Volunteer: Get Out & Do Good

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(ARA) - What's your excuse for not getting involved: Not enough time? No skills or experience you think could help anyone? Nothing nearby?

If you had information on thousands of non-profit agencies looking for volunteers anywhere nationwide, and also were able to choose how much time to spend, the type of cause you want to support, and set your own hours for volunteering, it would be hard to find a reason not to volunteer, wouldn't it?

No more excuses. Whether you can spend 10 hours a week or 10 minutes; whether you live on a coast, in the mountains, on an island or on the plains; whether you want to support the arts, the environment or social issues, there are thousands of opportunities waiting on VolunteerMatch.

VolunteerMatch is a non-profit Web site that serves as a clearinghouse for organizations needing individuals to volunteer and volunteers looking for organizations who can use their skills and experience. To date, nearly 20,000 non-profit and tax-exempt organizations have received more than 700,000 volunteer referrals through the site.

Any non-profit or tax-exempt organization can list an unlimited number of volunteer opportunities on VolunteerMatch. Visitors to VolunteerMatch simply enter their ZIP code to find local opportunities. Volunteers can also search by interest, date and keyword to generate a personally customized list. Once an opportunity of choice is found, the interested volunteer simply clicks on it to contact the organization and get involved.

Jan Mucklestone Fischer is one volunteer who found "the perfect opportunity" on VolunteerMatch -- with a twist.

Wanting to put her background as a costume designer and fashion illustrator to good use, Fischer, who lives in the San Francisco area, explored the VolunteerMatch Web site two years ago, but didn't expect to find much in the design field. To her surprise, she found what she called a "perfect match" for her skills and interests: a small dance troupe looking for costume design for a ballet production. She contacted the director and e-mailed sketches of her work.

"It wasn't until the director called me back to talk about my designs that I found out the dance company is actually located in Maui," Fischer said. "I had no idea I was volunteering over such a distance!"

Fischer has worked with the troupe for nearly two years now. She traveled to Maui to visit the site where the ballet will be staged, and in the process has become friends with the troupe's director. If funding is approved, her volunteer work may even evolve into a paid position.

"VolunteerMatch is fabulous -- I have nothing but accolades for the site," Fischer said. "It's a great way to volunteer because it's easy to use, provides flexibility, a direct hook-up with any organization you're interested in, and doesn't require you to divulge any personal information until you want. I think it's especially valuable for anyone who is homebound but has valid skills to share, because you don't necessarily have to leave home to volunteer."

Non-profit organizations find VolunteerMatch an easy and efficient way to connect with people who can support their efforts through volunteer activity. One example is NetMentors.Org. Since its inception in 1999, NetMentors.Org has recruited about half of its volunteers through VolunteerMatch.

"We have found the convenience factor to be a big driver in finding volunteers for our program," says James Green, executive director. "And that's on both sides. We recruit high school students to participate as well as mentors to give them information and guidance as these youth begin to explore career opportunities."

NetMentors.Org provides career development mentoring to at-risk youth or first-generation college candidates. It's free to students and allows them an opportunity to gather "real life" information in careers as diverse as law, information technology, medicine or any other area where mentors can provide expertise. Currently, it reaches students primarily in the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. areas, but is expanding nationwide through partnerships with several major universities and business schools.

Mentors participate via e-mail from all over the nation and can devote as much -- or as little -- time as they'd like. "If you can only spare 10 minutes a week, that can be enough time to e-mail a student and answer some questions," Green says. This flexibility benefits the students, as well. "If they have demanding school work, part-time jobs or commitments at home, they can still benefit from the mentoring relationship on their own schedule. By taking advantage of the Internet, volunteering doesn't have to be a big, complicated commitment."

Well-established organizations also benefit from listing their opportunities on VolunteerMatch. The American Red Cross, Bay Area chapter, has used the site for more than four years, says Rita Chick, chief human resources officer and director of volunteer resources. "We average five or six hits a week from VolunteerMatch," she said. That amounts to 250 to 300 potential new volunteers every year. "I simply forward information to the appropriate volunteer manager, who then follows-up with e-mail or phone calls to check availability and qualifications, and then sets up training."

Chick says VolunteerMatch is a great way for interested volunteers to find out if their skills meet an organization's needs before they make contact, and it's also a good way to get the word out about projects and special needs within a specific community. "If there's a local disaster or even something like a marathon that needs volunteers, help can be coordinated online," she says. Her Red Cross chapter generally has volunteer opportunities for clerical help, receptionists in county offices, instructors for first aid, CPR and babysitting classes, and presenters for emergency preparedness workshops. "If someone calls offering expertise that we can't use, we can generally find a group who can, either through our own staff or through VolunteerMatch," she says.

"VolunteerMatch makes it easy to bring volunteers and charitable organizations together to meet the needs of their community," says the service‚s president, Jay Backstrand. "And National Volunteer Week, April 21 - 27, gives everyone a great excuse to log on, sign up and help out."

To find volunteer opportunities in your area, or to learn more about VolunteerMatch, visit

Courtesy of ARA Content

Read More:
Volunteers, Who Needs Them?


Read More:
Volunteers, Who Needs Them?




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