VolunteerConnect was founded as Hands On Helpers in 1998 by a group of long-time community volunteers who were frustrated by the difficulty of finding suitable volunteer opportunities. Since its founding, the organization has evolved in three general historical phases.
At first, Hands On Helpers was a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities in greater Mercer County. The organization maintained a free online service that provided information about volunteer opportunities with local nonprofit organizations. Over the years, our online service referred thousands of volunteers to opportunities in nonprofits in greater Mercer County, ranging from “done-in-a-day” projects to activities requiring ongoing commitment.
In the second phase, the organization moved beyond a mere matching service for volunteers. We began to offer volunteer management training and professional development workshops to help nonprofit organizations recruit, utilize, retain, and recognize volunteers. Other new services provided outreach to orient volunteers and potential nonprofit board members, help corporations improve employee volunteer programs, and recognize outstanding community volunteers. To better describe these evolving services, Hands On Helpers was renamed VolunteerConnect in 2009.
In 2011, VolunteerConnect entered a third phase of organizational history. The Board of Trustees conducted a strategic assessment of its operations by reviewing research on volunteerism, interviewing local and national nonprofit leaders, and surveying nonprofit directors in greater Mercer County. This research revealed that most local organizations can recruit volunteers through their own websites or other matching services, but they especially need help recruiting skilled volunteers for critical professional functions. Volunteers skilled in areas such as fundraising, event-planning, or marketing can help organizations stretch their limited budgets and fulfill their missions to serve the community.
Through a revised mission — to expand the reach, impact, and capacity of community organizations through effective volunteerism, thereby enriching the lives of Central New Jersey residents.– VolunteerConnect moved from a focus on routinely matching individual volunteers to helping nonprofits improve organizational capacity. Current services include recruiting skilled volunteers for specific projects and offering resources, workshops, and networking opportunities for nonprofit directors and volunteer managers.
- Through SkillsConnect, we help local nonprofits define projects that draw on specific professional skills (such as accounting, marketing, strategic planning, graphic design, or facilities operations) and recruit skilled volunteers to assist with these projects.
- Through LeadershipConnect, we provide resources, networking opportunities, and workshops to help nonprofits improve critical operations and services. Membership in LeadershipConnect includes forums explicitly for executive directors, giving them the opportunity to interact, discuss topics of their choosing, and share best practices with peers. Members also have access to workshops for executive directors and volunteer managers, while non-members may attend individual workshops for a small fee. Quarterly forums and workshops have covered topics such as managing social media and solving volunteer management challenges.
By matching skilled volunteers to specific organizational needs, providing resources and workshops on key operations and services, and phasing in new projects consistent with our mission, VolunteerConnect will continue to promote volunteerism to expand the reach, impact, and capacity of community organizations in greater Mercer County.