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Guest blog by Catherine Gans, Marketing & Development Manager at Propeller
To commemorate the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the amazing volunteers who responded, A Billion + Change is running a blog series to highlight a few outstanding examples of skill-based volunteers who continue to contribute to the growth and resilience of the people and the city of New Orleans.
Since 2011, Propeller: A Force for Social Innovation has launched 60 ventures tackling New Orleans’ most pressing issues and positively impacting the lives of thousands of New Orleanians. Among these is NetWork Voluntours, New Orleans’ first and only organization dedicated to voluntourism.
NetWork Voluntours got its start in 2014 out of Propeller’s Impact Accelerator with the aim of strengthening local nonprofits by enhancing the experience of volunteers to draw more helping hands to the city.
With the help of Propeller’s Accelerator programming and pro bono volunteer network, they’ve grown from an idea into a high impact startup that partners with trusted local nonprofits to bring them a consistent volunteer workforce, while providing visiting groups – conference groups, corporate groups, student groups, special interest groups, families – with a volunteer experience that fits their needs and interests.
As Propeller founder Teddy Nathan explained, "Propeller provides an environment of support and professionalism that encourages growth, trying new things, asking the tough questions and doing what it takes to get the answers…Propeller’s pro-bono network has a variety of diverse professionals and skills that have provided much-needed support at important times throughout our launch and expansion."
As a Propeller Accelerator graduate, NetWork Voluntours has drawn on Propeller’s network of over 200 pro bono professionals for everything from 501c3 incorporation to board development, marketing, tax support, legal support and filing administrative insurance. In 2014, a Propeller-provided consultant walked NetWork Voluntours (originally Crescent City Connections) through an entire rebrand, complete with a fresh name, logo, and brand identity.
The results speak for themselves.
In 2014 alone, NetWork Voluntours connected 544 volunteers with 33 local nonprofits, generating nearly $125,000 in economic impact for New Orleans. In 2015, they’ve worked with over 4,000 volunteers, and will work with another 10,000+ by the end of the year. This spring, they launched a major partnership with the Essence Festival to coordinate 450 volunteers to work at three local public schools.
Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, visiting volunteers arrived as an indispensable force in New Orleans’ recovery. In the ten years since, they became an essential piece of the city’s sustainability and cultural identity.
As philanthropic and federal dollars started to dwindle via rebuilding efforts, volunteers became more critical than ever, and NetWork Voluntours has turned its focus to ensuring quality experiences to keep them coming back.
Sitting across from co-founder Teddy Nathan in Propeller’s co-working space, it’s clear how passionate he and his team members are about creating volunteer experiences that are as meaningful for the volunteers themselves as they are for New Orleans.
In this symbiotic relationship, everyone stands to gain. Volunteers learn about issues they care about and help support the solution, local nonprofits receive consistent, quality human and financial resources form individuals invested in their success. New Orleans benefits from a caring, energetic population of visitors and locals who are actively engaged in seeing the city succeed.
Although voluntourism may have developed a negative connotation globally, New Orleans is poised to serve as the counter-example that, in Teddy’s words, "If managed and harnessed correctly, voluntourism can have a humongous impact."
For NetWork Voluntours, Propeller’s pro bono professionals have proven to have near infinite returns. Through their technical support, the team at NetWork Voluntours has not only built a company, it is rebuilding an entire city.
Catherine Gans manages marketing, PR, and communications for Propeller: A Force for Social Innovation, a co-working space and incubator for social ventures in New Orleans. Catherine is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and fellow for Venture for America, a two-year program that empowers young professionals to revitalize American cities through entrepreneurship.
For more on Propeller and its Accelerator program, visit GoPropeller.org.
To create a customized volunteer experience in New Orleans visit NetworkNOLA.org.