Craig Young matches volunteers with agencies that need them


The last time Craig Young got a paycheck, it was for coaching middle school track and basketball – not always a slam-dunk, he admits. “I wasn’t good at the tough love part,” he said. “I was good at strategy and putting kids in where they could succeed.”

Game-planning, goal-setting and matching people to a position: These are the skills Young has now brought to Cincinnati’s volunteer community – and beyond.

Craig Young, Volunteer of the Year

Young had been a tireless innovator in Silicon Valley before many Americans even owned a computer. An engineer by training, he found ways to do things with technology when everything was not only newly possible, it was really profitable. When he had the opportunity to sell his ventures, he plowed his assets into a family foundation focused on global concerns like the environment, medicine, poverty, education and disaster relief. He eventually moved his family from San Francisco to Cincinnati.

Young, who had been working since he was about 12, had an opportunity to donate not only his money but his time. That dramatic shift sparked new thinking about how volunteers connect with the organizations that need their help.

As this year’s Association of Fundraising Professionals National Philanthropy Day Volunteer of the Year in Cincinnati, Young is being honored for his own generosity, and for encouraging others to give. 

“I guess the first volunteer I knew about was my mother. She was my den leader in Cub Scouts and was very dedicated,” Young said. “And the dad who was our pack leader? I remember being surprised as a young boy that he wasn’t paid.”

Young’s family struggled financially. He remembers when his parents needed government aid to get by. He joined his dad to run machine tools in the family business before he was a teenager.

He continued to value a paycheck: first pumping gas, then working at a sporting goods store. Even after finishing college, he took a job bagging groceries, since the start-up he was working for couldn’t always pay him a full salary.

Back then, as he logged long hours founding and leading companies, solving problems with technology and matching those solutions with customers, he wasn’t thinking about volunteer work or charities. But he was learning some powerful lessons about organizations.

Tim Thomas, who worked with Young in the 1980s, said Young always had a gift for “putting good people together … and when you join him, he trusts you with your ideas and you really benefit from the energy flow he assembles.”

Young contrasts for-profit businesses and nonprofit agencies. “There are parallels because you have to do it well, manage it well, and value your people. But what is different is that people come (to a nonprofit) with the intent to help, not to be paid.” And that difference is what fascinates Young. “With volunteering, you have the opportunity to engage people’s passion.”

Most people don’t wake up one morning, though, suddenly passionate about volunteering. “They have a moment,” Young says, whether a major world event like 9/11 or a loved one’s experience with a chronic disease. 

Young’s moment happened here in Cincinnati, in 2006, when he was the parent of three young children. The story of Marcus Fiesel, a 3-year-old boy who was killed while in foster care, moved him to help. He joined the board of ProKids, which advocates for children in foster care.

“Craig saw how our well-trained and supported volunteers could change the arc of an abused and neglected child’s life,” recalled Tracy Cook, ProKids executive director.

From his early days at ProKids, Young said he learned that as a board member he could contribute to the overall direction of an organization as well as protect the best interests of the public, maintaining the agency’s overall financial health. That experience led to serving on more boards, including his current commitments at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center; Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens; the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Red Cross; the Boy Scouts of America, Dan Beard Council; Social Venture Partners of Cincinnati; the National Alliance for Volunteer Engagement; and the national council of the National Parks Conservation Association.

“Craig knows the effort to unleash the power of volunteers needs to be scaled dramatically to serve those in need today and to shape our community’s future.”

Tracy Cook, ProKids executive director 

He started to think about what would happen if someone didn’t know how to connect with an agency that fueled their passion. What would the community lose if at the moment a prospective volunteer wanted to serve, there was no obvious way to do so? 

Cook saw what happened next. 

“It was fascinating to see Craig bring the skills that allowed him to thrive in his first career to his second,” Cook said. “He is highly strategic and analytical. Craig understands volunteer trends in a way few do.”

Young found that a Google search couldn’t solve the problem effectively. Someone might use the word “volunteer” to mean either board service, something skill-based, supporting an event or doing pro bono work, Young said. How could they find the right fit?

In 2017, he founded the nonprofit Inspiring Service, known locally as Cincinnati Cares, serving as its unpaid leader. He found that Cincinnati lagged behind similar cities in volunteerism and that there was no central effort to turn that around. He also discovered that while the community was familiar with larger agencies, they didn’t know about hundreds of others that could link to their interests.

With an online platform, functions as a kind of online dating site for volunteers and agencies.

“Craig knows the effort to unleash the power of volunteers needs to be scaled dramatically to serve those in need today and to shape our community’s future,” Cook said. “When (people) come forward to serve as volunteers, our community is transformed.”

Young’s middle child, Michael, has joined Inspiring Service as the manager of applied technologies. He remembers when his father first brought philanthropy home.

“He gave all three of us poker chips and showed us about 20 different little symbols of organizations we could help,” recalls Michael, who was maybe 3 years old at the time. “We could put all our poker chips on one or divide them out.” Michael remembers putting chips on “the panda,” which was for the World Wildlife Fund. The family then distributed their donations accordingly.

“We were included from such a young age,” Michael said. “And now to take technology to solve these kinds of problems is just a next step.”

Young has moved on to another challenge: Organizations need to be more welcoming and inclusive. They are missing out on engaged community members who may not look like traditional volunteers or who may not already know someone involved with a nonprofit.

So Young brought technology and a social event together to match prospective board members to organizations, recruiting community members who may not have thought of themselves as “board material.”

“It’s only when you do that, that you get different perspectives that you need,” said Young, who recently became one of the first three male board members in the 150-year history of the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati.

While it surprises him to be working as hard as he did in his 20s, as his peers retire, Young said his work has been “all consuming,” with 80-hour weeks the norm. But Young said his work, both with his own organization and on behalf of others, “has an impact that is a hundred to a thousand times greater.”

“I’m so proud of what we’ve done,” Young said. “And now we have the opportunity to go even further.”

The Association of Fundraising Professionals hosts National Philanthropy Day each November to promote philanthropy and recognize individuals, organizations and businesses inspiring change through their significant impact on nonprofit organizations. 

Honorees will be celebrated Nov. 7, 11:30 a.m., in the Music Hall Ballroom.

Honoree profiles –
Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy: Cincinnati Youth Collaborative’s Jobs for Cincinnati Graduates
Corporation/Foundation of the Year: The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation
Philanthropist of the Year: Digi Schueler
Volunteer of the Year: Craig Young

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