Bringing Volunteers and Nonprofits Together

Work is being done behind the scenes to increase volunteer capacity in central Illinois. 

by Gina Edwards, Heart of Illinois United Way
Heart of Illinois United Way President Jennifer Zammuto joined Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat for Read Across America Day.
Heart of Illinois United Way President Jennifer Zammuto joined Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat for Read Across America Day on March 4, 2020 at the Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Center.

At its core, volunteering is a social experience. And despite weeks of social distancing, the spirit of volunteerism in our community is just as vibrant now as it always has been. With ongoing support needed for the current crisis, the Heart of Illinois United Way has helped area nonprofits and schools recruit volunteers to support food security, provide emotional support, encourage educational success and more.

Trends in Volunteerism
The changes in how volunteers are being utilized by area nonprofits during the COVID-19 crisis illustrate how the nature of volunteerism itself is evolving. With repeat volunteerism on the decline, more people are seeking one-time volunteer opportunities with a shorter time commitment and more flexibility. At the same time, volunteers are looking for opportunities to make a greater impact than volunteering for a special event. Meanwhile, social-distancing measures are placing greater emphasis on the growing trend of micro-volunteering, as well as remote volunteering that can be done at home or at work. 

Volunteering is a recreational activity. When nonprofit organizations recruit volunteers, they are not competing for a specific pool of time that individuals or families have set aside to volunteer. Rather, they are competing for personal time. The issue then becomes how nonprofits can strategically move volunteers from transactional, episodic experiences to an ongoing relationship with their organization. 

Experiencing how a nonprofit organization recruits and works with volunteers is a major window into how it operates within the community. Organizational culture has a major effect on a volunteer program. In today’s volunteer recruitment and engagement process, nonprofit organizations need to be more flexible, offer more meaningful volunteer experiences, and approach volunteerism as building a community of supporters. 

Volunteers help pack supplies
PNC employees volunteering for Midwest Food Bank during last year's Day of Caring

Heart of Illinois Volunteers
To help area nonprofits focus their efforts on increased volunteer engagement, the Heart of Illinois United Way launched “Heart of Illinois Volunteers” in 2017. Available at volunteer.hoiunitedway.org, this online community brings volunteers and nonprofits together on one platform to encourage volunteerism while providing tools to make the experience easier for both the volunteer and nonprofit. We believe collaborating with local volunteer administrators to share best practices and shape unique volunteer opportunities provides a structure that helps nonprofits easily recruit and focus more on volunteer engagement and outcomes. 

Since launching Heart of Illinois Volunteers, more than 3,000 volunteers have registered to volunteer through the platform, collectively providing more than 25,000 service-hours throughout central Illinois. The platform is not only utilized by United Way partner agencies; it is open to area nonprofits and public schools who want to join this one-stop shop for volunteer recruitment. 

We are also constantly looking for opportunities to reach more potential volunteers. Shortly after launching this platform, a partnership was formed with Bradley University for “Braves Volunteer” (volunteer.bradley.edu), which links nonprofit profiles and volunteer needs between the two platforms to reach a population of students who wish to serve. Our platform also feeds into national volunteer portals including the Points of Light Foundation, State Farm’s Neighborhood of Good, and Verizon Wireless’ One More Sunday. And with the COVID-19 crisis, the State of Illinois’ volunteer commission, SERVE Illinois, launched a new statewide portal which includes volunteer.hoiunitedway.org

Volunteers with EP!C
Volunteers for EP!C Harvest, which provides opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to be involved in EP!C’s greenhouse, garden and CSA program

Corporate Volunteer Council
As more companies expand their employee volunteer programs, the Heart of Illinois United Way’s next step is establishing a Corporate Volunteer Council (CVC) in 2020. By tracking employee volunteer engagement through our online community, we have recruited a steering committee with members from Advanced Technology Services, Bradley University, Caterpillar, CEFCU, Illinois Mutual, Komatsu, OSF HealthCare, PNC and RLI. 

Over the next few months, this steering committee will focus on defining how area companies can collaborate, share best practices and increase employee volunteer engagement. The CVC will represent a network of area businesses dedicated to addressing identified community needs while improving employee volunteer recruitment and retention. These efforts will lead to deeper relationships and increase long-term, skills-based volunteer work. 

Volunteers crafting materials
Heart of Illinois United Way volunteers Marcia Bolden, Patti Bash and Sally Snyder

Network of Volunteer Administrators
In addition to the training and advice the Heart of Illinois United Way provides to area nonprofit organizations, we are also proud to be part of NOVA (Network of Volunteer Administrators). Membership is open to volunteer administrators from a wide range of nonprofits, healthcare organizations and public service organizations to learn more about community-wide needs and share information. To inquire about joining NOVA, email novapeoria@gmail.com.

With the generous spirit of our community, we are in constant need of more opportunities to offer individuals, families and companies who want to volunteer. The behind-the-scenes work of the Heart of Illinois United Way, Bradley University, NOVA and local volunteer administrators is integral to increasing volunteer capacity in central Illinois. The people of our community are beyond generous when it comes to sharing their time, connecting with people and improving community situations. PM

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