The Research Triangle Park

My Experience with Speed-Dating for Nonprofits

By Dec 03, 2015
Non profit representatives are briefed prior to the event

Non profit representatives are briefed prior to the event

As an intern with the Research Triangle Foundation, I am fortunate to be able to attend many of the events that the Foundation puts on. During my first week in the position, I went through the calendar of events on our website and chose which ones I would like to participate in. The event that most significantly caught my eye was one described as “Speed-Dating for Nonprofits.”

I have had a heart for volunteering since I was a kid. As a recent transplant from Minnesota, I was looking for a way to get involved in the local community. I spent 6 years in Minneapolis mentoring some pretty amazing kids, and I (perhaps somewhat selfishly) wanted to find a similar opportunity here in the Triangle.

Lisa Jemison, Director of Programming at The Foundation (who put countless hours of hard work into preparing this event), notes that the organization has always had a “desire to foster a culture of giving.” As a whole, The Foundation is committed to working toward the greater good and encouraging the community to do so as well. What specifically interested Jemison in promoting this event is the fact that it provides an incentive for young professionals to get involved in community service. Because board membership stands out on a resume, individuals are able to make a difference while also advancing their careers.

When I found out that the goal of the event wasn’t simply to find volunteers, but to find board members, I hesitated. Honestly, when I pictured the boards of these types of organizations, I envisioned seasoned business people near or past retirement. I wasn’t sure whether I would be a good fit, whether what I had to offer would be taken seriously. I have been reassured by Trudy Smith, Executive Director of the Executive Service Corps of the Triangle (ESC), who notes that she is committed to “raising consciousness about the value of younger generations” as board members for nonprofit organizations.

Upon rolling into RTP Headquarters early that Wednesday morning, I was beyond pleased to find a sea of young professionals that seemed to be in about the same life-stage as myself. There was plentiful diversity in gender, ethnicity, and career background. The 20 spots for the event (which had been snatched up in the first half hour that tickets were released), were filled with capable individuals, ready to get to work to make a difference.

The event started with a presentation from the ESC, whose mission is to provide professional, affordable consulting to area nonprofits to help them achieve their missions. I learned a great deal about the advantages of serving on a nonprofit board, what it means to be a board member, and what to look for in partnering with the right organization for me. Once the process for the event was explained, I found my first table and waited for the bell to sound, indicating that my five minutes to speak with the designated nonprofit had begun.

Marty Saffer of the Executive Service Corps speaking to event participants

Marty Saffer of the Executive Service Corps speaking to event participants

Between the ESC’s presentation and the actual speed-dating, we had each been given a packet containing information about the organizations that we would be speaking with. Over 35 organizations had been vying for a spot at the event. According to Smith, organizations were chosen based on how their mission aligned with those of the participants who had registered. Upon registration, participants were asked to fill out a survey which included questions such as “What causes or demographics most interest you?” and “What skill sets can you bring to the nonprofit and its board?” Based on the answers to these questions, the ESC chose organizations which would benefit from the individuals who would attend.

 Included at the event I participated in were:

  • Activate Good, connecting people with volunteer needs in hundreds of nonprofits in the Triangle area.
  • The Arc of the Triangle, Inc., supporting and advocating for individuals with developmental disabilities to help them achieve their goals in the community.
  • Communities in Schools of Chatham County, surrounding students with support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.
  • Durham Literacy Center, empowering Durham Co residents to improving their literacy skills.
  • Crayons2Calculators, providing free school supplies to classroom teachers in Durham public schools.
  • Partners for Youth Opportunity, providing Durham youth with opportunities, mentoring, employment, and education opportunities.
  • Second Chance Pet Adoptions, helping homeless cats and dogs to find forever homes and promoting responsible pet ownership.
  • SEEDS, teaching respect for the earth and promoting food security through garden-based programs.
  • Triangle Flying Disc Association, increasing the quality and quantity of ultimate Frisbee programs, with a special emphasis on youth development.
  • Youth Forward, advancing services for the youth in Chapel Hill-Carrboro by working with nonprofits, schools, and local governments.

The “speed-dating” itself was a bit of a frenzy due simply to the nature of the event. 5 minutes does not feel like long enough! I found, however, that it was great to have this time limit in place. It forced me to shorten my background and ask the questions that were most important to me. There were definitely organizations that I clicked with, and I came out of the event with such a joy in anticipating the difference that I could make during this next chapter of my life. In all, I have heard back from five organizations who are interested in further discussion, and I’m attending one of their events this week. According to the ESC, most individuals that attended had at least three organization matches, and each organization that attended had multiple candidate matches as well.

Millennials across the world are rising up to become a generation that gives back. What talents can you offer to make a difference in the world? You would be amazed at what a couple of hours a month can do to transform the community. Below is a list of questions to ask when searching for the right volunteer opportunity for you. You can also visit Activate Good or The Volunteer Center to find needs in your area:

  • What causes are you most passionate about?
  • If you’ve found an organization you’re interested in, what is the specific organizations’ mission? Does it align with your own?
  • What is the culture of the organization? If you step into their facility, what will you find? How do you feel/what is the vibe?
  • Is the organization in good standing? Have they had any major financial issues or lawsuits? What is the community’s impression of the organization? Do a quick Google search and see if anything of interest pops up.
  • How much of a time commitment is this opportunity and can you fully commit to it?
  • Do you have skills that could benefit this organization?

If you are interested in attending the next Speed-Dating for Nonprofits event, please visit Event Brite for more information. The event will take place at RTP Headquarters on Thursday, December 10 from 7:30 AM to 9:30 AM. Tickets are free but limited. A variety of causes will be represented at the next event, including housing, animals, youth, education, hunger, and mental health.

Special thanks to Trudy Smith and the Executive Service Corps of the Triangle for helping to put on this event and providing feedback for this article.