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. 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.
- Through BoardConnect, we provide training for professionals interested in serving on nonprofit boards. Session topics focus on governance, legal and fiduciary responsibilities, and advocacy and fund-raising for nonprofit organizations. Participants are then introduced to Central New Jersey nonprofit organizations looking for new trustees. BoardConnect also has custom board training available for corporations and businesses looking to engage their employees with meaningful community connections.
- 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. We have matched skilled volunteers for projects at organizations such as, Boys & Girls Club of Mercer County, Habitat for Humanity of Trenton, MillHill Child and Family Development and Dress for Success.
- Through LeadershipConnect, we provide resources, networking opportunities, and workshops to help nonprofits improve critical operations and services. LeadershipConnect includes forums explicitly for executive directors, giving them the opportunity to interact, discuss topics of their choosing, and share best practices with peers. Workshops for volunteer managers and other nonprofit staff cover topics such as managing social media and solving volunteer management challenges.
By training professionals for nonprofit board service, matching skilled volunteers to specific organizational needs, and providing workshops on key operations and services, VolunteerConnect continues to promote volunteerism to expand the reach, impact, and capacity of community organizations in greater Mercer County.