Collaborative Website to Help Volunteers Connect With the Arts

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April 10, 2011; Source: Crain’s Detroit Business | If the arts bring out the best in people, how do arts organizations bring out the best people to lend them a hand? In Detroit, hopes are on a website under development that will let people know about volunteer opportunities at arts and cultural organizations and enable them to sign up online.

The new website is being developed through a partnership between the Michigan Nonprofit Association and the Cultural Alliance. The project is one of six receiving $2 million in support from the Kresge and Ford Foundations as part of an effort that Crain’s Detroit Business says is designed to “identify new operating models to help the arts sector realize cost efficiencies and attract new patrons.” The idea for the website “came out of our members’ need to connect with and do a better job with volunteers,” said Cultural Alliance Executive Director Maud Lyon.

Using volunteers for projects that include assisting with education programming, helping visitors, or even tending to gardens help defray human resources expenditures, which Lyon says is the single biggest cost for any arts organization. The Detroit groups are working with the national service VolunteerMatch to develop the website, which is currently undergoing testing. “The health and human services sector has used VolunteerMatch extensively, but arts and culture, not so much,” Lyons said. “So this is breaking ground for VolunteerMatch.”

The new website is expected to be fully operational by the end of April and for the first two years, the Alliance’s 128 members can list openings for volunteers free. Lyon said that should give participating organizations more than ample time to gain experience with the site and to determine how it’s helping them. If they want to keep using the site after that, they’ll be charged an annual fee, which is expected to be about $100 a year.

Right now, the Cultural Alliance is training members how to use the site, and so far some 45 groups are taking advantage of the opportunity. About 75 percent of Alliance members are expected to be posting volunteer jobs when the site officially goes live, followed by others who will sign on over the course of the year.—Bruce Trachtenberg