Experts connect volunteers and nonprofits for maximum benefit
HandsOn Bay Area
A kindergartner roams the waiting area of the Fair Oaks Health Center in Redwood City before her annual checkup. Spotting what looks like a 2-foot-tall bird house painted bright blue and green, she dashes over to investigate. Behind its glass-paneled door, colorful books beckon, and letters on the doorframe spell out, “Free Books for Children” in English and Spanish. She’ll take a book home, read it over and over, and perhaps exchange it for another book at a different Big Lift Little Library. Just a few weeks before, that Little Library was a collection of plywood panels, glass, hardware, and cans of paint that Microsoft employees assembled onsite at their office.
A team from HandsOn Bay Area brought all the components and tools needed to make the Big Lift Little Library, and Microsoft employees had the satisfaction of volunteering for a good cause without leaving their workplace. The Little Libraries program is one aspect of a multi-faceted San Mateo County effort called The Big Lift that’s dedicated to promoting early childhood literacy. San Mateo County selected HandsOn Bay Area to manage the design and construction of The Big Lift’s Little Libraries by local volunteers.
At Microsoft and other company sites, more than 130 Big Lift Little Libraries have been constructed and painted by corporate volunteers since 2014 and placed in various locations where families gather. At community centers, parks, homes, and houses of worship, books are available for children to take and enjoy. The organizations that host The Big Lift Little Libraries keep them stocked with appropriate books. The idea has caught on, and HandsOn Bay Area is working to build Little Libraries for San Francisco neighborhoods, as well.
“Microsoft and HandsOn Bay Area have been partners since 2010, and our relationship has always been to provide volunteer events for Microsoft employees on an as-needed basis,” explains Lou Reda, executive director of HandsOn Bay Area. “A lot of times, we bring the projects on site to Microsoft to make them easier for people to access.”
HandsOn Bay Area’s activities aren’t limited to onsite volunteering or to just corporate clients. In 2015, the organization connected more than 17,000 volunteers to 230 schools, parks, and nonprofit community partners that needed help. HandsOn Bay Area provides the supplies, tools, and coordination to manage projects from start to finish. Participants are surveyed following their experience, and 95 percent of the volunteers report, “Love it!”
The HandsOn Bay Area senior program manager for special projects is Joey Guerin, who acts as a point person for corporate clients. He explains that “Company-supported volunteer programs help organizations recruit and retain the best talent, boost employee morale, and strengthen community reputation.
“We make it super easy for corporate partners to just tell us what their parameters are. We design the project flow and provide a space for volunteers to simply show up, get their hands dirty, and leave with a great sense of accomplishment. But we also make it really easy for our nonprofit partners, as managing large groups of volunteers can be a lot of work to coordinate.” A per-volunteer management fee collected from the corporate client covers all costs and helps support other HandsOn Bay Area volunteer programs.
“Company-supported volunteer programs help organizations recruit and retain the best talent, boost employee morale, and strengthen community reputation.”
— Joey Guerin Senior Program Manager for Special Projects, HandsOn Bay Area
Here, there, and everywhere
HandsOn Bay Area-coordinated projects can happen at a nonprofit location, or on site with materials transported by their skilled staff. But HandsOn Bay Area’s range goes far beyond the Bay Area. Customized projects have been done as far away as Reno and Hawaii, and their “Project in a Box” makes distance irrelevant. HandsOn Bay Area sends a box with supplies and instructions for a craft project, like decorating onesies for babies to use at a family shelter or creating seed sacks to teach children about plant germination. A pre-addressed carton is included to transfer finished items straight to where they’ll be used.
HandsOn Bay Area also engages skills-based volunteers through their innovative Focus program. HandsOn Bay Area matches small teams of employees with deserving schools and nonprofits to identify and work on ways to improve their organizations. During this immersive week of service, volunteers apply their professional skills to take on technical and marketing related projects such as database improvement and website redesign.
HandsOn Bay Area’s efforts also extend to building capacity for future nonprofit and community leaders. Every summer, they hold a two-week service-learning program, called “HandsOn Tomorrow,” for high-school students in both Palo Alto and San Francisco. This type of leadership development program is also offered to adults through their year-long “LIFT” fellowship, engaging and exposing diverse teams of professionals to a variety of nonprofits and giving them the opportunity to develop their skills while working on issues of concern to their communities.
HandsOn Bay Area has opportunities for anyone to volunteer from almost anywhere. Learn about the many options at handsonbayarea.org. For more about The Big Lift and its Little Libraries, visit thebiglift.org.
This special issue of Catalyst is devoted to volunteerism as a broad theme, rather than just one specific cause or issue area. That’s because at Microsoft, we know that being part of our Bay Area community means doing all we can to address the priorities of our local neighborhoods and our employees.
Microsoft stands behind its employees’ efforts and interests with a $25 donation for every hour of volunteer time they give to a nonprofit, dollar-for-dollar funds to match their personal monetary contributions, training for prospective nonprofit board members, and more.
As you read on, we hope you will be inspired as we are by the organizations profiled here and will consider supporting their work.
Sid Espinosa Director of Philanthropy and Civic Engagement