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Volunteer-Matching Nonprofit Folded into United Way

Cape Cod Times — Wednesday, August 19, 2015cape cod volunteers smaller version logo

Volunteer-Matching Nonprofit Folded into United Way

By Sean F. Driscoll

Cape Cod Volunteers, a nonprofit that matches would-be volunteers with local service opportunities, is being folded into the Cape and Islands United Way as the larger organization seeks to expand its mission to find long-term solutions to some of the area’s most pressing problems. The agencies officially announced the move Tuesday night during an event held at the Bass River Golf Club to thank volunteers.

“We’re thrilled that we have found an organization that will epitomize the spirit of this work,” Patricia Rowell, chair of the Cape Cod Volunteers board, said during a meeting with the Times editorial board Monday in advance of the announcement. “What happens at the end of the day is that the Cape wins.”

The decision marks the culmination of the Cape Cod Volunteers’ search for a sustainable path to grow its model. Since being founded, first as an initiative of the Cape Cod Foundation in 2006 and then as its own nonprofit in 2010, the organization has helped more than 3,800 volunteers get matched with more than 400 agencies, according to the group. But its leadership has also been looking for a way forward without having to charge for its services, which Director Lisa McNeill said are essential to the community.
“We had a lean model, very limited staff and limited space, and all that was with a lot of emphasis on accomplishing our work with the help of volunteers,” she said.

The Family Pantry of Cape Cod was an early adopter of Cape Cod Volunteers’ services. Mary Anderson, the Harwich nonprofit’s executive director, said that when she started there 10 years ago, the pantry had 100 volunteers on its roster. When it began using Cape Cod Volunteers, that number was 150.
Today there are 450, she said.

“It seemed like such a good way to connect with people for all the organizations on the Cape,” she said. “I don’t know if this was an option, but I would have been very disappointed to hear Cape Cod Volunteers was going away.”

While Cape Cod Volunteers succeeded at building an infrastructure where potential volunteers and nonprofits could be matched via an online portal, McNeill said the majority of her time was spent with administrative tasks and fundraising. As she and the board talked about long-term sustainability, discussions evolved to ways the core mission could remain without needing the dedicated infrastructure around it.

“I think once we started to look at that, it opened up the conversation of being part of a larger organization that has a stronger back office and what that would mean for the long-term possibilities of volunteerism on the Cape,” she said.

For the United Way, incorporating the Cape Cod Volunteers’ mission into its organization was a natural extension of its work, said President and CEO Barbara Milligan. The nonprofit distributed $600,000 in funding to 36 nonprofits in 2014, but it’s in the midst of shifting its focus away from passive funding to using its money to galvanize action on community-wide needs, she said.

“Volunteers are a strategic asset and can be another piece of what we provide,” Milligan said. “We are able to incorporate their work into what we do.”

Once the union is complete, the United Way will work on a new technical backbone for the matching website, which will remain at capecodvolunteers.org, Milligan said. It will also continue the Million Hour Challenge, in which Cape nonprofits were challenged to log their volunteer hours in a quest to strengthen and grow the community’s commitment to service. Nearly 250,000 hours have been logged in the past year, and Milligan said the United Way plans to make participation in the program a condition of their funding.
The United Way will continue the training programs Cape Cod Volunteers offered to nonprofits to help them recruit and retain volunteers, Milligan said.

“Volunteers are capital,” she said. “We’re taking that to the next level.”

McNeill, Cape Cod Volunteers’ only full-time employee, will not be making the move to the United Way, a voluntary decision on her part.

When the idea for Cape Cod Volunteers was being fostered within the Cape Cod Foundation, McNeill said she approached larger organizations to see if they would take on the task of helping match would-be volunteers with local service opportunities. At the time, no such service existed on Cape Cod, where retirees are often seeking opportunities to spend their new found free time in service of others.

No organization was interested, so seeing the United Way realize the vitality of its service after nearly 10 years of work is rewarding, she said.

“The board feels proud of that,” she said. “It gets a little bittersweet when you get to this point, but everyone is really proud of what we accomplished and the importance it brought to volunteering.”

— Staff writer Cindy McCormick contributed to this report. Follow Sean F. Driscoll on Twitter: @seanfdriscoll.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect last name for Patricia Rowell.