The Accidental Volunteer and Donations Management Coordinators

Post by: Kim Stephens

Photo via

Caitria O’Neill received a degree in European Studies from Harvard, studied in Paris and Moscow and is proficient in four languages. Her sister, Morgan O’Neill, is pursuing a doctorate at MIT in Atmospheric Physics, but is also an EMT-B and volunteers for a local ambulance service.  Neither of them has a background in emergency management, yet,  these woman became the defacto volunteer and donations management coordinators for Monson, Massachusetts in June 2011 after an F3 tornado struck their hometown and a string of communities in the south west of the state.

In the aftermath of the disaster, they found their way to a local Church that became the community relief center. Caitria told me that they learned early on about the challenges they would face.  It was June and hot, so any ice they had was melting. Her sister was  interviewed by a local reporter who asked what they needed and she blurted out “freezers!” About 20 donated freezers later, Caitria realized that when you ask for items after a disaster there is a strong likelihood that you will get them–in duplicate. They needed a way to match needs with people’s desire to give, as well as a way to let people know needs had been met, and they needed it immediately. As you might imagine these two young woman are quite resourceful, so with no prior knowledge of VOADs, ESFs or spontaneous volunteer management, they built a technical solution they now call Recovers has turned into a full-fledged business venture for these women along with an equally impressive group of MIT and Harvard grads rounding out their team.

Their solution

One of their goals is to provide software and support to recovering areas immediately after an event. Speed is an important element because they have found that donations for small local disasters, especially those that do not get national press attention, dry up after a very short period of time. For most of us in the emergency management community often our biggest concern is the thought of unsolicited donations or volunteers, but donations are vital to recovery. As an example of how interest declines,  Forney, Texas recently used this software after the April 3, 2012 tornado. The site was up and running immediately and received 19,000 page view in 4 days, with $30,000 in online donations. After day 4, however,  there was a precipitous decline in online searches for opportunities to donate and subsequently, in site visits. As an important side note: 100% of all resources collected on the site go to the community. 

One of the items that they felt important to include, based on their experience in Monson, was the ability for volunteers to log their service hours through the software portal, which can also be done on the mobile phone and tablet application. Other handy features:

  • Volunteer remote sign-up
  • Donation item remote sign-up
  • Social media content aggregation
  • Easily searchable resource databases
  • Aid matching
  • Detailed record keeping

I don’t often blog about specific products, even though I am asked to do that on a regular basis. This tool, however, struck me as something interesting since it also demonstrates the resilient nature of our communities as well as the profound brilliance and creativity of young people to solve thorny, complex problems….if we let them! I like this statement on their website:

“There are simple tech solutions to the problems common to every recovery effort. By addressing the systemic problems in current organization with smart technology solutions, we can achieve maximum impact at minimum cost.”

 Indeed we can.

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4 responses to “The Accidental Volunteer and Donations Management Coordinators

  1. I’m inspired by the product’s look and feel, their story, and their previous lack of involvement with the community. If they don’t a few supportive retired/soon-to-retiring EMs on an advisory board, perhaps that should be a next step?

    Kim, Did they explain their business model to you? And is their software/services ready to scale should an Agency be using it for Vol and Donation Management during a disaster with Joplin-like intrest levels?

    Finally, the tracking piece is vital, and not just for the volunteers’s hours. I’m fairly certain that a local govs percentage match to FEMA on declared disasters can be offset by the donated material goods that its community receives. Thus, if this product (or any other) can ease the tracking and form-filling-out I would think that could be another selling point.

    Thanks for shining the light on this Kim!

  2. kim26stephens

    I do believe the software is ready to scale, although I’ll ping her to ask that question specifically. They charge a very small amount for the service–only a little over $2000 in the preparedness phase and currently they are donating the software if a community is struck by an event–although I personally think they shouldn’t do that!
    I also do believe they track all donated items, not just volunteers. We talked about hours specifically, which is why I highlighted it.
    Thanks for you comment!

  3. Hi Alex!
    Thank you for the feedback – I really appreciate your advice. Here are a few answers to your questions:

    – Our software and services are absolutely ready to scale. We host the site on scalable servers to make sure that the site stays up even if web hits go through the roof. The ‘Disaster Dashboard’ also provides community organizers with a platform for long term fundraising post-disaster after general interest fades.

    – We have been licensing to towns and regions individually, but would be open to county/state-wide coverage contracts to reduce the cost per site. We also provide training, support, and consulting if needed.

    -Information tracking was one of our first goals with this platform. Very few community organizers will know that this is necessary, and even fewer will have the means to track the hours and locations of thousands of volunteers in a couple of weeks. Our software standardizes the inputs and makes this easy.

    And if you happen to know any friendly EMs who wouldn’t mind advising us, we’re trying to get as many viewpoints as possible as we continue to build tools.

    Caitria O’Neill
    (413) 219-5613

  4. Pingback: featured on iDisaster 2.0 blog! « recovers

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