By Robb Murray
---- — The Mankato Area United Way just took away any lame excuse anyone in town could ever have for not volunteering for a local nonprofit.
With its new Get Connected website, the United Way has created a clearinghouse of opportunities for anyone who wants to get involved in volunteering, any nonprofit that needs volunteers or any business that wants to find opportunities to get employees involved in group volunteering.
"It's an online tool, it's a one-stop shop," said Laura Bowman, (soon-to-be former) president of the Mankato Area United Way. "We're really going to be out in the community getting the word out."
The website launched Wednesday and can be found at getconnected.mankatounitedway.org.
Opportunities include everything from playing piano at a senior home to providing detergent to area homeless shelters.
Bowman said the nonprofits found on the website are not just partner organizations already working with the United Way. Any nonprofit that qualifies can log in, create a profile and begin attracting volunteers.
"It's kind of like Match.com for people who want to volunteer," said Greg Thomas, a volunteer and United Way board member.
He said they wanted to make sure anyone who used the site had a quick and effective experience. It doesn't take long on the site to quickly find volunteer opportunities. After a quick registration process, people can begin applying immediately.
Kelsey LaFrenier found the perfect opportunity for her after just a few minutes.
"For a lot of college students, it's hard to find what you want," she said. "A lot of people wouldn't know where to start."
She was able to find an opportunity that appealed to her — the YWCA's Girls on the Run program — and fill out the application for that program right on the site.
One thing most nonprofits struggle with is finding enough volunteers.
"The only way we're able to accomplish our goals is through our volunteers," said Sheri Sander-Silva of the YWCA. She said they're hopeful that, by uploading video to the site, potential volunteers can see their programs in action and be inspired to help.
The United Way used a program already in use by other United Ways around the country. It paid $2,500 for the site, and says it would have cost a lot more if they'd tried to develop one on their own.