From Ranks of Jobless, a Flood of Volunteers
“One person’s trash is another person’s treasure,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, a marketing manager for the nonprofit organization Learning Leaders.
But others grumbled that the current love affair with volunteerism, encouraged by President Obama’s nationwide call to public service, can be a mixed blessing. Smaller organizations, with staffs of fewer than 20 and no full-time volunteer coordinator, have struggled to absorb the influx, especially since many of them have simultaneously had to cut back on projects in the face of dwindling donations and government grants.
“Can you make them stop calling?” groused one nonprofit executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Everybody’s inspired by Obama,” he said, adding: “They also don’t have jobs.”
Lindsay Firestone, who manages pro bono projects for Taproot, said the organization had scaled back recruitment this year after attracting more volunteers than it could possibly accommodate. “It’s like a Greek tragedy,” she said. “We’re thrilled to have all of these volunteers. But now organizations are stuck not being able to take advantage of it because they don’t have adequate funding.”
Bertina Ceccarelli, a senior vice president at the United Way in New York — which partners with the mayor’s office to run the volunteernyc.org matching service — said the outpouring was similar to that after 9/11 — except that the new volunteers have more time to fill.
“It’s sad but true,” Ms. Ceccarelli said, “but the irony is that sometimes it’s almost more work to find something for a volunteer to do than to just turn them away.”
None of that has dimmed the volunteers’ enthusiasm.
Continuum Hospice Care, which assists New Yorkers at the end of their lives, has started a waiting list this year for volunteers. Allison Maughn, the interim president, said many of them were hoping that their unpaid work would eventually turn into a paid job, and have been raising their hands for the most menial tasks, like stuffing envelopes and data entry. “They’re even happy to sit at the reception desk and answer the phones,” she said in amazement.