Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Encouraging Volunteerism: An Interview with Ruthanne Feinberg

Cross-posted from The Extraordinaries, on-demand volunteering by mobile phone.

Ruthanne Feinberg is a busy woman. In addition to being Managing Director, Head of Internal Recruiting and Co-Head of Human Resources Practice for Glocap Search, she also volunteers. She is on the National Advisory Council of DonorsChoose, teaches interview and resume skills to low income individuals with StreetWise and The Opportunity Network, knocked on doors during Hillary Clinton's campaign, and is an Advisor to The Extraordinaries.

Yet, in a recent phone interview, Feinberg said that she doesn't feel like she, or other people, are volunteering enough. "I'm embarrassed for how little I've done since I've moved to New York, "I think, especially now, there is so much talent out there that is sitting idle. . . . There is plenty of work that needs to be done in society. Somebody who is a laid off banker has a few hours a week to do something while they're doing a job search."

We discussed a few ways to encourage more volunteerism.

1. Volunteer opportunities need to be easier to find

"I'm a really big believer that more people would volunteer if we made it easy for them to do it. A hundred percent of the time if I call one of my friends and say, 'I'm going to do this, will you do it with me?" if they are available people love to do it.

I don't think many people know how to find volunteer opportunities. If I said to myself, 'Sometime in the next three months I want to do a resume workshop for somebody,' I wouldn't even know where to start."

2. Volunteering opportunities need to engage volunteers' skills

"I knew I wanted to work for Hillary Clinton, and it took me some time to figure out what I could do. At the end of the day I think what I did was satisfying, but I would have done a lot more had there had been a channel where I could have done that. I would have done much higher level work. I would have done more work. I just didn't know who to call, and tell them, 'I'm a resource.'"

3. Volunteer opportunities need to be shorter term, and more flexible to fit busy schedules

"I could never sign up for something like to be a Big Sister, or to tutor a child. My schedule is too unpredictable. I travel. I get called into meetings at the last minute. It's very hard for people to do something like that. However, if someone said, 'Ruthanne, come on Saturday and paint a school, or do a workshop. I'm much more inclined to do that.'

Some of Feinberg's ideas for 20-minute volunteer opportunities that people could do through The Extraordinaries were:
  • Give feedback on a resume and cover letter
  • Give advice to low income youth about their college applications
  • Help with a grant application
  • Assist with a PowerPoint presentation
  • Talk to seniors who need companionship on the phone
  • Proofread
In addition to making volunteer opportunities easier to find, more engaging of the volunteer's skill set, and suitable for a busy schedule, Feinberg thinks people are particularly attracted to opportunities that make then feel connected to the people they are helping. "That's one of the reasons I really like DonorsChoose. You see exactly where your money is going."

Feinberg's most fulfilling volunteer experience was delivering food to people with AIDS through Elipse in San Mateo, CA. She has difficulty talking about the death of one of the people she delivered food to, "I was with him right before he died. It was a very meaningful, intimate volunteer experience."

When asked how she made time to volunteer for Elipse, Feinberg explains that she was younger then, but quickly adds, "If something is important you make the time."


  1. Anonymous9:03 PM

    I'm impressed! Thank you!

  2. Anonymous12:02 PM

    These thoughts hit the nail on the head. Volunteering, in a lot of people's minds, I feel, is like a second job. A regular commitment of time and energy which can sound super imposing to a lot of busy professionals. I know that organizations like One Brick try to get around this by making small discreet volunteer opportunities available for busy people. I'd love to hear thoughts about organizations like that and Nabuur, which kind of uses the power of the internet to connect people with skills (or sometimes just better access) with communities around the world that could use help with things like web design, policy drafting and sometimes just basic research.


If you are having trouble commenting, please let me know.