Editor’s Note: It came as a surprise earlier this year when we learned that nonprofits are increasingly experiencing difficulties attracting volunteers. And we were even more shocked that Cincinnati, long a beacon of generosity, trails similar markets in this regard. Our August issue profiles four people working at this problem from complementary perspectives.
Craig Young is not new to philanthropy and volunteerism. But his nonprofit Inspiring Service and its local arm, Cincinnati Cares, are bringing a tech-based approach to volunteerism in our region – and beyond.
Young, a California native who grew up in Wisconsin, started his career as an engineer when “the use of computers in engineering was just starting to emerge,” he said. It wasn’t long before his work sparked an entrepreneurial impulse. He launched two software companies – major suppliers to Apple and a company that’s now part of Siemens – in the 1980s.
Young sold both ventures in 1998. But thanks to their success, he was able to launch the Craig Young Family Foundation in 1995.
The foundation has given approximately $5 million to organizations focused on the environment, medicine, poverty, education and disaster relief.
Meanwhile, Young started volunteering with his children’s activities. Over the years, he expanded his service to include the boards of many nonprofits in the Cincinnati area, where he’s had an address since 1984 and where he and his wife raised their three children.
The call to action that led him to his current role as founder and (volunteer) executive director of Inspiring Service/Cincinnati Cares came in early 2017. While examining data showing the decline of volunteerism in the U.S., he noticed something about Cincinnati.
“We saw that (our rates) had declined more than twice as fast as the national rate,” he said.
In four of five similar cities the volunteer rate had increased, and Cincinnati’s had decreased most, Young said. So he did some research.
He learned that the cities where volunteerism was on the rise were investing more money in their volunteer networks, and each had “at least one significant organization whose sole focus was volunteerism in their region,” he said.
Young also found that although 800 to 1,000 organizations in our region engage volunteers, most people only know the names of the top dozen.
Armed with all that knowledge, he created Inspiring Service, a technology-driven nonprofit focused on regional volunteer networks. Locally, the organization operates as Cincinnati Cares. It’s named for its largest platform, cincinnaticares.org, which guides prospective volunteers to find nonprofits that need their help.
“You can think of it as Yelp for volunteers,” Young explained, noting that to be effective, that site must have an entry for almost every restaurant.
“Believe it or not, nothing like that existed for volunteerism.”
Cincinnati Cares filled that void locally. To date, it has gathered information on about 500 local nonprofits, and it connects approximately 125 people per month to those organizations.
It also trains nonprofits to better use their volunteers and helps them find board members. An event that brought local organizations and board candidates together was so successful that Inspiring Service took it on the road, helping United Way organize a similar event in Boston.
That’s the role of Inspiring Service: to work across the country while Cincinnati Cares focuses on Cincinnati. It also has provided its technology to Nevada and Orange County, Calif., and discussions with leaders of other communities continue.
Young believes the need for volunteerism has never been greater.
“It’s not just a need in the fulfillment of mission,” he said. “It’s a need to speak to people’s hearts. … I believe pretty strongly that it’s about getting close enough to care. When you serve someone who is homeless, they are not just a statistic. … It humanizes.
“You don’t get that writing a check. If I write a check, I feel good about it because I helped, but I don’t get that same connection. I believe that affects how we vote and a lot of other decisions which lead to a stronger community – or not.”
To improve the volunteer network, Young thinks we need to do three things.
“We need to inspire people to want to volunteer. We need to empower them to be able to, and we need to engage them when they do.”
Young remains an engaged volunteer. Beyond his work with Inspiring Service, he serves on the boards of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center; Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens; the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Red Cross; Boy Scouts of America, Dan Beard Council; and Social Venture Partners of Cincinnati.
In September, he will become one of the first three male board members in the 150-year history of the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati. And he’s a member of the volunteer leadership team of the National Alliance for Volunteer Engagement and the national council of the National Parks Conservation Association.
“He not only promotes (volunteerism), but he does it, which I think lends credibility to what he’s trying to do,” said longtime friend Lee Carter. They met while both were involved with Seven Hills School and later served together on the Cincinnati Children’s board.
“Craig’s successful because he has a passion for what he does,” Carter added. “(He) has a lot of drive. He puts his mind to something, and he’ll run through brick walls to get it done.”
With Inspiring Service/Cincinnati Cares, Young sees a way to amplify his impact.
“I was very, very fortunate, and I have been able to give away what most people would consider to be a significant amount of money,” he said. “But by giving my money and my time and my thoughts and my ability to create in this space and innovate, I believe I have the potential to have hundreds, if not thousands, of times the impact of just my money.”
Doug Bolton, now Cincinnati Cares president and CEO, agrees.
“Most entrepreneurs … are always looking for ways to make millions of dollars. Craig is just such an anomaly in that he‘s made his millions of dollars, and now he is trying to make our world better,” he said. “He’s not going to profit from it. The world is going to profit from it.”