The challenge and the organization
“VolunteerMatch launched nearly 20 years ago and initially offered a basic search by ZIP Code,” says President Greg Baldwin, who helped build the first version of the website from his college dorm room in Boston. While volunteer recruitment is typically driven by word-of-mouth, VolunteerMatch has been able to scale its volunteer matching process by using Google Maps technologies that let people see which of the over 100,000 volunteer opportunities on the site are within walking and driving distance. Today, VolunteerMatch is the web’s largest volunteer engagement network, helping more than 15 million people a year find opportunities to volunteer at more than 113,000 organizations across the U.S. Since their inception, they’ve facilitated over 12 million nonprofit-volunteer connections.
– Greg Baldwin, president, VolunteerMatch
How they did it
Location information can enter the system from both volunteers looking for opportunities local to them and from non-profit administrators posting their volunteer needs. VolunteerMatch uses Google’s Geocoding API to look up this user input and translate it into a set of geographic coordinates (latitude/longitude). From there, the coordinates provide a precise location for the volunteer opportunity, that can be used in searches and plotted on maps.
"I think of geo-coding as the front door,” says Kirk Schaper, chief technology officer at VolunteerMatch. “When locations come into the VolunteerMatch system we use the Maps Geocoding API to ensure the data is valid, disambiguate if necessary, and the most important thing — translate it into a set of geo-coordinates. Users can search based on location or a nonprofit can say where its volunteer opportunity is located."“VolunteerMatch makes it easy for good people and good causes to connect.”
One of the coolest uses of Google Maps Platform on VolunteerMatch is “Live View,” which illustrates activity on the network over the past hour with icons displayed on map locations to indicate connections made between volunteers and organizations. The website also has another visualization of network activity, which uses a heat map to show areas where specific types of services — such as “human rights” or “animals” — are in high demand.
VolunteerMatch executives have big plans for enhancing the website by partnering with additional Google technologies, and say the service simply couldn’t function without the mapping capabilities. In the near term, Schaper says he would like to leverage the Google Places API to bring autocomplete functionality to the end-user location input on the website. The Google Earth Outreach grant has helped VolunteerMatch grow its service and stay innovative on an annual budget of just $5 million. "We couldn’t run VolunteerMatch without the Google Earth Outreach grant,” Baldwin says. “It’s really helpful in an environment where billions of dollars are typically invested in technology. It allows us to harness the newest and smartest technologies. We couldn’t do it without in-kind support from partners like Google."“Many people want to volunteer but can’t easily find opportunities to do so in their local community. VolunteerMatch lets people search by location, cause category — such as hunger — and skill.”