Online UWMI Volunteer Center matches nonprofits with volunteers eager to help
By Karen Bota | on May 01, 2021
BELDING — Terri Legg, executive director of United Way-Montcalm/Ionia Counties, believes that the community her agency serves is among the most giving there are. When there is a need, people step up — when they know about the need, that is.
Thanks to a grant from the Greenville Area Community Foundation, and a longtime partnership between the two organizations, Legg announced the opening on April 2 of the online UWMI Volunteer Center, which will match organizational need with volunteer interest.
Over the last two years, UWMI and the GACF have been listening to area nonprofits, trying to figure out what they can do to help the nonprofits — and the community — to be more sustainable, and to help nonprofits build capacity.
“The thing that we heard over and over was ‘volunteering.’ They needed help with how do you manage volunteers,” Legg said. “The nonprofits that we have in our community are ones that run on a shoestring budget, and they just didn’t have the budget to be able to do the proper volunteer management and recruitment that they needed for the sustainability of their nonprofit. With the help of the foundation, we were able to bring the Volunteer Center to Montcalm and Ionia counties.”
On the UWMI website is a Volunteer Center portal that houses, to date, 32 of the United Way’s community partners and lists their volunteer opportunities. Anyone in the community can go online and search for opportunities that pique their interest. They can even sort by their “likes,” Legg said.
“So if somebody is really passionate about youth literacy, they can narrow it down and just look at volunteer opportunities based on youth literacy. Or if they were passionate about homelessness, they can look at just those that deal with homelessness,” she said. “It’s really a one-stop-shop for everybody in the community to be able to look at volunteer opportunities and sign up for them.”
The center helps the nonprofits, because the United Way manages the site, and along with it, all that volunteer data. It can provide reports to the nonprofits about who their volunteers are. In addition, required documentation like the nonprofit’s confidentiality agreements, authorization forms or liability releases — can also be housed within the site.
“It really helps the nonprofit from the management standpoint, because now we do all that management for them,” said Legg.
Jennifer Butler, executive director of Relief After Violent Encounter Ionia/Montcalm, which works with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, is excited about the potential the center has to assist nonprofits like hers.
“The UWMI Volunteer Center is a great platform to post all of our volunteering needs,” said Butler. “Recruiting volunteers can be challenging, especially in the COVID-19 era, so having a space dedicated to post our volunteer opportunities and needs saves us valuable time and energy.”
The volunteer center benefits community members, too, because they can be directed to one location, where they can match their interests to nonprofit needs.
“From the volunteer standpoint, it’s super awesome, because not only is it a one-place stop to be able to go and see all the volunteer opportunities, many of our schools now are requiring service-learning as part of their curriculum, and so we have a lot of youth that are really engaged in community service and volunteering,” said Legg.
When the youth apply for scholarships, grants, colleges — “or whatever it is they are applying for,” said Legg — they can print out a report that shows all of their volunteering and their volunteer hours, in total or by time period.
“So it takes away that data management even for the volunteers,” she added. “That’s kind of nice because it gives our youth another tool they can add to their portfolios when they’re looking for jobs, or college admissions or scholarships.”
Many community members have to do community service assigned through the court system. The volunteer center reports meet the criteria for what the courts need, so volunteers can report their volunteer hours, Legg said.
“It’s just a blessing for us, to be able to bring this volunteer center to the community, because it really does help not only the nonprofits, but it helps anybody who’s looking to volunteer,” she added.
Any organization can be part of the volunteer center. For example, if there’s a PTO that needs volunteers for the kiddy carnival at school, they can add that information and use the portal.
“It’s inclusive to everyone in our community in the Montcalm and Ionia region,” Legg said. “It’s not just our nonprofits. … Even if a youth sporting event wanted to put their opportunity in there, they certainly could and recruit for volunteers.”
The organizations can include their volunteer requirements in their postings, such as whether it’s something a family can do together, whether the opportunity is indoors or outdoors, or any other information that will help “drill down” into what the organization is looking for, Legg said.
Butler has high hopes for the platform, and that it will help RAVE grow its volunteer program.
“Having dedicated volunteers is crucial in our program running effectively,” she said.
Right now there are a number of ways individuals can volunteer, from serving as a virtual brand ambassador for United Way to an overnight volunteer at a homeless shelter. There are lots of board opportunities for nonprofits that need board members, too.
“It really just ranges based on the need of the agency that’s in there so far,” Legg said. “It’s such a wide variety. … The reach is broad and the opportunities that are in there are broad as well. I think most anybody could walk in and be able to find an opportunity that speaks to them.”
Individuals themselves also can register with their interests, so that organizations seeking volunteers can find them easily. So far, 65 people have entered their information so they can be connected with the right opportunity for them.
Another feature in the Volunteer Center is blogs, so any of the funded partners can add their blogs on the site “to help celebrate our volunteers,” Legg said.
“We have a very giving community, and there’s a lot of people volunteering,” she said. “We can highlight some of that because that’s what makes our community so great is the people that live in it.”
To check out the new UWMI Volunteer Center, visit the United Way website at liveunitedm-i.org and click on Volunteer.