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Technology Makes Volunteering Easier Than Ever

Posted on 02 November 2008

Working Americans are volunteering in larger numbers than ever before. According to the Independent Sector (IS), a national non-profit advocacy agency, nearly 56 percent of all American adults (109.4 million) volunteered in 1998–the last time IS compiled this data. That number represents an 18 percent increase over the 93 million adults who volunteered in 1995.

But, interestingly, volunteers are not committing as much time. The average number of hours volunteered per week slipped from 4.2 hours in 1995 to 3.5 in 1998. Even so, from 1987 to 1998, the total value of volunteer time increased by 28 percent (after inflation adjustments).

Why do Americans volunteer? According to the IS survey, 86 percent of volunteers feel compassion for those in need. Almost 72 percent have a specific interest in the activity or work and 70 percent wish to gain a new perspective on life. Believe it or not, 63 percent of all volunteers are motivated into action because they might earn the respect and admiration of others.

Believe it or not, 63 percent of all volunteers are motivated into action because they might earn the respect and admiration of others.

Sacrificing Your Time
Shira Levin, a real-estate attorney with Morrison, Cohen, Singer, Weinstein in New York City, works 60 hours a week at her job. Somehow, she has found time to do demanding volunteer work on the board of the Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School for the past 12 years. Levin currently serves as president.

“Generally, I think we all have to feel like we’re contributing something to the community,” Levin says. “This also gives my kids a message: We can’t live in a vacuum. We have to recognize priorities, and then get involved to further those priorities. The best way to teach is by example. I hope it’s a self-perpetuating phenomenon.”

An important factor in the rise of volunteering lies in the new technology that connects people with organizations. Jan Fisher, of San Francisco, has worked as an illustrator for the last 25 years. Fisher wanted to find a way to donate her skills without braving the notorious Bay Area traffic. Last year, she read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about VolunteerMatch, a non-profit Web site that helps individuals find volunteer opportunities.

Fisher checked the site and found the Tilt Dance Company, a modern dance troupe based in Maui. “It just seemed perfect for me,” Fisher says, “because I could donate time when it was convenient for me, particularly at night or early in the morning.” She got in touch with Tilt founder Renee Beauvais last May. Since then, from her home more than 2,000 miles away, Fisher has completed the set design for three different dances. She plans to visit Maui for the November 2002 performances.

According to Jason Willett, VolunteerMatch director of communications, the site was originally supposed to be a library of volunteering information. It wasn’t until founder Jay Backstrand suggested the idea of an online volunteer matching and recruitment tool that VolunteerMatch launched in April 1998. The site has since placed over 400,000 volunteers and currently has 14,000 non-profits registered. Fisher was so pleased with VolunteerMatch that she stopped by its San Francisco headquarters recently to thank the founders for making her volunteer experience possible.

Other Rewards
Shirley Weisenberger, a Charles Schwab employee in Phoenix, discovered Stable Influence through a listing of volunteer opportunities (powered, coincidentally, by VolunteerMatch) on Schwab’s intranet. She rode horses in her youth, so the opportunity to provide physical, mental, and emotional therapy to those in need through Stable Influence’s horseback riding program sounded ideal to her.

Weisenberger now leaves work an hour and a half early every Monday “to assist riders, either by leading their horse or by walking beside their horse, to make sure the rider stays on.” Her boss has been very supportive of her volunteer work–he even accompanied her a few times and gave Stable Influence a large donation. Weisenberger helps all kinds of people there, from children with cerebral palsy to an 86-year-old stroke victim who managed to regain flexibility on one side of her body through horseback riding.

Volunteer opportunities are numerous. They can be perfectly matched to your interests, your work schedule and culture, and the time you have to give. Found with ease via technology, it’s no surprise that more and more people are donating their time.

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  1. How technology can help NGO’s / OliveScreens says:

    [...] has shown that technology has improved volunteering activities to significant proportions in US (link). With almost 100% internet penetration in Singapore, it is possible to tap the skills of the [...]

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