Volunteers have fueled regional nonprofits throughout the pandemic
reDuring the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, government officials called on people to take refuge in their homes and maintain social distance with others. In concept, this would appear to be a disaster for any nonprofit organization that relied on volunteers to help them with their activities.
In fact, regional associations have reported that the pandemic period has not disrupted ties with their volunteer bases.
“We have seen a tremendous increase in the number of individuals and community members who want to connect with the community,” said Jeanette Gisbert, executive director of Volunteer New York. “Very early in March 2020, we set up our Virtual Volunteer Center, which was an organized list of things people could do virtually from home.
“We knew that nonprofits still needed volunteers to accomplish their missions,” Gisbert added. “But they just needed to kind of re-imagine what volunteering looked like in the state of a global pandemic.”
One organization that relied heavily on virtual platforms to achieve its goals during the pandemic was the Fairfield County chapter of SCORE, a national network of volunteer business mentors. But according to Steve Smith, chief executive of the chapter, their migration to virtual communications preceded the health crisis.
“We were going digital more and more anyway due to congestion and traffic in Fairfield County,” he said.
With 126 volunteers and a client base of 15,000, Fairfield County is one of SCORE’s largest chapters. Smith has received positive feedback on the section’s webinars and the one-on-one mentorship his volunteer business experts provide to small business owners.
“We have not had any decline in our services rendered in the past 16 months,” he said. “The customers have been very satisfied. “
But as the health crisis recedes, Smith is not eager to return to pre-pandemic mode of operation.
“We are not going back to the old approach,” he said. “We have set a new bar for efficiency performance and we need to find the right kind of mix. “
However, not all organizations could simply migrate to Zoom. Faith Ann Butcher, Impact Manager at United Way of Westchester and Putnam, reported that volunteers took appropriate health safety precautions in helping to assemble and deliver meal packages to residents in need of a food aid.
“We haven’t lost any volunteers at all,” said Butcher. “We actually increased the volunteer capacity during that time, from 5,000 hours per year to 7,000 hours per year. The people were extremely caring and gave a lot of their time.
At United Way of Coastal Fairfield County, the pandemic has not ended volunteer-fueled operations.
“Our volunteers have organized fundraising and corporate fundraising,” said Gail Carroll, vice president of marketing and communications. “They collected food, diapers and toys for those in need, and Centraide distributed them to our community partners serving families.
Carroll noted that Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford opened its cafeteria for the organization during this time, preparing lunches to distribute to food insecure residents in four cities. Jeff Kimball, the CEO of this branch of United Way, led by example by personally distributing meal packages at a social housing project in Bridgeport.
Aside from food-focused efforts, Carroll reported the distribution of personal protective equipment to frontline workers, as well as efforts to encourage voter registration and attendance at outdoor census vaccination clinics. American.
“In the future, we hope to return to our in-person volunteering,” she said, citing projects such as distributing books at public events and reading in preschool classes.
For Gisbert of Volunteer New York, the pandemic has been a challenge, but she has observed that nonprofits and the volunteers that keep them moving are always up for a challenge.
“You know what happens after every disaster,” she said. “We saw it after September 11, after Hurricane Sandy. We channeled it into this new environment.