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Calgary-created volunteer website is linking charities with workers

A website built for volunteers, by volunteers, is marking its first birthday, and the woman behind the site says the idea is quickly catching fire.

Alice Lam came up with the idea for a website to connect charities with would-be volunteers at last year’s CivicTechYYC Hackathon.

“When I came up with Volly, I had the idea but I didn’t have the skill set, so last year for the hackathon I pitched the idea to a room of about 100 people.”

She and the volunteers got to work creating a website where charities can post volunteer opportunities, and where volunteers can look for opportunities that best suit – or challenge – their skills.

The original team had a day to work on it, but from there they continued to meet on a weekly basis and grow the website.

“Volly is in the eyes of about 1,400 people,” said Lam. “It’s been really well received. We haven’t done a huge campaign out to the whole of Calgary, but if you’re in the non-profit sphere, or you’re in the education sphere you would’ve seen it, and the response has been really good.”

Visitors to the website are greeted with a grid of potential volunteering opportunities. They can be sorted by recurring or one-time commitments, as well as finding opportunities for individuals or groups.

They can also search using keywords, to find volunteer opportunities related to skills they might have, or causes that interest them.

If transportation is a concern, users can look at a map to find opportunities or not-for-profits located near them.

The website also has the ability to track volunteer hours, which makes it appealing to many businesses.

Trent Warner, marketing coordinator at Hedkandi Salon, said staff are required to volunteer a set number of hours each year. It has always been his job to track that work and help employees find opportunities, so Volly has been a huge help to him.

“Basically it just makes our job so much easier,” he said. “I just get a quarterly report with everyone’s hours.”

He said staff appreciate it, too. As trained hairstylists, they were often roped into lending that skill on a volunteer basis, but Warner said not everyone wanted to cut and style hair in their off time. Volly has helped them find different and unique volunteering opportunities.

But it’s the volunteer organizations that really get the most out of Volly. Lourdes Juan is the founder of LeftoversYYC, an organization that gets unwanted leftover food to people in need.

She said they put their volunteer opportunities into the system and people keep showing up. She expects the website will only become more popular as more people learn about it.

“I think it’s going to blow up,” said Juan. “The challenge with non-profit organizations is always that volunteer supply. So this is just a tool that we can use to make sure we have volunteers coming down that pipe, and people are aware of all the different projects that we do.”

Lam said the site has been created by volunteers and they’ve had their hosting costs picked up by a major corporation. The site is free for anyone to use, and she has every intention of keeping it that way.

“The whole idea is to remove any barriers there are to volunteering so more Calgarians can give back to the community,” she said.

The site features only Calgary charities for now, but Lam said there’s no geographical restrictions on it. They’ve already had organizations in Cochrane asking about posting on Volly, and she thinks it could someday go farther.

“We hope that if people think that of volunteering, they’ll use Volly. We want to show people around the world that tech doesn’t always have to be about the money.”