Joe Buckshon, the Executive Director of Volunteering Untapped PHL, compares the organization’s relationship with the city to a funnel. Volunteering Untapped is the wide end, aiming volunteer power directly toward small, partner Philadelphia nonprofits. The second Saturday of every month at 10 am, it convenes a group of 60 to 80 volunteers in a different part of the city to work for three hours with a different one of these nonprofits, which include Mill Creek Farm, Playworks, and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.
With its wide reach, Volunteering Untapped lets civic-minded Philadelphians interact with many different groups. That, in turn, might lead them to find one organization they want to keep up with on their own. “We’ve mostly been starting from places that we think do really great work but probably don’t get volunteer support,” notes Buckshon.
Besides benefiting local nonprofits once a month, Volunteering Untapped helps foster young professionals with an interest in giving back to their community. “Maybe you’re going to be on a board someday, maybe you’re going to be a big giver to some organization,” says Buckshon. “I would love if you found that through some Saturday you were at Volunteering Untapped.”
This coming Saturday, Volunteering Untapped will be working with Philadelphia Community Corps, which trains the formerly incarcerated and others to “deconstruct” abandoned properties and salvage materials for reuse and resale in a warehouse called Philly Reclaim. As it always does after its events, Volunteering Untapped will host an after party with food, beverages and games; tomorrow’s party will be at Philadelphia Community Corps.
The emphasis on community-building is key to Volunteering Untapped. Millennials—the group’s target audience—“is not at all in a position to do a lot of giving, philanthropy,” Buckshon says. “They don’t have as many of the traditional institutions that other generations had.” He notes that the social infrastructure needed to support volunteer work—like churches—and the way people interact with that infrastructure has changed in recent years. Volunteering Untapped, then, looks to fill a social gap and create a new structure for giving.
Participants are often “people who are new to the city or didn’t go to school here, or don’t have as many connections or friends here,” Buckshon says. “People need a way to get closer to Philadelphia if we want them to be good, contributing citizens. And they need this kind of outlet to meet these organizations, and for the organizations to meet them where they are.”
In this way, Volunteering Untapped is a sort of outsourced organizer, taking the burdens of coordinating volunteers, promoting events, and funding away from nonprofits. Simply, the group aims to be a space where like-minded people have “an excuse to do some good for a couple hours,” and “get to know each other better for an hour or two afterwards.”
Though Volunteering Untapped is nearing its one-year anniversary in Philadelphia, its origins go back four years in Baltimore. Buckshon, who has lived in Philly for the last nine years, launched the Philly chapter— the third in the nation—with a group of friends after the Presidential election. His previous job had an office in Baltimore, and a friend there introduced him to the organization. Since then, Volunteering Untapped PHL has held 13 events with 465 volunteers for a total number just shy of 1,500 hours of work.
Holding the event every second Saturday at the same time, Buckshon explains “helps people make it more of a habit, you know exactly when it’s going to be.” He notes that Philadelphia provides certain obstacles not found in Baltimore, where everyone can drive to an event “and walk across the street to a bar that’s going to be empty.” Philadelphia is three times the size in population and much more geographically diverse. Having volunteer sites be accessible by public transit can sometimes pose a problem.
Still, though, volunteers show up in droves to work. “We always end up doing more than whoever we’re working with expects,” Buckshon explains. Last summer, the group worked at Bartram’s Garden clearing out invasive mugwort from the property. After finishing the work, Buckshon remembers the groundskeeper saying “that was going to take us a month to do.” Though the Volunteer Untapped events can at times feel surface level, Buckshon notes the sort of intense volunteer work they permit is undeniably needed.
The group is looking to continue to grow to match proportionally the size of Baltimore’s engagement, where events can attract up to 200 people on a given Saturday. “If you just do the back of the napkin math,” Buckshon explains, “there’s probably 450 or 500 people in Philadelphia who would have a similar draw or interest.”
Volunteering Untapped has ambitious aspirations. Buckshon states: “We want to generate a service hour for every resident of Philadelphia.”
Saturday, June 9, 10am – 1pm, followed by beer and snacks, free but register here, Philadelphia Community Corps, 150 West Butler Street.Photo via Volunteering Untapped