VolunteerConnect was founded as Hands On Helpers in 1998 by a group of longtime 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. A free online service provided information about volunteer opportunities at local nonprofit organizations. Over the years, this 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 the region. 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 — VolunteerConnect moved from a focus on routinely matching individual volunteers to helping nonprofits improve organizational capacity. Current services include BoardConnect, SkillsConnect, and LeadershipConnect.