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Ohio State launches office to connect community with volunteer options

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An out-of-body experience helped an Ohio State official develop one of the university’s newest initiatives.

OSU’s Office of Volunteer Relations was partially inspired after Andy Gurd, chief operating officer of the OSU Alumni Association, realized there was no official route for volunteering through OSU during a speech he gave at an alumni club event in New York, he said.

“As I’m speaking to the club, I almost had an out-of-body experience that I really hope that nobody raises their hand and says, ‘Hey Andy, how do I volunteer at Ohio State?’ because I really didn’t know the answer — and I work here,” he said.

The Office of Volunteer Relations connects OSU community members with volunteer opportunities either at or for the university.

And it seems as though OSU might be one of the first school’s with a volunteer office.

While in the process of creating the office, the task force working on the project contacted between eight and 12 different peer universities and did not find any with similar programs, Gurd said.

“In fact, they all said ‘when you have that up and running, we really want to take a look at it,’” Gurd said.

The office provides an online database of volunteer opportunities through a third-party website called VolunteerMatch. The first year and setup cost for the website was $28,000. The funds for this came out of the Alumni Association’s budget, said Michell Domke, director of the Office of Volunteer Relations.

It will cost $20,000 annually to continue to use the service, Domke said in an email.

The initial annual budget for the office is $200,000, but the Alumni Association will make changes to the budget as needed in order to ensure success, Domke said.

Gurd said buying into software that was already developed saved some time, and the office has still been able to customize the website to its needs, so it’s the “best of both worlds.”

The site went live on July 1, and 116 people had signed up for a volunteer opportunity as of Sept. 8, Domke said.

The volunteer opportunities on the site are divided into departments, such as the Fisher College of Business or Wexner Medical Center. There were  20 departments on the site as of Sept. 15. . Within them, there were 34 opportunities posted as of Sept. 8, Domke said.

Opportunities will continually be posted as they come up, and more departments are slated to be added as well, Domke said.

If someone is looking to volunteer, he or she can search for an opportunity on the website without having to sign in, but when the user identifies an opportunity and clicks to sign up for it, he or she will be redirected to sign up for an account, Domke said. After signing up, the user should receive an email confirmation, and then after the user has volunteered, the hope is that he or she will be thanked for their service — an advantage of the new system, Gurd said.

“Because we now have everything in a database, we can now understand who’s volunteering. We can say thank you to them, which in the past, I don’t know that always occurred,” Gurd said.

Another asset of the system is it allows users to sign up for what interests them, rather than the university guessing, Gurd said. “It really helps us understand what an individual is passionate about because many times in the past we looked up what school you graduated from and that’s what we sent you information on,” Gurd said.

As for the creation of the Office of Volunteer Relations, it took about a year and a half to do the research, get the committee together, gain approval and get funding in order to create the office, Gurd said.

Because student volunteers have already been extensively tapped into, the new office focuses on nonstudent volunteer opportunities, Domke said.

As for the inclusion of other members of the university community, like fans — instead of just alumni — Gurd said that it goes along with the spirit of begin an Ohioan, and nonaffiliates can sign up to volunteer too.

“We’re the Buckeyes, and this is the Buckeye State,” Gurd said.

Being a state school, OSU has a large fan base that might consist of people who, although did not graduate from OSU, want to become involved in the university, he said.

“For people who are passionate about Ohio State, who care about this university and the things we do, we want to provide an opportunity for them to be able to engage with the university as well, and we want strong relationships with them,” Gurd said.

The alumni are a special group themselves, he said, and the hope is that the system will not only help strengthen alumni and university relationships but also strengthen relationships among alumni, he said.

“One of the great things about it is when you volunteer, it’s cross-generational, so we can have brand new graduates volunteering with someone who graduated 50 years ago. I get chills talking about it,” Gurd said.

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