VolunteerMatch

Author
Greg Baldwin, President, VolunteerMatch
Organization
VolunteerMatch
Tools Used
Google Maps Platform

The challenge and the organization

There has been an outpouring of interest in volunteerism recently as people search for ways to make a difference in the world and impact their local communities. VolunteerMatch, a nonprofit that makes it easy for good people and good causes to connect, has observed this shift first hand. For instance, traffic to VolunteerMatch.org rose 76 percent to more than 72,000 visits, on January 24, the busiest day since launch, while more than half a million people have visited the site since January 20. Mostly, VolunteerMatch.org visitors are looking for volunteer opportunities in their backyard. To help people easily find local organizations, VolunteerMatch leverages Google Maps Geocoding API and JavaScript API.

“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.

“Volunteering is fundamentally local. People in Ohio don’t want to volunteer in San Francisco. The power of Google Maps Platform helps us let people get connected with their local community and not sort through an alphabetical list of volunteer organizations across the country.”

– Greg Baldwin, president, VolunteerMatch


Near real-time map indicates where connections have been made between volunteers and nonprofits over the past hour.

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.

When a volunteer searches for location-based opportunities on the VolunteerMatch website, the location they initially entered is sent from the user’s browser to Google via the Geocoding Javascript API to verify and normalize. Next, the search is submitted to VolunteerMatch with this location, and result pages come back with the precise geo-coordinates of volunteer opportunities. VolunteerMatch uses the Google Maps Javascript API to display an interactive map with markers on those geo-coordinates, giving the volunteer an easy to consume visualization of the locations of their search results.

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.

Impact

Since VolunteerMatch started using Google Maps Platform 12 years ago, the number of connections facilitated between people and organizations has risen by as much as ten-fold. During the first two months of 2017 alone, there have been an average of 108,000 daily map requests via the Javascript API and 12,500 Geocoding API requests, according to Schaper.

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.