Can GoVoluntr Help Better Connect Volunteers?

When was the last time you gave back to your community? Today’s economy has made it difficult for both the employed and employers to find time to help those in need, as resources seem to be limited — especially for strapped nonprofits and government agencies. The lack of resources available for these agencies to utilize technology to find volunteers has only aggravated this problem until now, which has started a vicious cycle of people who need volunteers, and people who want to volunteer, but a lack of ability for these entities to easily find each other.

A new startup called GoVoluntr — part of the newest class of 500 Startups — is hoping to bridge that gap by creating a social network that connects volunteers with other volunteers and social causes, helps nonprofits source volunteers, and allows businesses to promote their brand by building a volunteer program. GoVoluntr uses game mechanics, rewards, and branding to achieve this mission, leveraging the types of gratification that both individuals and brands seem to crave so much these days. Right now, dozens of nonprofits in the Bay Area are using GoVoluntr to track the activity of their volunteers.

Young Han, one of the founders of GoVoluntr, started the service after he said he “realized the challenges nonprofits faced related to adapting and staying ahead of evolving technology trends, in addition to limitations of government funding for even the most fundamental social services.” Han previously worked at Starbucks, where he was an “avid” volunteer, and said that working there gave him the “privilege of seeing first hand the effective way resources and time spent on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) by large corporations like Starbucks can deliver huge gains and benefits for companies like Starbucks.” Han hopes that the utilization of GoVoluntr by other brands, as well as nonprofits, will provide the same types of benefits for these entities — while also making volunteerism fun for individuals.

But can a social network that is designed to attract volunteers with game mechanics and big businesses with a monthly subscription that encourages “social responsibility” be enough to compete against other similar programs, both internal and external? Many nonprofits are quickly learning how to utilize social media to promote their causes and attract volunteers. In fact, this has become one of the hottest topics concerning the use of social media this year. Seattle-based Jolkona was one of the first non-profits to leverage Groupon as a fundraiser in July 2011, which ended up raising $5,220. The idea stemmed from a 2011 SXSW panel featuring the Groupon G-Team, which features campaigns from local non-profit organizations, and many submissions for 2012′s SXSW pitched discussions about nonprofit’s use of social media. Clearly, non-profits are realizing the potential for social media to increase the visibility of their entity as well as increase their effectiveness. Additionally, many larger non-profits, including United Way, are building out campaigns to help smaller nonprofits learn how to leverage social media to attract the resources — including volunteers — they need via social media. Dozens of other conferences are springing up around the country to teach non-profits how to use social media and technology to build more success.

In addition to the rise of tech-savvy professionals joining the teams of non-profits, GoVoluntr has some tough competition from similar services if it wants to become a database of volunteers for even big brands to leverage. Often these businesses partner with other organizations that leverage their own volunteer/donation database. Other similar services already exist entirely, such as VolunteerMatch.com, Idealist.org, and and Change.org — just to name a few. In fact, there are dozens of volunteer matching sites. What seems to make GoVoluntr a little different is the transparency of its volunteers; all hours and opportunities are tracked, and volunteers receive awards (or, ahem, “badges”) for their volunteer efforts.

The problem will ultimately be whether volunteers appreciate the transparency of their volunteerism on their profiles. Many volunteer opportunities have ties to religious or political entities, and publicly announcing this — especially on the Internet, where the data can be searched for and found — could impact current and future professional and personal relationships. GoVoluntr is loaded with great features for nonprofits and businesses, including analytics, which might make it a great tool for an entity to use if they have yet to adapt any other platform to manage volunteers. However, as volunteerism is often a very personal and passionate experience, the transparency may not be ideal for the individual users. Volunteering is rarely treated like a career — and for those individuals who do see it as such, incorporating the activity into a LinkedIn profile should not only suffice, but also provide more context.

As a volunteer, would you use GoVoluntr to track your volunteer activity? Let us know your thoughts about this new startup in the comments.

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  • http://twitter.com/GrahamGudgin Graham Gudgin

    As President of a small community nonprofit, I’m willing to give this a try. We could certainly use some volunteers, although the kind of volunteers we’re currently looking for are people who can donate their time on a regular basis, to help plan and organize our activities, rather than people to help on a one-off basis. The model of this organization seems to me like it would encourage people to flit from one volunteer opportunity to another, in order to get “badges.” Not necessarily a bad thing (hey, we can all use volunteers, and there are more opportunities than people available to help), but it might not attract the kind of volunteers we need.