There are certain basics every company or organization leader learns on their path to success. A for-profit product-based business owner will learn which vendors offer the best units at the most reasonable price. An app developer learns to weigh the pros and cons of competing software brands and can point out varying personality types and characteristics that make a good test group. Meanwhile, the organizer of a non-profit learns to attract and manage thoughtful volunteers.

Helping Hands is a new initiative launched by the Civic Champs Foundation in response to COVID-19. We wanted to help and leveraged our expertise in volunteer management & technology to launch a program that would connect volunteers directly with those in the high risk category who now need help with daily errands such as grocery shopping, pharmacy pickups, or lawn care. While the Civic Champs Foundation is its own separate 501c3 nonprofit organization, it is supported by the staff at Civic Champs and, as a result, reflects a technology startup culture. Below are five lessons we have learned since our start in June from launching the Helping Hands initiative as we straddled the fence of business and philanthropy. 

1) Problem solving can be reactive (rather than proactive).

“Entrepreneurs find solutions to problems” has been used so often by so many people that it would be hard to pinpoint who actually coined the phrase, but it’s popularity alone proves how much of a staple it is among business owners. If asked to write the biggest problems in the world right now, I’m SURE the COVID-19 pandemic would make an appearance on most of our lists. Unfortunately, Helping Hands doesn’t have the resources to completely solve this problem, but we can help with the results of such a devastating situation. Serving high risk communities within our initial pilot city of Bloomington, Indiana, Helping Hands volunteers help pick up groceries, laundry, and prescriptions, and perform lawn care, general home repairs, and wellness checks all to maintain the health of the community, and ultimately, flatten the curve. The more services we facilitate, the more evident the importance of our initiative becomes, further pushing us to perfect the system we’ve created.

2) Someone is always ready to lend a helping hand.

Just like any other program, the labor and cooperation must come from somewhere. Much like a nonprofit, it would be impossible to run Helping Hands without volunteers. You’d think the added time crunch that comes with offering scheduled services would make it hard to get a project like ours off the ground, but our volunteers ALWAYS come through. Some “super volunteers” have taken 10+ calls since our start in June, but even those who have only volunteered once keep us going. We couldn’t do it without them.

3) Practical organization theories could be more efficient with technology.

Given the financial, emotional, and physical state this pandemic has left a lot of us in, mutual aid is SUCH a hot topic right now. Mutual aid is basically an exchange of services and resources (usually not including monetary currency) between two or more parties within a community of many other simultaneous exchanges. The process runs on the manual labor of everyday people when it comes to completing the tasks, but also in organizing the exchanges. During the Covid-19 pandemic, most people had more time to coordinate a process like this, but now that people are going back to work and school, changes in such a strong system are likely to occur and support could slow down. If only there was a technological/entrepreneurial input to the philanthropic output of mutual aid that could simplify the process of connecting receivers and lenders of aid. So much more work could be completed, so many more people could be helped, and so many more communities could be connected from the merging of mutual aid groups across geographic lines. This potential solution is the basis of and motivation for Helping Hands.

4) “Faking” the technology creates efficient workers and procedures

 A piece of advice that advisors often give to technology company founders is to find ways to test the technology and concept BEFORE building the software. Applying this startup concept with Helping Hands, we can confirm that launching Helping Hands as a “manual” project has indeed streamlined our design and development of the Helping Hands application. According to our volunteer coordinator, Eveline Bogdanski, “faking” the technology was a difficult, but rewarding task: “Uncovering the process that nonprofits experience on a daily basis was a challenge. From verifying details, to searching for volunteers, or providing assistance during a task, each situation was unique.” It’s safe to say that we now have a much deeper and more intimate understanding of the nuanced issues that can arise from connecting volunteers directly with recipients.

5) Service-based programs can exist in both small towns and large cities.

Helping Hands works very well in the relatively small community of Bloomington, IN, but we have a feeling our Pittsburgh launch will be even better. Thanks to the generous support from the Hillman Foundation and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, we’ve been able to create a technological platform that cuts out manual labor. We’re also ecstatic to partner with the United Way to turn our volunteer/recipient program into a platform that allows pre-existing service programs to easily connect with volunteers they already have while giving them a wider network of those willing to help. While working in Bloomington, IN allowed develop these ideas and make connections with our partners and sponsors, Pittsburgh, PA is where we’ll put everything into motion to offer more to people in need and make it easier for those who already are helping and serving in the community.

I am sure there will be many more lessons for us as we continue to grow and develop the Helping Hands initiative.  To follow our journey as we grow and expand  Helping Hands, follow us on Instagram and like our page on Facebook.