The Change Maker connecting community groups with skilled volunteers

  • 25/02/2022
  • Sponsored by - Dell

An online platform connecting community organisations with skilled professionals is not just helping to enable meaningful projects throughout the country, it's also helping corporate workers fulfil their desire to do pro bono work for a worthy cause.

HelpTank is a digital marketplace specialising in supplying skilled volunteers to community organisations and is founded on the belief that for Kiwis helping others is something that's "baked into our DNA".

HelpTank is this month's Dell Change Maker. Dell and The Project have been recognising New Zealanders who have made a positive social impact in the community through the Change Maker campaign.

The platform is one of numerous community-oriented initiatives run by the charitable trust Who Did You Help Today, which was founded by Wellington-based lawyer Stacey Shortall.

Shortall says she was inspired to start the trust after spending more than a decade practising law in New York. While in the States, she often took on pro bono law work, supporting women and children who had been subjected to violence or who were otherwise vulnerable. When she returned to New Zealand she knew she wanted to continue that work.

"When I came home, I thought, how do I stay connected to the community? What are the sorts of issues in the community?" she says.

Describing herself as a "fierce defender of the way New Zealanders really want to help", Shortall has since instigated a number of social initiatives, including setting up 'homework clubs' to help students in low-decile schools around the country and working with mothers in prison to help them stay connected with their children and whānau on the outside.

"HelpTank was sort of an evolution of thinking, all right I'm in the community, I see all these cool things that are happening - how can we get more free capability and skills into the community and how can people in corporate environments get a perspective of community issues and bring that closer and feel part of it? And that's where the online idea came about," she says.

Shortall says the online nature of HelpTank makes it easier for organisations to find the help they need quickly and for more meaningful projects to reach fruition.

There are currently around 650 registered community organisations on the platform - ranging in size from large well-known NGOs to small one or two-person groups - with more than 700 projects having been completed through the site so far.

"Volunteers can go on the site and think, 'what do I do, what am I good at, what am I interested in, where am I located?' and it filters those results and suddenly right in front of me are a whole bunch of projects that invite me to help," Shortall says.

"I can do all of that in a couple of minutes and if there's anything there that I'm interested in, I just push a button to show that I'm interested and an email fires from me to that not-for-profit group that's posted it and we communicate."

There are currently over 1500 registered volunteers who use the platform and Shortall says both the organisations and those donating their time love the results.

"It's instant gratification because I could sit here this afternoon and look up a couple of projects and apply and tomorrow I could be kicking into it, so it all happens quite fast. I think people like that things move quickly."

The length of each project varies; some might require a total of 20 hours work spread out over a three- or six-month period, while others might need just one or two days of full-time work immediately. The skills sought also range, including everything from website design and help developing a social media strategy to assistance managing HR systems or health and safety protocols. 

Shortall says HelpTank has seen a "huge demand" from community groups and volunteers since it was launched in 2017 and the goal is to continue growing the platform to enable even more positive change in the community. 

And though she admits that running a charitable trust while also being a mother and a busy professional herself can be tiring, Shortall says it's all worthwhile when she sees those benefiting from the platform.

"The not-for-profits are just delighted that they've got help and are really thankful and appreciative, and we've got volunteers that feel like they've been able to do something quite practical outside of their ordinary working day to help an organisation."

This article was created for Dell.

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