The Power of Limited-term Volunteering

Bari Samad's picture

In the summer of 1998, I signed up for a three-week long volunteer project on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. As part of a small team, I helped refurbish a house that was home to about 15 Native American children (ages 13 months to 16 years). They were facing issues ranging from fetal alcohol syndrome to abuse and neglect. 

The house was a sad excuse for a human dwelling, let alone a shelter for children. It had no windows, sewage, running water, or heat. During the winter, the temperature could drop to -60 F with wind chill, and the children were burning assorted junk to stay warm. As an immigrant from a developing country, it was hard to believe I was living in the developed world. I was at once confronted with some of America’s starkest contradictions: the painful, meager living conditions and abundant generosity of its people.

The experience changed me forever and volunteerism has been part of my life ever since. Pine Ridge was for me, a source of unprecedented learning, an important lesson in humility, and it gave me a renewed sense of respect for Margaret Mead’s famous quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

These days, the opportunities to leverage the power of human capital in limited-term volunteer experiences are both diverse and abundant. From two-year service terms in Teach for America or the Peace Corps and 1,700 hours in AmeriCorps, to daylong efforts at a local Habitat for Humanity Build Day or at the International Coastal Cleanup Day, there is a way to contribute for almost anyone who is passionate about giving back to the community or the environment.

Limited-term volunteer opportunities like NetSquared’s Challenges and Camps that leverage technology and high skilled human capital for social benefit projects have also been proliferating. Thanks to innovators and social entrepreneurs, nonprofits and social benefit projects can access talent to boost their mission-driven work.

Individuals, employees, and corporations with a desire to put their resources and skills to work for real world impact have a lot of options as well. Here are just a few we wanted to share with the NetSquared community:

  • Sparked (an online micro-volunteering service) and The Community Corps, provide opportunities for individuals, nonprofits and corporations to plug into a wide range of technology related projects. 
  • Social Innovation Camp brings together ideas, people and digital tools to build web-based solutions to social problems -- all in just 48 hours.
  • RHoK (Random Hacks of Kindness) is using a problem solving approach to best leverage the skills of volunteer technologists. 
  • Media Cause uses challenges to give online marketing volunteers a platform to amplify the voice of nonprofits, while OpenIdeo also uses challenges, but on a broader range of social issues.

This blog post is the first in a series in which the NetSquared team will be exploring how nonprofits can leverage high-skills human capital that is uniquely available to them. Stay tuned for more resources and examples and if you would like to share your own favorite limited-term volunteer service, we would love to hear from you. Do leave us a comment with links here on the blog.

Although leveraging the power of technology for social impact may seem a world apart from installing windows, pipes, toilets and drywall, there is in fact a deep connection between the two experiences. Both are constructed of the same strong material -- a powerful commitment to change, with which we mend the tears and gaps in our social fabric and weave together stronger, more compassionate societies.