Clearinghouses find volunteers 

Over the past decade, San Francisco has become a hub for nonprofit organizations that hook up aspiring do-gooders with the charities that need free workers. All of them simplify the process of picking a volunteer gig, but how do you choose whom to help you choose?

For corporations looking to find a good community-volunteering exercise without doing do much administrative work in-house, the choices are clearer: a few groups, like Hands On Bay Area and VolunteerMatch, offer specialized company programs as revenue builders. But for the person who just wants to help out, volunteer recruiters said picking any appealing one isn’t a bad strategy.

Artrese Morrison is the director of volunteer services for Project Open Hand, a San Francisco group that provides 1,937 meals a day to the sick and aged, an endeavor that requires many volunteers. Her group uses both The Volunteer Center of San Francisco and Hands On Bay Area, a group founded two years ago by the merger of Hands On San Francisco and Community Impact, a Peninsula group. Between them and other corporate, college and religious groups, she calculated that 1,400 of Project Open Hand’s 2,615 volunteers in 2006 came from these clearinghouse groups.

"They typically are working with their own different demographic populations," Morrison said of the various groups.

And they are eager to differentiate themselves. For example, San Francisco’s One Brick focuses on volunteers who are looking to make a difference while socializing, and who are too busy for long-term commitments. It was founded in 2001 by Dave Shefferman and two others after he was laid off from his job in the dot-com bust and began inviting others to volunteer as a way to make lemonade from the lemon of unemployment. He said he started initially working with the San Francisco Food Bank.

"We looked at the objections that people had to volunteering. One of them was, folks are busy," he said. "They don’t have a set time of the week that they can always be there. That actually prevents a lot of people from coming out and supporting the community. Here, you can be gardening in the park one day, helping at a black-tie event to bus tables another day."

The group is very lean, operating until last year with no paid staff and a budget of less than $20,000, while still providing 32,600 man-hours of charity work in 2006. The operation for volunteers is simple: they check the calendar on the Web site, RSVP for an event and show up. A One Brick organizer — also a volunteer — greets them with a waiver and a smile, introduces them to the charity’s representative and to the project, and puts them to work. Afterward, they go Dutch for a meal or a drink.

Alan Hobbs, a research psychologist from Mountain View, went to sort food at the Peninsula’s Second Harvest Food Bank because a friendinvited him. He keeps going back about once a month to various volunteer projects and makes volunteer dates with friends.

"I showed up there and it was actually a lot of fun," Hobbs said. "Most of the people I know are doing IT work, white-collar work. I guess I’m embarrassed to admit it but I didn’t know how many people were relying on food assistance."

As with the other organizations mentioned in this article, One Brick doesn’t charge fees to the organization or to the volunteer. Instead, it’s used monthly donation-parties to raise money, though now it has a part-time executive director and is applying for grants. But some of the region’s other volunteer brokers, such as the online service VolunteerMatch.org and Hands On Bay Area, charge corporations for organizing, promoting and managing company volunteer days and other company-sponsored efforts.

Half of Hands On Bay Area’s work is with these company volunteers at firms such as Accenture Ltd. (ACN), McKesson Corp. (MCK) and Charles Schwab & Co. (SCHW), Executive Director Jim Pitofsky said. The group works on a large scale, with 120 service projects a month supporting 300 agencies and a staff of 18, and they produced 47,500 service-hours last year.

Unlike One Brick, it offers projects that require a longer-term commitment or more training, in addition to the one-day efforts. For example, he said, its TeamWorks program lets volunteers connect to an issue or a neighborhood for five to six sessions of volunteering. Every session is followed with a talk about the issues involved.

"We try to get a breadth on our continuum on how to get involved," Pitofsky said.

While both One Brick and Hands On Bay Area send representatives to the project sites, VolunteerMatch is just what the name implies — a matchmaker. Formed in 1998, it also partners with companies like Dell Inc. (DELL) and Recreational Equipment Inc. as part of its fundraising efforts. It promotes volunteer opportunities to employees, and now even to customers via company Web sites.

"We’re at about 55 percent sustainability now, and we’re becoming less and less reliant on philanthropy and donations," VolunteerMatch spokesman Jason Willett said. "We provide them with a customized feed … and administrative tools."

The service also lets employees check on where other employees are volunteering and reach staff in far-flung offices. It also allows for "virtual volunteering," for example a writer in California helping an animal shelter in Florida write a press release or marketing materials, Willet said.

"They’re such great people and a good place to volunteer that I continued," said retired lawyer Pamela Jue, who has volunteered directly for VolunteerMatch for five years. She checks that the groups who request volunteers are truly nonprofit organizations. "It allows nonprofits who may not be as Internet savvy to really, at no cost to them, get their opportunities in front of people."

volunteer brokers

» The Volunteer Center Serving San Francisco and San Mateo Counties

Founded: 1946

2004 budget: $658,000*

Address: 1675 California St., San Francisco 94109

Phones: (415) 982-8999

(650) 235-3550

Web: www.thevoluteercenter.net

Provides: 15,000 volunteers to more than 2,000 nonprofits, including special programs for youth, emergency preparedness and response and people with disabilities

» Hands On Bay Area

Founded: 1988, merged to its current form in 2004, affiliated with international Hands On Network

2003 budget: $654,000*

Address: 330 Townsend St., Suite 16, San Francisco 94107

Phone: (415) 541-9616

Web: www.handsonbayarea.org

Provides: 10,000 volunteers to 300 nonprofits, including special programs for corporations and educational experiences

» One Brick

Founded: 2001

2004 budget: Less than $20,000

Address: 1629 Lake St., San Francisco 94121

Phone: N/A

Web: www.onebrick.org

Provides: More than 20,000 volunteers to 452 organizations in San Francisco, Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C.

» VolunteerMatch (Impact Online Inc.)

Founded: 1998

2004 budget: $2.9 million*

Address: 385 Grove St., San Francisco 94102

Phone: (415) 241-6868

Web: www.volunteermatch.org

Provides: Online matching of volunteers with more than 33,000 community service organizations, including a special corporate service

*Guidestar.org

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