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Ranks of Volunteers Swell as Joblessness Rises

Resource type: News

Philanthropy News Digest |

Original Source

Growing numbers of newly unemployed professionals have been streaming into the offices of nonprofits since the recession hit looking to do some good, to network, or simply to fill the hours they used to put in at their former jobs, the New York Times reports.

In New York City, newly jobless professionals have searched for volunteer opportunities on the matching site, which last month recorded 30 percent more visitors than in February 2008, and caused New York Cares to add new-volunteer orientations that are booked an unprecedented three weeks in advance. Similarly, the San Francisco-based Taproot Foundation, which places skilled professionals in volunteer positions, had more people sign up on a single day earlier this year than during any single month in 2008. And in Philadelphia, Big Brothers Big Sisters has seen a 25 percent year-over-year increase in inquiries from potential mentors.

While many nonprofit leaders marvel at the sudden flood of bankers, advertising copywriters, marketing managers, accountants, and other professionals eager to lend their formidable skills in service of a good cause, the increased demand for volunteer positions has been something of a mixed blessing, especially for small organizations that are being forced to scale back on projects in the face of falling donations and cutbacks in government grants. “It’s like a Greek tragedy,” said Lindsay Firestone, who manages pro bono projects for Taproot. “We’re thrilled to have all of these volunteers. But now organizations are stuck not being able to take advantage of it because they don’t have adequate funding.”

According to Bertina Ceccarelli, a senior vice president at the United Way of New York City, which partners with the mayor’s office to run, the flood of professionals looking for volunteer opportunities in the nonprofit sector is similar to what occurred after 9/11 — except that many of the new volunteers have more time on their hands to fill. Still, like many nonprofit executives, Ceccarelli is bracing for the day when the economy revives and today’s jobless are able to find paid employment again.

“My hope is when they decide it’s time to do something else, they have fond memories of what they learned at United Way,” Ceccarelli said. “Maybe they’ll even become a donor. I’ll tell you, there isn’t an executive director in town who doesn’t think that way.”

Bosman, Julie. “ From Ranks of Jobless, a Flood of Volunteers.” New York Times 3/15/09.

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economy, jobs, national service, recession, volunteerism