Volunteer Center of South Jersey director: It’s like ‘Match.com for volunteers’

Volunteer center in Gloucester County services seven counties, including Burlington.

By SEAN DEVLIN
The Sun

Tucked in a tiny corner at Rowan College of Gloucester County is a group doing big things: the Volunteer Center of South Jersey. For 20 years, this group has been connecting locals with volunteer opportunities. Since Michele Epifani, the center’s executive director, automated the center’s list of nonprofit organizations in 2013, the center and the number of nonprofits and people it services are growing.

With a platform called Get Connected, South Jersey residents are able to, for free, create volunteer profiles that open them up to more than 60 (and counting) nonprofit organizations within the seven counties of Gloucester, Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Camden, Cumberland and Salem.

“I like to call it Match.com for volunteers,” Epifani said.

Rather than bombard each potential volunteer with notifications from every nonprofit, the platform allows for individuals to customize which groups’ posts they see. For example, one can list animals as an interest, and animal shelter and other like organizations’ notifications will be sent to them.

Currently, 2,700 individual volunteers are on the platform.

“Our main mission is to connect volunteers to quality opportunities to serve,” Epifani said.

The platform also allows for volunteers to track their total number of hours served and discover their volunteer rate. Epifani explained each state has a volunteer rate which estimates the dollar rate of each volunteer hour. In New Jersey, Epifani said, each hour approximately equates to $27.

All of these numbers and more are collected and a volunteer resume is generated for each person.

“It is great for high school and college students who need community service hours and even those who need to serve court-ordered volunteer hours.” She added, “And it helps those people who are unemployed. It fills in a gap in your regular career resume. This is all for the individual.”

While the center is focused on empowering people to volunteer and connecting them with nonprofits, Epifani said, over the years, the organization has taken steps to assist nonprofits better manage volunteers.

“So many times people will go and volunteer somewhere, and they will have a really bad experience, and they will never volunteer again; they lose interest. We do not want that to happen,” she said.

The Volunteer Center of South Jersey is close to gaining certification through Points of Light as a service enterprise hub. Points of Light, started by former President George H. W. and Barbara Bush, is an organization that provides information on volunteer management and training material. One of the paramount initiatives is to assure all levels of a nonprofit or volunteer organization are on the same page in how to treat and utilize volunteers.

“We are trying to become that place where the nonprofits can go for training. We are still geared toward the volunteer, but we’ve realized in order to find quality opportunities for the volunteers, we need to make sure the nonprofits are strong in their volunteer programs,” Epifani said.

The certification will allow the center to bring training programs to nonprofits in the seven counties and, in turn, offer certification to these groups.

“When everyone is on the same page, the nonprofit is working more efficiently, and the volunteers know they are making an impact,” she said.

The center also offers further management training and professional development workshops.

For more information about the Volunteer Center of South Jersey, visit http://sjvolunteers.org/.