Time and money are our most basic commodities. We give our time, 40 hours a week, for money in the bank. And we give our money to restaurants, home cleaning services, doctors and pharmaceutical companies even, for more time. Not even nonprofits can escape the time-and-money trap. In fact, their inability to collect money as profit puts these organizations on the other end of the spectrum from bodegas and big pharma – as much as, or perhaps more than, donations – nonprofits want our time.
Raleigh-based Activate Good is a nonprofit dedicated to maximizing that time donation – our Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons – to nonprofits who will serve as good stewards of of our gift.
I spoke with Courtney Hamm, Fund Development and Events Coordinator for Activate Good, who shared this organization’s mission, challenges and story.
Unfulfilled by her job in the business world, Courtney went to grad school at Goucher College, where she studied Cultural Sustainability.
“I knew I wanted to work for a nonprofit,” she said. “But I wasn’t sure what nonprofit I would want to work for. When I found out about Activate Good, I thought it was great, because I could work on everything and anything.”
From the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, to educational programs and watershed protection groups, Activate Good’s list of opportunities serves almost any mission imaginable.
This buffet of service opportunities started out as a road trip. Founders Amber Smith and Heather Leahwood traveled the country with around $800 in their pockets, volunteering in every town they stopped by. They met many people who were also interested in serving others with their time, but who didn’t know how to get started. At the same time, they worked with tons of nonprofits who needed more hands. When they returned to Raleigh, Amber and Heather founded a nonprofit dedicated to serving nonprofits, and it’s been fulfilling that mission since 2005.
Between 2013 and 2015, Activate Good facilitated 21, 207 volunteer connections in the Triangle Area of NC. In that time period, its volunteers provided 1.3 million dollars worth of volunteer services to Triangle nonprofits. Every 1 dollar donated to Activate Good turned that into 3 dollars of economic benefit for nonprofits. I’d call that a good return on investment.
Activate Good does holds two annual fundraisers – a scavenger hunt, Raleigh Typhoon, and a fashion show, Couture for a Cause. And while monetary donations are essential, their biggest area of need is volunteers. Raleigh, NC is ranked #33 in terms of the number of people who volunteer per capita, Courtney said. For the Triangle to become #1, Activate Good would need to recruit an additional 163,000 people to become volunteers.
She added that the sometimes folks tend to have an image of the type of person who volunteers and that is a barrier they’re still working to overcome.
“Volunteering isn’t just for a certain type of person.”
But it’s not just the image of a Johnny Do-Gooder that may turn off potential community service providers; many folks – your interviewer and interviewee included – have donated our time to volunteer opportunities that didn’t feel worth our while, so overcoming a poor volunteer experiences is a goal for Activate Good as well.
“I’ve had that volunteer experience as well, where you’re spending your Saturday, and you’re just standing around and not doing anything,” Courtney said.
A problem for many nonprofits is that the more they need volunteers, the less funding they likely have to organize a community service team. So Activate Good offers a Service Enterprise training for our nonprofits, so they can learn to be good volunteer stewards.
“It’s also figuring out how to know what the nonprofits really need,” Courtney said. “Instead of ‘we need help,’ saying ‘we need someone to come in and organize our filing system.'”
The Activate Good online system also works to ensure volunteers establish a connection with nonprofits before donning their work boots. Nonprofits post on the website that there are X opportunities available, and spots will be open until X people have signed up. Once someone signs up, the nonprofit has to respond within 48 hours.
It Takes Time to Make Time
Courtney and her colleagues also work with potential volunteers to find their perfect niche.
“We don’t exist just as a website,” she said. “It’s actually a partnership between us and the volunteers, and we’re working to make that connection. People can talk to us and find different options for volunteering.”
For example, a quick search of the Activate Good website brings up a variety of opportunities. Volunteers are needed for one-time, brief events such as First Friday at Artspace where participants will help serve food and drinks to event attendees, or at BBQ, Blues, and Brews for Fuquay-Varina Downtown Revitalization Association where volunteers help with all aspects of the one-day event.
There are also opportunities to volunteer long-term, including mentoring foster youth and young adults with The Hope Center at Pullen or serving as the silent auction point person for SEEDS. You can even help organizations by volunteering at home–serving as a foster family for cats and kittens for Purr Partners Feline Rescue or being a Social Media Ambassador for Activate Good to help spread the word about Activate Good events and volunteer opportunities.
That’s the crux of Activate Good’s mission – finding ways to help people volunteer no matter what their schedule looks like.
And their base is growing. Courtney recalled a recent social hour in Raleigh, where she got the chance to interact with Activate Good volunteers.
“It was great talking to people who do everything – from psychiatrists to police officers,” she said. “People think there is a certain type of person who volunteers. We see that it’s everyone.”