Yale '62 - Does your Volunteering Have a "Pay Off"? - Chuck Elkins

"Does your Volunteering Have a "Pay Off"?"
By Chuck Elkins

I felt a little guilty asking myself that question recently, but, quite frankly, at this age as I move into semi-retirement and want to give back some of my time to the community, I still put a high value on my spare time. I want my volunteer efforts to have a "pay off" for both me and the recipient-to be both enjoyable to me and of high value to the recipient.

As I began to search the World Wide Web for new volunteer opportunities that might have this kind of double "pay off," I found lots of opportunities to go downtown and help at the local soup kitchen or equivalent program. I know that these programs' survival depend on the physical labors of countless volunteers to do this face-to-face work, but I knew that after the first visit, I would be looking for excuses not to go back-and I would feel guilty about that.

I learned something about myself in my very first job out of Yale with a local poverty program, and I haven't changed in this regard in the intervening 40 years: I'm a "back office" kind of guy. In the poverty program I learned I could make a bigger contribution writing a grant proposal to get us money to open new recreational centers than trying to play basketball with the client kids. And my colleagues there who were good at working with the kids and hated administrative work appreciated that there was someone who enjoyed writing the grant proposals, setting up the accounting system, and dealing with City Hall.

As I thought about all this last year, I realized that as a consultant working out of my home office, I deliver my professional skills to my clients primarily by means of the internet and the telephone. What's more, I enjoy this work, and my clients, who are located all around the country, give me positive feedback about the quality of my services by sending me checks in payment.

Obviously, I'm not alone in having the nature of my work radically changed by today's computer technology. What I realized was that, by and large, the world of social service and volunteerism is only beginning to make use of this new technology which the business world has adopted so quickly and thoroughly. Yet, many of the technical, professional, and life skills which we all have can be delivered, at least in part, by way of the internet and the telephone. Why not use this technology to deliver these services-right from one's desk-to needy people and programs across town or around the world and across multiple time zones? Not all volunteer efforts need to involve local, physical face-to-face interactions. In fact, for many people, the best match of their personal skills and a social program's needs may involve the use of this new technology.

Chuck ElkinsSo, was I successful in finding a high "pay off" volunteer opportunity? Yes. I decided to create an Institute for CyberVolunteering to promote and support the concept of virtual volunteering. This totally volunteer effort fits my enjoyment of "back office" work, and fills a niche I discovered during my research into volunteering. As a start I decided to make it easier for others who might want to try CyberVolunteering to find the thousands of opportunities for such volunteering that already exist. The result is the website, www.cybervolunteers.org.

These volunteer jobs that are already available range from helping charity organizations with their bookkeeping or accounting, their research into new legislation, their analysis of data, their translation of materials from one language to another, or their mentoring of students, to mention only a few. As an example of the power and reach of CyberVolunteering, one program, Netmentors.org, already has 1000 professionals mentoring 900 students nationwide via email.

Here's my pitch to my fellow classmates. If you're not entirely sure that your volunteer hours have a big enough pay off for both yourself and your favorite program, you might want to explore CyberVolunteering. My site is one place you could start your search, or you could introduce the idea to your favorite charity and help them create a cyber opportunity for you, perhaps by rearranging how they get some of their current work done or expanding their vision of what these new volunteer efforts might allow them to achieve.

Even if you are happy with your current volunteer efforts, you might find a use for this new form of volunteering. For example, if the organization you are helping needs a new fund-raising brochure, and you and they don't have the talent to produce a first-rate product, maybe a CyberVolunteer could help via the internet. The website, VolunteerMatch.org will let you advertise the opportunity for free. That's where I advertised for help in designing my Cybervolunteers website, and I had 14 volunteers to choose from after only 4 days! That single site has over 7000 CyberVolunteer opportunities already listed looking for volunteers. So whether you are looking for an opportunity for yourself or helping an organization find ways to do more, CyberVolunteering may be the answer. Happy volunteering!