to work – meaning for folks to get dug out – there must a large pool of volunteers who have signed up to be notified when shovel requests are submitted. In other words, the more people who have signed up for SnowCrew notifications, the more people will get dug out!
Keep reading to appreciate the whole picture.
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES SNOWCREW MAKE?
SnowCrew helps keep neigbhbors who are elderly, disabled, or sick healthy and cared for during snowstorms. When shoveled out, they can get to the pharmacy and food store and their social security checks can be delivered by mail. Their fears and anxiety are replaced the joy and gratitude.
SnowCrew volunteers receive the satisfaction of being in service to their neighbors. They make new friends with other volunteers and form bonds with those they serve. The net result is a closer, healthier, more resilient community.
WHAT ABOUT PRIVACY AND SAFETY?
Participation in SnowCrew is voluntary and those who submit shovel requests and choose to shovel our those in need do so at their own risk. Other than getting the help our requestors need, the satisfaction our volunteers get, and new bonds forged between requests and volunteers, there have no issues. See the editorial in the Boston Globe titled ‘Snow Crew’: Shoveling past barriers.
ARE YOU PLANNING ON EXPANDING SNOWCREW?
SnowCrew has been a big success in Boston the pilot city. Our hope is that the SnowCrew concept can spread to other communities – tapping into our nation volunteerism ethic to support those in need.
The good news is that SnowCrew can easily be expanded! Right now, we’re working to launch a new website (SnowCrew.org) that will help scale the technology nationwide. Until that launch, SnowCrew can still be accessed via NeighborsForNeighbors.org.
Here are the steps you can take to bring SnowCrew to your neighborhood:
1) Find an organization or team of people who agree to coordinate outreach and provide operational support.
Organizations that could have the capacity to bring SnowCrew to their town or city include the Knights of Columbus, Masonic Lodges, CERT volunteers, Neighborhood Associations, Neighborhood Watch Groups, or Hands-On Networks, among others. Individuals can also volunteer to organize SnowCrew, but to prevent burnout we recommend that individuals recruit a neighbor or friend to partner up as a SnowCrew administrative team.
2) Join the the SnowCrew Organizers online group on NeighborsForNeighbors.org (you’ll need to create a profile) and then fill out the Snow Organizers Application form found on the main page of the group.
3) After your application is reviewed, I will call you to discuss details. Once accepted, you will receive training on how to use SeeClickFix and GovDelivery.
4) During storms, I will provide support to you and your team.
IS SNOWCREW FUNDED?
No, not yet. Joseph organizes SnowCrew in his free time (and sometimes during the day at work – thank you GovDelivery). As previously mentioned, the technology that powers SnowCrew is donated by two private sector leaders in Government Digital Communication and Engagement, GovDelivery and SeeClickFix.
My dream is to raise sufficient funding to make SnowCrew an official GovDelivery project that my team and I manage by providing support to local SnowCrew organizers. If anyone is interested, or knows someone or an organization interested in funding SnowCrew, please have them call me at 857-222-4420. Thanks!
HOW DO PEOPLE LEARN ABOUT SNOWCREW?
My recommendations below are based on Google Analtyics for the last 30 days for NeighborsForNeighbors.org.
First Place – Organic Search. People will search for SnowCrew when they hear about it. Media coverage and word of mouth currently drive the most web traffic. Takeaway: send out press releases and be sure they mention “Snow Crew” as people will search for it.
Second Place – Direct Traffic. Direct traffic is when someone already knows about NeighborsForNeighbors.org and comes directly to our website. This can be attributed to our brand and also media coverage people heard where the URL and type it into their browser.
Third Place – Referrals. Our top three referrals come from blog posts, social media posts, and email traffic from our newsletter. The top five referral sources by rank included UniversalHub.com, twitter, WBUR.org, and then facebook (mobile and web). Takeaway: blog on the most visited blogs in your town or city, get media coverage from organizations who post interviews online – tweet a lot, and ask people to share on Facebook frequently.
With all that said, if your town or city has GovDelivery, GovDelivery will be your greatest assets to drive traffic. Boston is not currently using GovDelivery, but I am working on that! In the federal Government, GovDelivery typically serves as the one of the top three referral sources for web traffic for Federal websites. GovDelivery was named by the Washington Post as Obamacare’s Secret Traffic Weapon. Nuff said!
WHAT OPERATIONAL SUPPORT IS NEEDED?
Over the last four years, I have learned that when people request help, they become fearful and anxious that someone may not respond. To address this fear, I have been doing the following for each Shovel Request submitted.
1) Acknowledge each request, add the the following welcome message, and share the request on Twitter and Facebook
Thank you for submitting a shovel request. As a reminder, by submitting a request you do so at your own risk. The is no fee for being shoveled.
If anything changes on your end or you find alternate shoveling assistance, please let us know by posting a comment. This will inform those who may be heading over to help you that you are all set and allow us – the organizers – to focus our efforts on others who need help.
Joseph Porcelli – 857-222-4420
The tweet would look similar to: “#ShovelRequest – The address – Link to case – #SnowCrew”
2) Every few hours I check to see what comments have been added to the shovel request cases on SeeClickFix to check what progress has been made.
If the person has been shoveled out, I close the case and leave the following message:
Wonderful news! You’ve been shoveled out! If you have not done so already, please sign up for our email updates so we can stay in touch -https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USNEIGHBORS/subscriber/new.
3) By 7 pm, if there have be no updates on the cases on SeeClickFix either by the requestor or volunteer, I will leave the following comment:
Do you still need help shoveling out? If so please leave a comment or call me at 857-222-4420 to let me know.
4) On day two, I repeat step 3 but at 11am. If I find out shoveling assistance is still needed I do the following:
I Google the address of the requestor using Google Maps and call the closest Knight of Columbus, Masonic Lodge, and nearby churches to let them know a nearby neighbor needs help. I won’t stop until I find someone to help them out. Ideally a partnership would already be in place as it is in Boston with Ethocare.org.
5) On day three, if it has not been successful at getting the requestor cleared out, and if there has been no communication, I add the following comment by 11 am:
I have not heard back from you, I will assume you no long need shoveling assistance and close your case. If you do in fact still need help, please let me know by leaving a comment here or giving me a call at 857-222-4420.
If I have not heard back from them by 3 pm, I close the case and move on.
HOW DOES THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND SNOWCREW – GOVDELIVERY AND SEECLICKFIX WORK?
Both GovDelivery and SeeClickFix have donated use of their platforms to SnowCrew via NeighborsForNeighbors.org the non-profit I run in my free time that empowers neighbors to do things with and for each other – like dig each other out after snow storms.
When a shovel request is submitted by a elderly, disabled, or sick neighbor it is done via the SeeClickFix widget on NeighborsForNeighbors.org on the SnowCrew page. The request is submitted to a special “Neighbor Request” SeeClickFix made for us. All other requests on SeeClickFix are submitted to their municipal clients.
Behind the scenes I manage the cases in the NeighborsForNeighbors.org account. This allows me to see all the open, acknowledged, and closed cases that are Shovel Request. From this dashboard I can drill into cases and interact with requestors and shovelers to manage the cases.
GovDelivery serves two critical roles. First it allows volunteers to sign up to be notified by email or text message when someone in their neighborhood submits a shovel request. To accomplish this, I created topics people can subscribe to in each neighborhood we are serving. GovDelivery “watches” for new shovel requests (via rss) submitted to SeeClickFix by neighborhood. When a new request is submitted, GovDelivery automatically notices and then sends a message to the volunteers who have subscribed to be notified in the neighborhood. We implemented this on Jan 3, and its made a huge difference. This technology was the missing piece needed for this project to scale.
IS SNOWCREW YOUR FULL TIME JOB?
Nope. For work, I am the Director of Engagement Services at GovDelivery. In my free time, I voluntarily organize NeighborsForNeighbors.org and SnowCrew. At heart, I’m a Professional Neighbor.
I do this because my experience has shown me our communities are strongest and we are happiest when we are informed, empowered, and in service to each other.
@JosephPorcelli – 857-222-4420
WHAT MEDIA COVERAGE HAS SNOWCREW RECEIVED?
- January 4, 2014, The CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, Midwest braces for historic cold
- January 4, 2014, Boston Globe, Editorial, ‘Snow Crew’: Shoveling past barriers
- December 19, 2013, NPR, Here and Now, Robin Young, Help They Neighbor Shovel
- December 19, 2013, Boston Globe, Billy Baker, Snow Crew Builds Community Bonds
- December 17, 2013, 90.9 WBUR, By Jack Lepiarz, Website Gives Bostonians A Place To Ask Neighbors For Shoveling Help
- February 11, 2013, WBUR Radio Boston, Meet Boston’s ‘Professional Neighbor’ (About SnowCrew).
- January 21, 2011, Boston.com, By Matt Rocheleau, Shovel-ready: JP neighbors dig out those in need
- January 14, 2010, WGBH, By Jess Bidgood, In JP, Social Networking Helps Neighbors Dig Out