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“Virtual Volunteers” Can Make a Million Dollar Difference for Homeless Youth in Chicago

Teen Living Programs, a Chicago non-profit that provides housing and services to youth who are homeless, is looking for a few good “friends” to volunteer this holiday season. But unlike most charities that ask volunteers to spend a few hours at a shelter wrapping gifts or serving turkey and stuffing, Teen Living is asking its volunteers to spend just a few seconds—supporting the organization on Facebook.

Youth photos 2009 34455555
Christina is one of a 100+ youth involved with TLP and its many services.

If the effort is successful, Teen Living could receive enough funding to provide services to many of the 2,000 youth who are homeless in Chicago each night.

Teen Living’s Virtual Volunteer campaign was prompted by the Chase Community Giving event—an online event to help Chase Bank identify recipients for $5 million in charitable donations. Facebook members “become a fan” of Chase Community Giving and then vote for their favorite non-profits to receive a donation. The bank is donating $25,000 to 100 organizations in the first round of giving, and then $100,000 to five organizations plus $1 million to two organizations in the second round. Voting in the first round ends on December 11, 2009.

“Receiving a donation from Chase would be unbelievable, but we also see this as an opportunity to build something long term; to show the community that there are many ways they can help our youth, even if they can‟t volunteer in person,” says Nia Tavoularis, director of communications for Teen Living Programs.

Tavoularis says virtual volunteering is a concept that is right on for the times and believes it can be a powerful tool for non-profits.

“The economy has really hurt the non-profit world. To close the funding gap, we need to expand our donor base, and to expand our base we need word of mouth. Obviously, the goal is to raise money, but we also need people, whether they donate or not, to talk about Teen Living Programs and to introduce our organization to their family and friends. Social networking is a very efficient way to do that,” Tavoularis says.

Coincidentally, just prior to learning about Chase Community Giving, Teen Living Programs launched its own social networking campaign targeting individual donors. The “Tell a Friend in 2010” campaign features a special website (, Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter account with educational information and ideas for spreading the word about Teen Living Programs online and offline.

Tavoularis says virtual volunteering can be fulfilling for the volunteers as well.

“People are busier than ever today. But it doesn’t take a lot of time to do a little research, post a thoughtful message and let 200 friends know about something that’s important to you. If that leads to a donation somewhere down the line, then your virtual effort is felt in a very real way by the youth in our programs,” she says. “That’s what ‘Tell a Friend’ is all about.”

For now, Teen Living hopes it can find enough “friends” to raise a million dollars.

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