Member Spotlight: Volunteer Methow – Volunteer Innovation & the Elusive Generation Gap

There’s got to be a way that we can do this on a smart phone, someone thought.

“This” was the connection of community members with nonprofits needing help: specifically, the millennial generation. The Methow Conservancy took a strong interest in engaging this age group in work across their community through the GenNxt project. They convened a volunteer fair to bridge the passion for community that this generation brings with concrete ways to “plug in.” Yet connecting people the old-fashioned way, face to face, brings inefficiencies that come with events requiring the attendance of geographically-dispersed people. Smart phone to the rescue.

Neil and Kelli Rotstan, both software developers engaged in the GenNxt community, volunteered to use their technical skills to create a volunteer system. They created Volunteer Methow, a user friendly, mobile accessible website that hosts volunteer opportunities in the Methow Valley. Each nonprofit and community organization in the area has a profile page where prospective volunteers can learn about the organization and how to get involved. They create an account and get an email each week with all of the volunteer openings in the community. The system makes the connection, leaving the organization to process their new team member with background checks, etc.

The Rotstans took the system public, and Methow Conservancy was happy to take a supporting role to promote its use. They set a goal to record a certain amount of hours in the new system and the numbers quickly surpassed expectations. The result is a “go-to” resource for getting involved in the community. In theory, this software can connect nonprofits to volunteers in any community anywhere in the world.

Jason Paulsen, Methow Conservancy’s Executive Director, offers a few ideas for nonprofits to consider:

  • The needs and interests of next gen folks aren’t that different from any other generation. There’s a lot in common in how we want to shape our communities. Sit down and have a conversation with millennials instead of being intimidated by the gap in connection.
  • It is valuable to invest in the capacity of the entire community, not just focus on one organization. We all do really important work in different sectors of our community. A community must be healthy as a whole. This kind of collaboration pays dividends on an organizational level.
  • We have a lot of untapped capacity in our communities. The role of the two developers is very important. The Conservancy helped to promote the project, but the ownership is more expansive. There are people in any community who want to offer their skills in a philanthropic way.

A few further notes about the savvy way that the Volunteer Methow approached the design and roll-out of their volunteer matching software:

  • It was designed with all users in mind—nonprofits posting volunteer opportunities can also use it to track all their volunteer metrics. If volunteers work with them outside the Volunteer Methow system, staff can enter that information in on the back end so they have complete information to report.
  • Volunteer Methow approached the school district and worked with them to make their system the preferred way for high school students to log community service hours to meet the school’s requirements.
  • Mobile-friendly works great for the weekenders who come to Methow, and the nonprofits have been strategic about offering some easy engagement opportunities on the weekend so they can tap part-time residents.
  • When they launched Volunteer Methow, they partnered with restaurants and bars in the Methow Valley to use “Rally for the Valley” beer coasters to raise awareness.

Volunteer Methow aims to pull us all together into a vibrant community of people whose differences serve to highlight shared experience and values. They provide regular opportunities to work side by side, on equal terms, doing good on a shared cause. They believe these types of opportunities provide the community the chance to genuinely get to know each other as people, and turn acquaintances into neighbors and neighbors into friends.

Want to read more about Volunteer Methow? Check out this story from the Wenatchee World!

The Methow Conservancy‘s mission is to inspire people to care for and conserve the land of the Methow Valley, ensuring it will remain a place where future generations can enjoy the rural character and natural beauty we cherish today. They have been a Washington Nonprofits member since 2018.

In our monthly Member Spotlight, Washington Nonprofits features members who are doing something worth sharing. It can be a best practice, implementation of a new idea, or something that may help others to tackle a challenge. Do you have a story that you would like to share? Contact us! We would love to hear from you.
About Julia Hunter 16 Articles
Julia Hunter is the Membership Coordinator & Administrator at Washington Nonprofits.