Bored Nonprofits Beg World Wide Web for One More Volunteer Matching Site

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Kudos to Jayne Cravens for inspiring my Onion-esque headline and for saying aloud what many of us in the volunteer engagement world have been thinking for some time: There are too many Web sites to match volunteers with nonprofit organizations.

Take a look at her article, where Cravens writes:

Organizations that involve volunteers do not have the resources to use all, or even most, of these volunteer matching sites. They are going to choose one, maybe two, and they are usually going to stick with using only that one or those two sites, as they have invested much time in using such and are probably already well-served by such….

Craven’s list of sites doesn’t include the newest additions: Serve.gov (a site built by the Corporation for National and Community Service to replace both USAService.org and USAFreedomCorps.org) and Allforgood.org (a site built by Google and Craigslist people).

So What Makes for A Useful Volunteer Matching Service?

It’s not exactly a secret that volunteer engagement in the U.S. is over-served by Web services that promise to match volunteers with nonprofits.  For a basic site, after all, the technology is readily available to any Web developer with talent and a good heart.

But the issue, as Craven’s article suggests, is not about technology: it’s about relationships, resources, and orientation.

Relationships: Energizing the Network

Whether you’re a matching site like eBay (auctions), Monster.com (jobs), or VolunteerMatch, the biggest value you can bring to the market is a big network. For us, it’s a community of 10 million annual visitors, 68,000 participating nonprofits, and hundreds of leading companies. Together this web of relationships creates a critical mass of activity that encourages and inspires even more  more members to get involved.

This is the promise of the Web, where virtual marketplaces and the network effect can combine to create a “long tail” that promises something for everyone.

Resources: Supporting the Community for the Long Haul

A quality Web service to help volunteers and nonprofits connect should also be set up to last. Both the Internet and how people use it are evolving all the time. Expectations change and technologies must be updated. New services need to be built to extend functionality.

This isn’t about style; it’s about marketplace needs. For example, in response to the growing recognition among Web users that their opinions are valuable and should be shared, we launched our Recommendations & Reviews tool to give volunteers a way to provide feedback for other volunteers.

Another much more substantial example of this has been our work to build solutions that help employee volunteer programs connect with the VolunteerMatch network. If we had stopped developing our service back in 2001, none of this would have come to pass.

Orientation: Knowing Who Volunteerism Really Serves

The last key element of success in a volunteer matching Web site is understanding the interplay between mission and objectives.

At VolunteerMatch, our mission is “strengthening communities by making it easier for good people and good causes to connect.” Simple enough, and not unlike what many volunteer matching sites profess to be all about.

The difference — for us at least — is helping nonprofit organizations will always be our number one objective. This has been especially important in our communications and marketing, where the majority of our efforts are oriented toward explaining the features and benefits of VolunteerMatch to nonprofit organizations.

By contrast, we often see new volunteer matching sites launch with an approach that is all about attracting more volunteers and convincing them to get involved. These sites sometimes start with a bang — getting new clicks, new eye balls, new page views, etc. But they rarely get the trust, permission and time of America’s nonprofits.

To put it another way, we don’t think today’s nonprofits need more volunteers.  We think they need smarter volunteer engagement practices, stronger support networks, free access to useful resources, and ideas and training on new strategies.

Looking at it this way, these things aren’t really about “volunteer matching” at all… are they?

( Photo via Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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