By Todd Cohen
Local United Ways and volunteer centers throughout the U.S. soon will be offered a Web-based tool to connect volunteers and nonprofits through a deal being negotiated among three big national charities.
The tool already is being used by United Ways in 10 cities, including Boston, Philadelphia and Austin, Texas, and by 12 universities, including MIT, Harvard and the University of Texas, says its creator, Michael Bryzek, executive director of Volunteer Solutions in Harvard, Mass.
Bryzek, who created the tool in 1997 as an undergraduate studying computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., has agreed to sell the product to the United Way of America.
And the United Way has been in “serious negotiations” with the Points of Light Foundation and the Volunteer Center National Network “to work together to provide this to volunteer centers and local United Ways throughout the United States,” says Jim Yu, vice president for Internet strategies at the United Way of America.
The tool, known as Volunteer Solutions, lets nonprofits submit volunteer opportunities, news, calendar items and other information to volunteer Web sites run by local United Ways and volunteer centers.
Visitors to the sites can communicate by email with agencies needing volunteers.
By letting agencies manage information on their volunteer sites, the tool gives staffs of United Ways and volunteer centers more time to work with individual agencies to strengthen their volunteer programs, says Rhonda Johnson, director of e-community for the United Way of America.
Bryzek, who helped coordinate student volunteer programs while at MIT – where he earned a master’s degree in computer science in 2000 — initially developed Volunteer Solutions for local universities based on a suggestion by students at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
A business plan he wrote to create a nonprofit to market Volunteer Solutions is the only nonprofit initiative ever to win MIT’s coveted Entrepreneurial Competition.
The emerging partnership involving United Way of America began at the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, which was Volunteer Solutions’ first United Way partner.
The tool has attracted about 3,000 unique visitors a month at the Boston-based United Way, up from 50 referrals a month that it handled before adopting the tool, says Johnson, the Boston group’s former senior director of volunteer resources.
In Philadelphia, the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania used Volunteer Solutions to launched volunteerway.org this summer in partnership with 12 local United Ways and five other volunteer centers in the Delaware Valley, says Donald Campbell, vice president and chief information officer.
The Philadelphia United Way has waived fees for the tool, which is supported by corporate sponsorships.
Five corporations also have signed up for a related service that lets them track their employees’ volunteer time and activity.
Yu of the United Way of America says Volunteer Solutions reinforces the local focus of the United Way and of volunteer centers.
“Local United Ways and volunteer centers know what’s going on in their communities,” he says. “They have roots there. They have relationships with the agencies. They know the needs and volunteer opportunities.”