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Have you ever found yourself with a spare hour or two on a Saturday morning? What if you could use that time to volunteer in your neighborhood, without any forethought or planning? Flash Volunteer is a Seattle-based nonprofit that is seeking to take those odd hours here and there, and put them to good use.
Founder and Executive Director, Brad Wilke, explains that in essence, “Flash Volunteer is a real-time, real-world volunteer engagement platform that we're hoping will really democratize volunteerism.”
The idea came to Wilke while he was considering running for city council in Seattle. Although far from what it is now, it began as a simple “one sheet that talked about why I thought volunteerism's important and how we could do it better,” he says.
While he never ran for city council, the idea, which he originally named the Seattle Volunteer Initiative, never went away. Wilke was determined to find a better way to encourage volunteerism in local communities.
So, Flash Volunteer was born. The basic goal of Flash is simple: to make volunteering simpler and more fun. To do so, Flash’s website displays current volunteer opportunities in different Seattle neighborhoods as they are happening.
Wilke explains that, “The goal of Flash Volunteer is to create a real-time, real-world volunteer engagement system and what that means is that somebody could walk out of their office on their lunch break, Saturday morning, no plans at all, they pull up the Flash Volunteer app and they see what's available based on their gps location.”
Rather than having to sign up to volunteer weeks in advance, something that can deter people from volunteering at all, people can check what’s going on in their neighborhoods that day. They can then press ‘Volunteer’ on the website or app.
Then, “it sends a notice to the volunteer organizer and then we allow people the chance to share this via their social networks and create what we call a 'cause crowd'. So it's basically like a flash mob for good,” says Wilke.
If the volunteer opportunities are in their local neighborhood, and they can sign up if they have a spare hour or two without having to do so with a lot of forethought, people are more likely to donate their time.
“I think a lot of times people feel a little overwhelmed by either too many resources, too many options or not enough options and I think that one of the great ways that you can use technology is to help filter that and make it more hyper-local,” says Wilke.
Flash Volunteer’s Technical Director, Logan Buesching, was excited about the chance to engage more people in volunteering. “After talking with Brad, it became an opportunity that I really wanted to take advantage of. I could see the vision, I saw where they were at right now and I could see where we could be.”
Far from being just a local directory of current and future volunteer opportunities, Flash is also making volunteering more fun in many different ways. Volunteers can scan QR codes as they arrive at the event to check in, post their volunteer times on social media via the website and app, and there will soon be leader boards to encourage fun competition.
Development Director, Janis Lee, explains that, “I wanted to keep it simple so that the focus was on what we want users to do which is volunteer. Not only that but help them get involved in volunteering, make it fun so they want to volunteer more often as opposed to just doing it once a year because they think they need to do it.”
“I think that the national average is about 26% of the population participates in some sort of volunteer opportunity, in Seattle it's 33%,” says Wilke. “So I think that using technology, we could really move that number into the fifties, sixites so that many more people are volunteering.”
These volunteer hours are very valuable to nonprofits that are suffering from the downturn in the economy but they are also important to a sense of community. Flash’s website and app will encourage the formation of teams of volunteers in neighborhoods, perhaps even competing against teams in other neighborhoods to complete more volunteer hours.
Flash Volunteer’s goal is uncomplicated but important. “I think when you add that layer of simplicity onto something that is sometimes a very complex process,” says Wilke, “I think right there, you make it a little bit more fun.”