“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Terrah Baker
“You guys are actually part of something big that’s going on,” said Aron Shelton, co-founder of SpareTime, to a group of students at Holt Middle School in Fayetteville last month.
Shelton is a young, charismatic advocate for volunteerism, and the students responded to his eager calls for creativity with their full attention.
“Choose the charity you guys want to help that you feel has an important impact on your community,” he told the students.
As they broke into their groups, the conversations about local nonprofits and their missions sounded like those of young philosophers who understand the basic problems in society, and need few words to describe them. They presented their ideas and with every cause they provided their well-thought-out reasoning.
This enthusiasm — and generation — is exactly what Aron and his partner Alyssa Snyder capture in their new project that has received national and financial recognition. It’s something they’ve been working on since Oct. 2010, and believe can change the face of volunteerism.
“The more technical description,” said Snyder, “is that SpareTime will be an engagement platform that allows nonprofit organizations to market their projects and opportunities to the newest generation of volunteers and donors.”
Through research, surveys and their own knowledge of the social landscape, Snyder and Shelton developed a company and website, goSpareTime.com, that nonprofits can use to capture the attention of the digital generation.
“A lot of our research was just about what appeals to the millennials, and where they would go to look for volunteer opportunities. Our whole platform is based on the mind of a millennial and how they interact today,” explained Shelton.
Studies they looked at by Georgetown University showed people who share something about a community project or organization on their social network are twice as likely to volunteer in the near future and donate money to the cause. Everything on their site is socially integrated through Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest in ways that make it easy to share. And in return, making it easy to increase the amount of volunteers and donors.
Their research also shows that students want to volunteer on a whim, by quickly searching what’s going on and easily signing up to be there — one of the main ideas of SpareTime.
“It’s about capturing the urge,” Shelton said.
On the backside of the website, while volunteers interact and organizations collect resources, SpareTime’s database will be painting an accurate picture of the local volunteerism landscape.
“When someone signs up for a project, we collect that information. What type of project, what time of day, what was the cause, who were the people involved, and you have all that data for an actual picture of the ecosystem,” Shelton explained.
The organizations use this information in many ways, to include showing the support they already have in order to procure future resources.
Organizations can also know they’re reaching the volunteers and donors who believe in their mission, because SpareTime matches them using predictive analytics (similar to what Facebook uses to suggest advertisements) to bring volunteers and donors to organizations they believe in.
“It will be able to learn based on your previous decisions and it will suggest projects,” said Snyder.
The Weekend Project
This last year, SpareTime was chosen to be part of a startup project for companies focused on social good.
As one of five companies chosen to receive $18,000 in funding and education, they pitched their idea to investors, worked on the technology that is now their website, and learned business logistics.
In the end, they didn’t have enough marketability to investors looking to quickly buy and sell small companies, but through the experience they created the foundation they needed to move forward.
“We’re ready to move past accelerator … We’re ready to go to market,” Aron said.
That means the important first step by nonprofits and organizations to join the site must be taken, he said.
To bring in more attention, they’ve started their own community project, taking place on Jan. 19, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy of service. It’s the first of “The Weekend Projects,” and besides the children of Holt Middle School, they included students from Fayetteville High School, UA and community leaders and organizations.
“Our first project, ‘A Fresh Start to the Year with Kids that C.A.R.E.,’ will bring awareness to teen depression, hunger and those that lack basic needs in our community,” their website said. “Developed by 48 students in 48 hours.”
Students and organizers will volunteer for a day of farming on Jan. 21 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. at Tri Cycle Farm off of Garland Avenue, across from Trinity United Methodist Church — an organization seeking to teach urban farming techniques and sustainable ideals, both to curb hunger. Throughout the week, Snyder and Shelton have been visiting classrooms with nonprofit ArtAmiss Director Bo Counts designing shoe boxes that will be displayed, and auctioned along with gift certificates, to raise money for teen depression. Care packages will be put together by students and donated to 7 Hills Center.
This project, Shelton and Snyder hope, will show the community what can be done when youth are engaged and organizations start reaching out through a centralized, millennial-friendly database.
To Get Involved: Contact Aron@GoSpareTime.com or Alyssa@GoSpareTime.com to donate, volunteer, join SpareTime or to be a part of future upcoming projects like “working out to end domestic violence.”