Executive Director Gary Bagley on 50,000 for New York City
Q: What is 50,000 for New York City?
50,000 for New York City is New York Cares' year-long initiative to mobilize 50,000 volunteers to strengthen the city. This commitment is one of the ways we're supporting Mayor Bloomberg's blueprint for civic engagement, NYC Service.
Last year, we mobilized 43,000 volunteers who helped 450,000 of our neighbors in need. Over the coming year, we'll create opportunities for 50,000 New Yorkers to volunteer and serve more than 500,000 people citywide. This an increase of more than 15%.
Q: What does this campaign mean for volunteers?
We'll be expanding our programs so more people can volunteer. We encourage everyone who has time to help by becoming a New York Cares volunteer (get started here) and doing at least one thing this year.
Of course, not everyone has time to volunteer – we all balance many commitments, and there are times when extra hours are just not possible. We get that. But we hope people who can't give time will support us financially. I often say volunteering is a low cost way to deliver services, but it's not free. That's a message we hope our volunteers understand, too. We're going to need everyone's help to achieve our goals and urge people who give their time to support us financially as well if they can.
Q: Why are you doing this now?
There are a tremendous number of people that need our help. The recession is tough. We've never seen more need for our programs, and we wanted to do something big to rally people into action.
It's also an historic time for service. President Obama's support for Serve America will make it possible for more Americans to do national and community service. Mayor Bloomberg just launched the landmark NYC Service, his blueprint for civic engagement in the city. Governor Paterson established a cabinet level position dedicated to volunteerism. Millions of Americans are being inspired to get involved in new ways – it's thrilling to be one of the organizations than can transform talk into action. New Yorkers are among the most generous people in the world – I have no doubt they're ready to step up, and we're ready to help.
Q: What role is the recession playing in your decision to launch 50,000 for New York City?
Recessions are game-changers. We're seeing an unprecedented flood of volunteers wanting to help. Some are moved by great need they see around them. Others have been laid off and want to use their transition time in meaningful ways. During February and March, for example, twice as many people joined New York Cares compared to last year.
At the same time, our Project Partners – the nonprofits, agencies, and schools we help – are struggling to maintain services they provide to the vulnerable people they support, including families, the elderly, and unemployed people. They rely on our volunteers to help deliver services that otherwise might not happen.
New York Cares is uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between the increasing number of people at risk and the growing group of volunteers who want to help. But to do this we need financial support. We rely on donations from corporations, individuals, foundations, and government to create the volunteer programs so many people rely on. We provide amazing leverage in terms of what we can deliver – we quadruple the value of every dollar donated to us through the power of our volunteers. What other things in life deliver that kind of return? We're the single best investment you can make in our city.
Q: How does New York Cares work?
New York Cares provides comprehensive volunteer services to nonprofits, city agencies, public schools, and other organizations. We work with organizations to identify critical needs they can't address through their current resources, then create volunteer projects that meet those needs. I'm always disappointed when people refer to us as a volunteer matching service, because we're so much more. We provide a full service to organizations – we recruit, train, and deploy teams of volunteers on projects that augment what these organizations can do on their own.
Our projects span a broad range of social issues related to poverty, including education, homelessness, hunger, and unemployment. Our roots are in flexible, episodic volunteering, but today we offer a range of long- and short-term projects that let volunteers participate according to their interest and availability. We are unique in the way we serve both the volunteer and the agencies helping vulnerable people in our community.
Q: What happens next year after the campaign?
Campaigns are a great way to rally people, but we think of this as just the beginning. It's our goal to use this year to ramp up to a next phase of New York Cares' growth. We could mobilize 250,000 volunteers tomorrow, if we had the financial resources to do so. This year, we'll need $500,000 in incremental funding to mobilize the additional volunteers to meet our commitment. We will be looking to our corporate sponsors, foundation and government funders, and caring New Yorkers to help us meet this goal.
Gary Bagley is Executive Director of New York Cares.