THREE YEARS ago, IVolunteer International was launched as a way to remove barriers to volunteerism in Savannah. Its cofounder and executive director, Nipuna Ambanpola, was an avid volunteer while growing up in Sri Lanka, but found fewer opportunities while he was attending Armstrong State University.
Now, IVolunteer International launches its biggest initiative yet: IVolunteer Now, a mobile app that uses location tracking to match volunteers to opportunities.
The app’s soft launch will happen at the end of this month.
We spoke with Ambanpola about the work IVolunteer International does, what’s in store for its future, and how the app will help take it there.
Tell me about IVolunteer International and what you do.
We’re a volunteer advocacy tech-nonprofit, and what we want to do is introduce and raise Savannah’s volunteerism, the impacts of volunteerism, and also allow individuals and organizations to get more volunteers and connect to the community for volunteer projects. We’ve done a variety of things to raise Savannah’s volunteerism over the last three years.
We have the IVolunteer Series, a virtual talk show that happens on YouTube. We bring mostly young people from around the world who have started nonprofits.
Another initiative we have is called #BirthdayDeed. People from around the world can make a pledge to do something good on their birthday. That’s a pet project of mine: my parents have done it since I was born, and they do it to this day.
Our last initiative is, during the pandemic, we wanted to connect people to volunteers for seniors and people who were immunocompromised, people who couldn’t go and get groceries, so we launched GroceryAid.
But our biggest initiative ever is connecting volunteers to volunteer projects in their local community. We’ve done it for the past three years on a web platform. We’ve found that people find it hard to volunteer because of a couple different things.
The first is time commitment. A lot of people in our society don’t have the time to attend weekly meetings.
The second problem is finances. When I was a student, I couldn’t join the organizations I liked because they had a large membership fee.
The third is, even if you have the time and the money, where do you find volunteer opportunities? Those are the three challenges we’re trying to eliminate so more people can volunteer.
We wanted to see an on-demand platform, and we worked with local and national organizations to connect volunteers to their local community. We used our data, our conversations, and our experiences to bring forth a solution of a volunteering mobile app.
How will the mobile app work?
In a very basic sense, it will identify the user’s live location and show them volunteer projects happening around them. You can pull out your phone and say, “Oh, I want to volunteer today, I’m free from 4 to 6, let me see what’s happening.” The app will show you what’s happening around you. You can adjust the distance you want to see. The nonprofits will be able to post volunteer projects on the app, and people will be able to connect with no strings attached—you don’t have to be a member.
If the nonprofit needs to do background checks, they can communicate with the volunteers and can do it on their own.
In the future, we’re hoping to bring in so many other features like social impact tracking. A lot of organizations have volunteer tracking to generate their annual report, but what about reviews of people? The idea is that when you volunteer using the app, it automatically tracks your social impact: the volunteer hours you donate, how much of an economic impact you’ve made, what sort of organizations you’ve helped, how many people you’ve touched. That will all be taken into consideration and will spit out a social impact score.
We’re also hoping to introduce organizational profiles so nonprofits can create their own profiles.
How long did it take you to develop the app?
It’s been sort of wild because when we were building this app, not as an end product but a product that can evolve, we understand that the world is evolving and nonprofits have very different needs. That’s what we realized over the past three years from all the conversations. We started developing the app around February and outsourced technical expertise. It’s taken us about six or seven months to develop the app.
One of the long term goals is data: when we expand, we hope to take all of the data on the aggregate and publish it on a public domain. The goal is that nonprofits, governments and companies will be able to go to this public website and see how people are volunteering and what sorts of needs are in different communities.
As an example, we’ll be able to say in the public domain that 90% of people between 18 and 30 in Savannah volunteer for low poverty causes. So if the mayor is looking at that data, he’ll understand that if 90% of people are volunteering for low poverty causes, there’s a poverty problem in this specific area. He’ll also see that people from 18 to 30 are volunteering for this, so what sort of incentives can we give to that demographic? That’s all the public data on the aggregate that we hope to publish so the whole country can make more informed decisions in funding allocations, nonprofit programs and other things.
Does the app have a release date?
It did—the 20th of August! [laughs] We had this massive event planned, but obviously because of COVID we wanted to take it online. We're hoping to publish in late September, but we don't have a specific date yet because we're not going to have a big event. We're just going to one day say, "Hey, the app is out, start downloading."
What are your goals for IVolunteer?
We hope to make IVolunteer International an international organization that people can connect with for social impact. We want to be the central location where people connect to and create social impact in their local communities. That's basically our goal in the next 20 to 30 years: become the premier technological nonprofit.
It’s not just about the app; we hope we can create different funding sources for nonprofits, become a data nonprofit where people come to collect data on how people are volunteering, things like that.