Can We Create An Effective Internet-Based System to Match Volunteers With Volunteer Needs?

Submitted by Kevin Cronin on Fri, 11/11/2005 - 13:16.

Can we use the Internet to develop a matching system for potential volunteers and volunteer activities at area nonprofits? After three years of raising money for University Settlement, a nonprofit social service agency on the southeast side of Cleveland, I am amazed by the good will and desire to help among the public. But couldn't we develop a system to utilize and magnify that good will? The following are my thoughts (based on computers labs in Chicago and the website, but business volunteers unlimited uses aspects of this as well), but I'd certainly welcome yours.

The goal is to create a universal volunteer recruitment/deployment website. Potential volunteers and nonprofits sites would load and use information directly, without time delays for referrals.

Potential volunteers describe their volunteer goals: activity (such as "working with kids," working with seniors, painting/facility repair and the like); time availability (available Thursday evenings, available week-ends, call when needed, call, but not on week-ends); geographic information - preferred neighborhood (zip sort for close to home, close to work, traveling to Cleveland and want to help); type of volunteer relationship (ongoing, regular volunteer activity or one-time only); describe any special skills or experiences to offer (carpenter, web designer or auto mechanic); describe goods or materials to donate (toys for kids, wood chips for playground equipment surface in a poor neighborhood, money for GED software acquisition); or other issues (a high school senior looking for a three month, 9-5 experience).

Organizations describe volunteer opportunities (reading in day care; helping repair kids' bikes at the bicycle co-op; weeding a garden; tutoring former inmates on computers); create a time frame or specify day or create an open-ended activity; describe any training/special experience required; characterize the need as regular or single occurring activity; identify an agency contact (with contact information).

The model is tutor/mentor connections in Chicago, developed by Dan Bassill,which matched tutors in Cabrini Green housing development.

The concept is both flexible and precise, better for volunteers and organizations in tareting the desired volunteer activity. This helps address a major concern for volunteers and agencies - that the volunteer experience is a positive one, because those are the ones likely to repeat.

The structure is simply a matching system, which I think can increase the volume and ease the execution of volunteer activity. If it's easy and can match a potential volunteer's availability, a person is more likely to volunteer.

It would have to be clear that the structure makes no independent investigation or certification about the individual. Organizations must still screen or interview people, consistent with their organization's policy if the individual walked in off the street, but this system would still target people better and improve efficiency.

Can I get your thoughts? Thanks.

Kevin Cronin
Cleveland, Ohio

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The technology is no problem - need to define process flows

Great idea that will have lots of value to the community, area organizations in need, and those wanting to do more. We can set up a site for this, with rich user profiles defining what volunteers want to do, and forms and calendars to match volunteers to what organizations/individuals need done. The technology is not a problem, and everything needed is open source so there is not a cost for that. First step is to map out what information is going to be needed to create a useful profile (name, age, skills, access to transportation, time available, interests...) and information about volunteer opportunities (organizations seeking volunteers, project description, locations, times, special considerations), and detemrine what are the categories of help needed (as you point out, could range from reading to children to painting seniors' homes).  You have a good start on all of this - can you map it out into an outline - we should start with that, build flow charts and identify conceptual and operational issues, and then attack the development.

This is a first draft at some of the volunteer screens

To create a volunteer-volunteer opportunity matching system, the system would need to take volunteers and organizations through a process to describe the goals and the activity, step by step, with options at each step.  this is a first take at trying to describe the volunteer and the volunteer activity, through a series of questions that allow a user to clarify what they are offering or what they need:

(For prospective volunteer) To volunteer, please provide the following information to better understand you and your goals:

Your name

Contact information (phone, address and email address)

How do you prefer to be contacted (phone, email, mail)

age (range – under 13, 13-17, 18-21, 22-34, 35-64, 65-up)

desired area/neighborhood in which to volunteer (designate Cleveland neighborhood or other city)

desired group to volunteer or assist (children, seniors, working adults, special needs group, building/facility structure or grounds)

desired activity (tutoring/literacy, arts/crafts, painting/building and grounds work, food and meals, office/clerical, physical activity/exercise, life skills education)

specific skill offered (must allow for individual input)

availability (hour and day for volunteer activity, duration of activity)

type of volunteer relationship (regular/ongoing or one time activity)

special requirements(potential volunteer must input)

(For volunteer organization)To better match volunteers, please describe your agency or organization: 

Agency or organization name (website if available, linked)

Are you a nonprofit organization (yes, no)

Location (specific address and city neighborhood)

Access to buses or trains (identify the routes, but here maybe we can just link to an RTA map through

Type of volunteer relationship (ongoing activity, or single event)

(For volunteer organization) Please describe the volunteer activity: 

project category (same as volunteer “desired activity”)

project served (same as volunteer “desired group to assist”)

project description (additional details)

location of activity (may be different than location of agency/organization)

hours and day of volunteer activity (hours, day and duration expected)

number of volunteers needed (with counter for remaining people needed)

activity supervisor (name and role at organization)


This data can all be captured

Basically, all we need to do is add these fields to a page in the user profile, which would be optional for people who wanted to volunteer. The same data can be used for internships, and expanded to include a complete resume - assume all that will be built into the user profile. The user would opt into these features and determine how it may be used - e.g. agree to be contacted for any theater related volunteer programs or internships. You could even specify what type of theaters you'd consider, and they could be contacted directly to see if there are opportunities - it can be push/pull.

The same rich data management would apply for job/skill matching - you have skills and someone is looking for them... we need PHP and CSS right now and don't know where to find that.

I have been very active as a

I have been very active as a volunteer with several Cleveland based organizations for the past 10 years. I think using social networking is a great way to match volunteers with organizations but it needs to have a very personal touch. I  most enjoyed volunteering at places where I enjoyed the company of the other volunteers as well as what I was doing. To create that personal level, I think nonprofits should include video that shows what kind of projects thier volunteers are working on as well as personal, friendly statements from other volunteers.  Organizations could host volunteer open houses that could be video taped and posted online.

Thank you for your comments.

Thank you for your comments. I believe every nonprofit would agree with you that: 1) building a meaningful relationship is important in getting volunteers to assist and return to assist again; and 2) video is a good way to describe volunteer activities and nonprofit missions (although I think you need a waiver for using someone's image).  Where an online matching system may assist is getting relationships started and identifying volunteer opportunities that are missed because we don't know they are available.  This option I am working to think through is scaleable, so if groups (friends or co-workers) wanted to volunteer together, you could find that opportunity.  I worked at a nonprofit social service network in the southeast side of Cleveland and we regularly had employer groups volunteering together (and they did some wonderful things and had a lot of fun).  Again, thanks so much for your input.

Another great model...

DonorsChoose is another great model.  This is setup to match volunteers and donations with specific projects proposed by teachers but could be easily adapted to a broader model.


Nice danv. Another one would be Affero:

Each of those urls are a tad bit different.

Volunteer Matching

I'd like to reply to the latest postings on a potential matching system.  Thank you, all, for your thoughts.  However, I don't feel any of the models posted really capture what I think is an important point for volunteers.  I don't think it's as fully capable a matching system if the nonprofit posts what they do and the volunteer responds to initiate an interviewing process. Oddly, the cash solicitation model by teachers in selected cities probably comes closest, because the teacher could describe in great detail the proposed request. I think this works because a cash donation is universal.  What I am wondering about is the "currency" of personal labor, rather than cash.  A nonprofit would post what they need and when they need it and volunteers get a chance to choose, in accordance with their personal goals and availability and responds.  A nonprofit would always get a chance to say yes or no.  In the other examples, I didn't see anything that looked like a schedule, with volunteers choosing based on date or time available, not just activity.  I think there is a lot of volunteer time that is missed because a volunteer can't control the when and where.  For example, if I knew that I might be needed in the afternoon at a day care center ten minutes from work, I could commit to volunteer reading with children for an hour. That might be only an hour of volunteer time, but it would make a great difference and it's something the volunteers can determine for themselves if a range of activities is posted and available.  Again, thanks for your thoughts.


Kevin, I agree that none of them yet match what you were describing. But, per your comments, it is valuable to take a look at the various models/systems that are out there. Even if it is just to say what you just said...close but no cigar.

Forgot about this one as well...

VolunteerMatch is another great site that is already setup to do this... it would need some local publicity to fill it with NEO organizations and volunteers.

Next step is comparative analysis

We need to look at all the solutions out there right now and in development and see what about any of them is special and weigh the value any provide versus the cost of developing something better. I think what we'll find is we can develop something better for very little cost as an extension of the virtual community we are already developing.

Analysis Part I

The big players in the NEO internship market are and

The first has really vamped up their site and has included a lot of resources for employers and students. They have the outline of what our idea entails.  iCleveland does not really place interns as it is a networking resource for students to get acquainted with local companies. iCleveland has a solid group of sponsors under its belt - but my thought is not to target the big players in Cleveland. Instead, I feel the REAL solution would be to target the the start-ups or privately held companies in Cleveland that don't have that "big" status, but are making waves for the future. Students know about the National Citys, FirstEnergys, Cleveland Clinics, etc of Cleveland and in effect, create a greater competition for each other (which is good for these powerhouses but defeats the purpose of retaining A LOT of talent in NEO). My thought is to create a NEOnternship - something so local, personalized and involved you can't pass up the opportunity to participate.

If I had to sum it up, I would just merely say that while it is great to retain talent to sustain our existing economic drivers, there is something lurking in the midst of our new companies (i.e. Weatherhead 100). To capitalize on that aspect would create the competitive/collaborative edge.

Unique Internships

Mike, thanks for the insightful comments and effort.  I think you are really onto something with your concept of providing terrific opportunities with entrepreneurial ventures.  These internships, while not with Fortune 500-type firms, are nonetheless uniquely valuable because they often give the intern close exposure to top management (i.e. the CEO) of these firms.  How often does one get such an opportunity to directly influence company strategy and decision making?  Also, if the intern is talented enough and completes a project that provides true value / ROI for the client - a permanent job position could very well be created for that indivdual.  The entrepreneurial firm, which is typically resource deprived - gets a quality consultant without needing to commit to hiring, benefits, etc - a perfect chance to 'try before the  buy'

Best of luck with the makings of your new venture! If I can be of assistance do not hesitate to contact me. 

Looks like it is time

Okay - I think we're starting to see a group of people coming together around this idea - let's move the dialogue forward to creating the user interface. We'll start deploying the technology and will need the subject matter experts to work through the content to begin with. Who's in?

The Cure for the Common Brain Drain

After a delightful and inspiring meeting with the RealNEO team, I finally feel like I have the potential to be a part of something wonderful. More specifically, we discussed the possibility of creating an interface/service where students in NEO could post their resumes and profiles to be matched with employers seeking interns for their businesses.  In a sense, it would take the premise of an executive search firm that generates revenue by finding qualified individuals to fill open positions - except, this is a whole different ballgame.

The difference being the nature of the employees. These would be individuals with little to no job experience but the desire, energy and insight to provide quality work to NEO companies. Currently, there exists a great gap between getting that college BS and attaining gainful employment - employers aren't interested in paying salaries/benefits to individuals who spent 4+ years learning about the world in a theoretical perspective and they are definitely not interested in spending the money to train them. In effect, a college degree with no avenue for meaningful employment leads to your typical entry-level position and your typical climb up the bureaucratic corporate ladder.

An internship is a bridge between higher education and employment. An employer can take on an intern at a very low cost (typically an hourly wage) and engage the student in projects within the company - the student gains relevant job experience and skills, and acquires some fulfillment that can't be found in a classroom. The employer benefits by training a potential employee of the company as well as the work done by the intern at the time of internship. An additional and indirect component of an internship is that it can train new supervisors/managers how to be effective supervisors/managers by overseeing the work done by an intern - an employee who poses no threat to their livelihood but one that is willing to take direction and mentorship.


So how about it? Provide meaningful (read: not filing, faxing and being an office dunce) opportunities for students to engage in NEO companies and therein creating a cure for the common brain drain. I'm in - I'm very in.

Already Exists?

Although I'm having trouble finding a local server for volunteer matching, there is a national website already in existence:

Is this enough?

I checked out - searched for volunteer opportunities and registered as a volunteer in their database. It has lots of opportunities posted - I'll see how the rest of the service works out. Is this enough? I'll share my opinion as I further explore the value of the current solutions available - please feel free to add your insight.

volunteer matching

Here is the stuff to use. We need a developer.  Norm - is that you?

Where are we with this stuff?

IT's not the problem

We've got mySQL and more - IT's not the problem. We actually can very easily customize free open source software (FOSS) to develop here a world-class solution. This can be built on the same combination of applications that run REALNEO, and REALNEO has the underlying functionality to enable a volunteer and job matching system. This forum is intended to nurture that process by engaging some interested parties in discussion on the volunteer matching challenge. Next steps - build a team to actually design and implement the system.