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United Way trying to make volunteering easier

Last Modified: Thursday, November 07, 2013 10:15 AM

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 — — 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 years.

“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 it.

“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.

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