DurhamCares aims to get people involved

Heather Jones
Heather Jones

Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — Nearly two years ago, two entrepreneurs who head Cary-based Bandwith.com, one of the fastest-growing privately-held companies in the U.S., commissioned a  survey to test their sense that many people in Durham were not giving as much time and money to charity as they might, and to find out why.

The survey of 450 households by Chapel Hill-based FGI Research found 64 percent of Durham’s population had not volunteered for local charities the previous year, and only 1.6  percent of income had been given to religious groups or charities.

But a large percentage of residents said they would be involved and give more if they could find opportunities to volunteer that matched their interests, and if they understood their impact.

As a result, Henry Kaestner and David Morken of Bandwith.com co-founded DurhamCares, a nonprofit that makes grants and matches volunteers with nonprofits.

DurhamCares, which operates with an annual budget of roughly $150,000, has screened over 150 volunteers and made grants last year totaling $85,000 to nine nonprofits.

And this year, it will be helping to give at least $105,000 to nonprofits with funds it generated through a cross-country bicycling event in which it fielded a team of eight local participants.

Distribution of grant funding typically is based on performance goals the nonprofits set.

DurhamCares also mirrored the national Race Across America event with a local race at the American Tobacco Campus that featured riders racing around the clock, and generated pledges totaling 9,000 volunteer hours.

Heather Jones, one of only two paid employees of DurhamCares, says its mission is inspired by the New Testament and the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story she says illustrates the importance of crossing racial and cultural boundaries and building relationships to help a neighbor.

“We love to see people crossing boundaries in our community, getting to know one another and serve one another,” she says.

DurhamCares provides “high-touch” consulting for individuals who want to get involved in the community, akin to a head-hunting service, Jones says.

Prospective volunteers take a 30-second online survey, followed by a 15-minute phone interview with a DurhamCares’ volunteer-match specialist in which they are asked who they are, what they like to do, what their passions and job-skills are, and whether there are any “deal-breakers” that would keep them from volunteering.

The organization has developed relationships with roughly 60 nonprofit partners, asking them to identify their need for volunteers, with about 30 of those nonprofits now actively engaged with volunteers through DurhamCares.

The organization, which asks volunteers to commit themselves to volunteering for at least six months, also follows up regularly with the volunteers and nonprofits to make sure the match is working.

It also provides strategic consulting through Micro-Consulting for North Carolina, or MCforNC, a nonprofit organized by local college students, as well as marketing support for its nonprofit partners.

The goal of DurhamCares, Jones says, is to “engage all Durham residents in crossing boundaries with both their time and money in ways that show relationships and ongoing commitment.”

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