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|Sean Garrity • 9/06/16|
The Short Version: Since 2005, GreatNonprofits has served as a powerful force connecting volunteers with thousands of donor and client-reviewed nonprofit entities in the United States. Their website allows prospective volunteers to search possible nonprofit matches by area, by subject matter, or by the more than 35,000 organizations rated by their volunteers and clients served. Their success has a lot to do with the engagement of the volunteers who share stories on the site about the difference they’ve made in their communities. GreatNonprofits does more than connect volunteers and organizations, though. They connect people. Not surprisingly, volunteering is one of the best ways to meet like-minded people, find a date, or possibly even a life partner.
When I was in college, I had the chance to volunteer to teach English as a second language to a group of international undergraduate students at the university I was attending. I had no teaching experience at the time and wasn’t sure what to expect. On my first day, my stomach was filled with butterflies and my head with questions. What were these students going to think of me? How obvious will my lack of experience be? Will I be able to successfully lead a class?
Luckily, I got through my first day without bombing and realized what an amazing opportunity this would be. Ultimately, when the semester ended, I was left with a class full of great friends from around the world and a life experience that I couldn’t have attained elsewhere.
My experience is not unique. Many people not only find lifelong friends while volunteering but also make profound connections that turn into romantic partnerships. Sean Byrnes is one of those people. Sean, quite well-known for founding Flurry and Outlier met his wife while volunteering in San Francisco.
Sean is a a board member of GreatNonprofits, one of the biggest and most effective networking sites that connects volunteers, donors, and clients with nonprofit entities. Since its inception, volunteers have shared more than 200,000 stories of their experiences helping the community. Sean serves as just one example of how people can connect through similar interests and civic engagement, and the nonprofit he co-founded continues to help people come together every day.
GreatNonprofits was founded in 2005 in response to the fallout surrounding hurricane Katrina. “So many people wanted to help the victims in Biloxi and New Orleans,” said Perla Ni, Co-Founder and CEO of GreatNonprofits. “But people didn’t know which organizations were actually on the ground helping and didn’t know where to turn.”
That’s when the idea was born to house volunteer information under a single roof, giving potential volunteers the means to connect with the organizations responding to the disaster.
“The idea behind our website was to be a place where local people can talk about the organizations that they are seeing making a difference,” Perla said. “In this case, mostly in Biloxi, it was volunteer organizations that were finding people who had no place to sleep, people who were sleeping in their cars. They found people who needed medical attention and found doctors.”
From there, GreatNonprofits took off. Now the site features 35,000 nonprofits with volunteering opportunities across the United States in areas ranging from animal and wildlife to food banks and national advocacy. “There are issues for everyone to get involved in,” Perla said, “and it’s really easy to get started.”
People browsing the site for volunteer opportunities can search by local area, by issue, and by organization.
“We try to make it easy for users, which, in turn, benefits the organizations,” Perla said. “Most nonprofits don’t have any advertising dollars, so our site is very beneficial in bringing the volunteers to them. Think of it as the internet version of word-of-mouth, your friends recommending these nonprofits.”
People get into volunteering for a variety of reasons, but most just want to make a difference in their communities and do something worthwhile to help others. Many are surprised to find that, beyond making a difference for others, they themselves are enriched by the experience and the people they meet.
“Most people who volunteer find it a very rewarding, interesting, and creative experience,” Perla said. “The people who are most drawn to volunteering are optimistic, socially active people who are curious and open to new experiences, people who like helping others. These are all of the qualities that we’re looking for in a mate.”
Almost every demographic is represented by the volunteers who find opportunities on GreatNonoprofits, but the fastest growing is millennials. People in their early 20s who have just started their professional careers are more frequently looking for ways to meet other people and gain different types of skills.
“Many young people are joining organizations that hold large events that might require volunteers,” Perla said. “Helping put together, say, an annual gala, is a great way for young people to have fun, meet really wonderful people, and contribute to their community.”
She also noted that sometimes all it takes is to put down your device or step away from the computer to meet your perfect match, and what better way to do that than in a volunteer capacity?
“In this day and age when we have exponential technology, I think we need exponential human relationships. Nothing beats human relationships when connecting face to face and working on things that matter together,” Perla said. “They might be a block away, but we’ll never get a chance to meet with them unless we actually leave our apartment and maybe sign up for, say, the community creek cleanup. You’ll meet 10 of your neighbors, and, who knows, maybe one of them will turn into a date.”
Volunteering is all about paying it forward, which seems to be exactly how GreatNonprofits works. Volunteers find the nonprofits that are right for them on the site, but that’s not where the volunteer/GreatNonprofits relationship ends. Many volunteers return the favor and post stories about their experiences on the site, which adds another level to volunteering. By posting your story, you may be helping another potential volunteer make a great connection.
“It’s really easy. You find the organization you want to share a story with, you click on it, and just share your experience,” Perla said. “We encourage folks to add a photo of them volunteering that day. Whether it’s a picture of them picking up the trash or hanging out with other volunteers, it’s great to see people enjoying themselves while helping the community.”
GreatNonprofits lists the top-ranked nonprofits by volunteers around the country. From animal sanctuaries to veteran support, potential volunteers are sure to learn which organization might be right for them.
GreatNonprofits also has an editorial staff made up chiefly of volunteers charged with posting on the site’s blog once or twice per week. “I think it’s good for folks to see an overview of the benefits of volunteering, the benefits of donating, and all the amazing organizations that are out there,” Perla said. “We’re always excited to share stories in different formats to inform people on how volunteering can be engaging and worthwhile.”
After working with the international students, I learned first-hand how rewarding volunteering can be. And, years later, I’m happy to still call some of those students friends. The stories posted on GreatNonprofits and those Perla shared about Sean Byrnes meeting his wife are inspiring, to say the least. If you’re looking to meet new, like-minded people, find a date, or possibly even a potential life partner, volunteering just may be the way to do it.