Building Unity Through Community Service

When I started blogging on a regular basis back in 1998, publishing content was a painful process. Back then, I used a free text editor and posted simple HTML to my startup’s website, uploading my images and content using a free FTP tool. In February 2004, I switched to Moveable Type and ended up paying for Typepad, which is still my blogging platform today – and, as I explained in my initial post for the new blog, my goal for the site (originally called SamaritanWeb) was to document work toward my planned doctoral studies looking at “the social applications of network science and collaboration technology.”

While my plan was to study the effects of technology on philanthropic activities, the underlying goal was simple: encourage more people to volunteer their time and to help others within the community. Here’s how I explained it in 2004:

While there are philanthropic entities and website, such as VolunteerMatch and Network for Good (which is powered by VolunteerMatch), I believe there is an opportunity beyond these tools and websites to reach people. The underlying premise to my work is that people want to help people – but unless it is easy for people to find service opportunities, they won’t necessarily seek them out. Existing tools are fine for people looking for opps, but I am interested in finding ways to make it more viral – using network science and collaboration technology to push knowledge of these service opportunities out to a broader audience.

In a subsequent post, I even outlined some ideas for a tool/service to help facilitate the social sharing of services opportunities:

As I outlined in my first post to this site, my goal is to create a tool and/or system whereby existing or future social networks can better plug their members into service opportunities. For example, an implementation might offer members of Ryze an additional selection on their menu for service opportunities in a number of different views:

  • Opportunities in their area
  • That their company is already involved in
  • That their friends are participating in
  • That are sponsored by their alma mater
  • That pertain to their posted areas of interest
  • That pertain to their defined demographic or psychographic profile
  • etc etc

Again, my underlying premise with Samaritan-Web is that it is basic human nature to want to help other people, but unless those opportunities are convenient, most people will not participate. I hope to make service opportunities more convenient.

So much has changed in the past 13 years since articulating that plan, with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn dominating the social networking space, and a flood of other tools and services entering the market, and yet I’ve been watching the space around this idea – and have wondered when someone would fill in the service gap. Why didn’t I pursue this myself? Long-story-short, I couldn’t fully start the project until my doctoral program began, and then after three delayed starts due to work and family, I lost my placement and had to re-apply. And then I went to work for Microsoft, and put the entire plan on hold – and never got back to it. Yes, there are Meetups and plenty of non-profit organizations out there, but I still believe that there is an opportunity for a specific solution that can be used to complement these services and organizations.

About 5 years ago, I filed for non-profit status of SamaritanWeb LLC and secured various domain names, thinking I would slowly work on this in the background….but then never made the time for it, and dissolved my non-profit just last month.

And then today, I was introduced to the new JustServe.org service, which is pretty much what I had envisioned more than a decade ago:

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JustServe.org is a free service provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for the sole purpose of encouraging people to donate their time and efforts to their communities. Once logged in, you can setup your profile for specific times, types of service, volunteer skills, and interests, and receive notifications of any activities that are a match for your profile and availability. Once you find a service project, clicking on “Volunteer” provides you with additional details so that you can reach out to the non-profit or agency sponsoring the activity to ask more questions, or to sign up. After signing up to help, the event is then added to your profile, and you can share this with your friends and family, or post the opportunity to your social networks.

Searching for opportunities within your region is easy – search results are provided in a card-based view, or a map view. There are also iOS and Android apps to make it easy to receive alerts, and find new services opps.

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For organizations looking for volunteers, there are some strict guidelines on what can be posted, and service opportunities are vetted and approved before being posted. Even then, you should always reach out to the sponsoring organizations and ask questions before showing up to help. While the site was created by the LDS church, religious proselyting is prohibited – and you can find the guidelines here. The site is not meant for partisan political groups of any kind, union or collective bargaining activities, religious instruction or worship, or providing a direct benefit to a business, labor union, political group, or voter registration drive. The purpose is to help people find service opportunities within their communities, such as library volunteers, can or bottle food for disaster relief, create gift boxes for soldiers, help with local school sporting events, care for sheltered animals, provide landscaping help in a local park, and so forth.

Getting involved is easy. Just sign up, create a profile, and find a local project and volunteer your time.

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I am excited to finally see this idea come to life – although, part of me is a bit sad that I was not able to particip
ate in its creation. My plan is to track down the development team and provide some feedback, as I do have a few ideas that are not yet visible within the JustServe.org platform. I know a few folks working in IT over at the LDS church, and their offices are only a few miles from my home, so I may have to pay a visit Smile

This idea is long overdue. I really do believe that the only barrier for most folks giving more of their time is that they don’t know where to go to find service opportunities. That’s the purpose of this site and service. So if you’re interested in getting more involved in your local community, please take a look at JustServe.org and volunteer!

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and fractional-CMO for revealit.io, tyGraph, and Extranet User Manager.