Logo of Volunteering Auckland

Virtual volunteering Just a Click Away

November 21, 2011

Originally posted on The Aucklander

Websites have proved pretty good at matching romantic partners and now they are doing the same for volunteers and charities that need their help, writes Andre Hueber

No time to spare to deliver meals on wheels or set up community cake stalls? Fear not, a whole new way of volunteering is upon us with the development of a system that lets people help their communities from the comfort of their own homes.

Auckland Virtual Volunteering matches not-for-profit groups with online volunteers so the volunteers can do skills-based tasks at a time and place that suits them.

Kim Chapman, a member of the Committee for Auckland’s Future Leader programme, came up with the idea for her “legacy project”, aimed at enhancing the city and tapping into the skills of young professionals.

“We realised there was a need,” Ms Chapman says. “I’m a management consultant for Deloitte and can’t commit a day every month to volunteer – it wouldn’t be using my skills. I don’t have time to traipse to Manukau but I can review plans and write business cases about technical upgrades and options.”

She says a new website will reach out to technically savvy 20- to 30-somethings who are time-poor but highly skilled.

“They use the the internet to communicate and like the medium, but want to give something – not just $50 – to a charity every month.”

For the pilot scheme, Virtual Volunteering used the LinkedIn website to test the waters. A private group was formed and nine not-for-profit groups were approached with potential challenges. They included Auckland City Mission, Amnesty International and Sport Auckland. Over two months the group garnered 112 volunteers.

An example of the type of skill sought came from Amnesty International. It needed a social-media strategy and was approached by Jamie McKean, the owner of a business development company. Amnesty’s IT manager, Vivian Chandra, emailed Mr McKean back and they met via phone conference to discuss strategies.

Ms Chapman says it’s that kind of volunteering the group wants to tap. Now she’s handed the project on to Volunteering Auckland – which already has a website – so they can use the ideas tried by Virtual Volunteering and “make it their baby”.

Matching up volunteers through LinkedIn doesn’t work automatically, she says, and it can’t filter skills or challenges, so a technology partner is now sought to help integrate the Virtual Volunteer idea with the existing Volunteering Auckland website.

Volunteering Auckland’s regional manager, Cheryll Martin, says an internet-based matching system has been needed for some time but her group didn’t have the resources to fund it.

“We were getting requests from corporates wanting skill-based opportunities and requirements from not-for-profit organisations needing skills. It’s been fabulous to have an experienced team working on it.”

She says people are spending more time online so it makes sense to utilise that.

“People are busy. To engage new blood, not-for-profits need to look at things in new ways. People might decide to volunteer physically later. For lots it will be the first time to volunteer. It’s a way to contribute.”

Individuals and community groups can already register on the Volunteering Auckland website or contact the group over the phone, to be guided through the LinkedIn system. Ms Martin says once the matcher tool is incorporated into VA’s website it will make it easier to get the right person doing the right thing.

“We can help people determine what is the right space to contribute. Everyone has something to offer and there’s something out there for everyone. It’s just getting the right match.”