Fostering community, online and offline
As Jay Backstrand, president of San Francisco-based VolunteerMatch knows, developing a passion for community involvement is a feeling that often needs some nurturing to be translated into action. Behold the nurturing power of the Internet. At the VolunteerMatch site, opportunities abound for the well-intentioned who have some time to spare. Backstrand chats about tragedy, togetherness, and getting involved.
Why do you feel that VolunteerMatch is needed right now?
We really believe that people want to help each other, and make our communities stronger, healthier places to live. VolunteerMatch grows out of that belief, and leverages the Internet on behalf of it. Not surprisingly, the tragedy of September 11th increased awareness about the importance of remaining engaged in our community. People started thinking more about what they could do to help, and how they could give something back. And they also started looking for the quickest and easiest way to find a way to get involved.
VolunteerMatch actually experienced an incredible increase in the number of volunteer referrals in the days and weeks following the event. And on the one-year anniversary of 9/11, we received more single-day volunteer referrals than ever before.
Why do you think the Internet might be a good place to bring volunteers together with organizations that need them?
Before VolunteerMatch, it was often a lot more challenging to translate inspiration into action. Unless one already had a volunteering relationship with a community service organization, you’d typically visit a local volunteer center, flip through their binders of volunteer opportunities, leave a volunteer résumé with the center, and wait for them to match you up with something that they felt matched your volunteer skills. The entire process could be a bit cumbersome, and certainly made it more difficult for people to get involved quickly.
On VolunteerMatch, an interested volunteer simply enters their ZIP code on our home page and clicks “Search” to generate a localized list of volunteer opportunities. And, since we’re online, we’re always open. Someone interested in their community needs can find out exactly what those are any time of day or night, and get involved in just a few minutes.
Do all the employees there volunteer?
All of our employees volunteer, and it is a big part of the reason that they chose to work for VolunteerMatch. While we all bring different professional skillsets to the organization, perhaps the single-most important characteristic that we all share is our belief in a commitment to community. We volunteer individually, and also as a group on behalf of a number of different organizations including the San Francisco Food Bank and Glide Memorial Church. In April, we all volunteered our time at several organizations in celebration of National Volunteer Week.
What do you like most about what you do?
To me, it is really incredible to see that VolunteerMatch is having a positive impact, and making a difference. More and more people are finding out about us and using us to get involved. A survey of VolunteerMatch found that 19 percent of our users were people that had never volunteered prior to using our service. It is extremely rewarding to know that we are not only making it easier for existing volunteers to get involved, but also drawing new volunteers into the fulfillment that comes with community service.
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