As local convention business recovers, visitors in droves want well-organized volunteer opportunities from local charities, including tools, port-a-potties, and a free lunch.
The Wall Street Journal (Robert J. Hughes) provided a brief take on the dilemma facing charities in New Orleans as more and more corporate groups seek volunteer opportunities when they come to the city for conventions. Now that convention business is back to 70% of pre-Katrina levels (and bookings for 2008 are running at 90%), the pressure is on for charities in New Orleans to provide packaged voluntourism opportunities for convention visitors.
It's significant that there was just one grassroots group mentioned in the story, Beacon of Hope (EIN 20-4485317, too new for a Form 990), started by local homeowners and now with more than 48 neighborhood centers around the city providing clean up tools and coordination. Their volunteer coordinator noted that they have accommodated groups of 150 people, who all need tools and want a commemorative t-shirt. In New Orleans, just renting a port-a-potty runs to $250 for four hours. Beacon of Hope gave up on supplying lunches, but still provides snacks.
Other organizations mentioned in the article specialize in corporate volunteer programs and came to New Orleans after Katrina: the Boston-based City Year (EIN 22-2882549 Form 990) and Atlanta-based Hands on Network (EIN 54-1619345 Form 990). City Year estimates that the cost per volunteer per day ranges from $30 to $100 and it and other groups are negotiating with companies to pick up the costs.
We have seen that Habitat for Humanity (EIN 91-1914868 Form 990) has fallen short in its rebuilding efforts in the Gulf, and part of the reason is that volunteers aren't that competent. Corporate volunteering can be problematic for charities because it usually represents a large group of workers with limited skills and no time for training.
Yet charities are reluctant to make demands. The most telling contrast in the article was the observation that the outside groups were aware of the costs and were negotiating with companies to kick in with a contribution to defray the cost of volunteering. The grassroots group, on the other hand, makes of point of saying that it would never turn away volunteers.