Volunteering Goes Tech

By Padmini Parasarathy

Americans like to help. We raise barns, wash cars for cash, or do massive trash pickups. It’s that spirit that is honored with National Volunteer Week, which starts today.  As well as celebrating all the great work that's being done, the organizers are hoping to inspire even more people to pitch in. 

The desire to help others is alive and well. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, about 1 in 4 Americans volunteered through an organization in 2012, when the data was last collected. Volunteering has also trended upward among GenXers over the past eleven years, increasing more than 5 percent since 2003. 

What's behind the uptick in volunteer hours? Some speculate technological advances are at work. The Internet is making it easier for people to find organizations that are looking for volunteers with their particular skills. Like online dating, LinkedIn recently launched a search function for people looking for volunteer opportunities.

In honor of National Volunteer Week, we’ve found some organizations that are transforming volunteering for stay-at-home moms, working stiffs, and college kids alike:

Team4Tech: Team4Tech pairs up the best tech companies, such as Intel and Facebook, with non-profits. Employees of these companies can volunteer for projects that Team4Tech has made available. The organization deploys teams of four to six for two weeks to do a project. Volunteers do everything from installing and upgrading education technology in Kenya, to empowering women with computer skills in India. This digital tool makes it much easier for companies to offer volunteer work and for nonprofits to find skilled volunteers.

Giving Circles Network: The concept of giving circles grew organically as people realized that pooling their time and resources to devote to community service projects could be incredibly effective. There are now 400 documented giving circles in America. The network also connects people in the same neighborhood who have similar goals.

HandsOn Tech Chicago: This organization aims to improve how non-profits use technology in the Chicago area. HandsOn Tech recruits skilled volunteers to act as technology consultants for more than 40 nonprofits, and provides workshops for others.

Help From Home: This organization’s guiding principle is to "change the world in just pajamas." Help From Home connects people with causes that they can assist without going anywhere. If you have a bit of spare time and want to help, you can proofread a page for a nonprofit, make a quilt, or translate a document. The site also has a section called "quickies," where users can pick a task based on how much time they have. The tasks are sometimes as simple as pinning or re-tweeting a link, signing a petition, or filling out a survey for data.

Image: Summer in the City via flickr