“I started volunteering after Hurricane Katrina,” says Sandra Speta. “I saw the devastation on television. And, like a lot of people, I started looking around for places to help.” Tonight the 35-year-old Phoenix resident is one of seven volunteers sorting donated medical supplies at the warehouse of Project CURE, in Tempe.
Once organized, these surplus bandages, syringes, sutures and tools will be shipped to rural clinics in Peru, where they can tip the balance between life and death.
The world needs all the help it can find right now. But the sheer breadth of local, national and global need can overwhelm new volunteers, who don’t know where to start. So how do good hearts, like Speta’s, find worthy causes aching for extra hands? “I found Project CURE through Make a Difference,” she says. “And I found Make a Difference on the Web.”
An increasing number of national and local nonprofit groups are using the Internet to recruit, inform and refer new volunteers. Jason Willett, spokesman for Volunteer-Match, a national volunteer database, says the Net reduces the time between the charitable impulse and a tangible commitment. “It flies in the face of ‘I don’t know where to start.’ ”
Starting begins at VolunteerMatch’s home page, www.volunteermatch.org, where surfers can enter their ZIP code (interest areas and desired distance are optional) and find a list of local volunteer opportunities, from reading to children to feeding wild horses to hurricane relief. Each opportunity on the list is linked to a profile of the charity, and the contact information to sign up. VolunteerMatch also allows nonprofit organizations to log on, register for free and request volunteers.
Online since 1998, the San Francisco-based nonprofit has 42,000 member charities, and more than 2.5 million referrals. “Our goal is to be as user-friendly as possible,” says Willett, “so there’s no reason to be confused about where to begin.”
Internet-based volunteering has caught on locally, as well. “We went ‘full-blown’ interac- tive on our Web site about three years ago,” says Rhonda Oliver, chief executive officer of Make a Difference, a Valleybased volunteer organization. Oliver says an adjustable Web interface makes for more volunteers and better matches. “It’s a lot less intimidating. It allows people to get involved on their own terms, according to their own passion.”
Make a Difference’s site — www.makeadifference.org — allows prospective volunteers to search by keyword, region (East Valley, central Phoenix) or impact area (animal support, children and youth, homelessness and hunger). Visitors can also browse by agency — Make a Difference has 62 local member agencies, described in detail, with upcoming events. Or they can browse their online master calendar.
“It helps us target busy people, who have demanding schedules, but still want to get involved,” says Oliver. An initial orientation is still required. But, once registered, volunteers can book their own hours, at their own pace, without a middleman.
“If you sign up for next week’s project, you get an e-mail thanking you,” says Oliver. “Twenty-four hours beforehand, you get another e-mail, reminding you. And, within a day afterward, you get another e-mail for feedback.”
Make a Difference booked 14,000 volunteers into 51,000 hours of community service last year.
The Web sites help agencies manage a volunteer base that has grown and diversified since Sept. 11, 2001.
“The individual profile hasn’t changed much,” says Oliver. Seventy-five percent of individual volunteers are still women between the ages of 25 and 48. “But we’re seeing more schools and corporations getting involved, for college credit and for team building.”
The Web sites also help folks like Jack Keeney, 43, of Tempe. “I found this (event) on the Make a Difference Web site last spring,” says Keeney as he tapes boxes at Project CURE. “It seemed like a good idea, so I signed up. I like some variety to the things I try.”