United Way trying to make volunteering easier

By By Justin B. Phillips / American Press

In an effort to make finding ways to volunteer in Southwest Louisiana easier, the United Way turned to the Internet and created “Get Connected,” an online

volunteer and donor opportunity system.

The United Way unveiled the Web-based

platform at a special event Wednesday at its offices at 715 Ryan St.

Before the event,

information about “Get Connected” touted the platform’s ability to

simplify and quicken a number of processes for volunteers

and nonprofits. During the event, a tutorial was given that

demonstrated how to use the new options. It lasted less than five

minutes and consisted of only a few clicks of a mouse.

Melissa Hill, United Way marketing and event coordinator, will be the backbone of the online system, advocating the benefits

of using “Get Connected” and also helping those with questions. At the event, she was the speaker who breezed through the

process of finding ways to volunteer using the system.

First, she pulled up the United Way

home page — www.unitedwayswla.org — and clicked “volunteer.” From there,

Hill navigated

through options on the page that ranged from searching for

agencies by using a keyword or name to typing in your interest

and letting the site match you to a nonprofit needing a volunteer

in that particular area. After the presentation, Hill talked

about the importance of volunteering in the local community.

“We wanted to shift to emphasize the importance of volunteering,” Hill said. “Knowing the trends of social media, we needed

to find a way to make it easier for people to find a way to volunteer.”

With “Get Connected,” the United Way is

also attempting to take advantage of the connectivity available through

social networking.

On the site, users will now be able to learn about agencies and

even become a “fan” of them — which will in turn provide that

agency a presence through users’ social networking accounts. With

the power of social media, times are changing for organizations

like the United Way, and Hill said that this unveiling is just

another step in the process of transitioning with current trends.

Still, she said the new platform isn’t intended to completely

change the way people have gone about volunteering over the


“We don’t want to replace the traditional ways people have gone about it. We just want to add another layer when it comes

to finding ways to volunteer,” Hill said.

The online platform is free for the

agencies that use it. Not only can agencies create pages to tell their

stories and reach

the members of the community passionate about certain issues,

companies can encourage corporate volunteerism and even communicate

with their employees who do volunteer through private forums.

Hill said the biggest advantages will be for the nonprofits who can benefit from “Get Connected” without having to pay for


“This is really going to help the local

nonprofits. Now, they’re going to have another tool to use,” Hill said.

“Some of the

nonprofits have been working for a long time. This is just going

to be something that will help them. It’s also great because

it’s free for them, and that’s really important for a nonprofit.”

Hill said that if someone is looking for a way to dive into the Web-based platform, they should start with their own interests.

She used servicing lawns as an example. What that person should do is take that interest and use it as information on the

United Way site.

“It can match your passion with a local area nonprofit,” Hill said. “If there is a need somewhere, it will easily connect

them. If you want to give back to the community, start with what you’re interested in.”

The event also featured Dana Forrest,

executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Nathan Ferrington,

board president

of Axiall Partners. Both speakers discussed how volunteering is

the key aspect in this endeavor. Denise Durel, president and

CEO of United Way of Southwest Louisiana, explained the mindset of

volunteers by discussing what they see when there is a

glass half-filled with water.

“When I see a volunteer who sees that glass of water, they start looking for someone that’s thirsty,” Durel said.