Charities Tap Skills of Jobless Professionals
March 23, 2009, San Francisco Chronicle — When the economy slumped, Althea Collins was among 100 people let go in November from Fair Isaac Co. in San Rafael, the firm that created the FICO credit score system to determine loan interest rates.
She's been looking for work ever since, but "no one is even calling back."
Now the 30-year-old Mill Valley resident is helping the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco redesign its Web site. For free.
The rising waves of layoffs are creating a whole new pool of well-educated, highly skilled volunteers like Collins who are looking for a way, any way, back into the working world.
Whether charity work provides an opportunity to network in a bad economy, the ideal chance to try social work as a possible career, or simply a reason to get off the couch and stay engaged, it's what many professionals are doing to ride out the recession.
"In this market, networking is the only way to get interviews," said Collins, who recently interviewed with the Marin Community Foundation after a friend at the conservatory got her in the door.
The command center of this swelling underground workforce is the Taproot Foundation in San Francisco, which places 2,000 business executives in charities annually to work as pro bono charity consultants. Taproot saw a 171 percent increase in volunteer interest in January over the previous year, largely driven by the economy.
Three-fourths of those wanting Taproot volunteer positions are people who lost their jobs, said Taproot founder Aaron Hurst.
Charities' waiting lists
At HandsOn Bay Area, an online volunteer-matching service, volunteer projects are booked six weeks in advance for the first time in the agency's 20-year history.
The trend is showing up nationwide. Similar reports are coming from New York, where traffic on Web-based volunteer-matching services is up 30 percent. The Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Philadelphia has 25 percent more requests from potential mentors.