June 17, 2009

President Obama Unveils Summer Service Campaign

President Obama today asked Americans to volunteer during the summer to help the country make progress in areas like clean energy, education, and health care — and referred them to a government Web site that has allied with All for Good, a new online volunteer-recruiting tool designed by technology and nonprofit representatives.

“Economic recovery is as much about what you’re doing in your communities as what we’re doing in Washington — and it’s going to take all of us, working together,” the president says in an online video, announcing a campaign called “United We Serve” that will run from June 22 to September 11.

Mr. Obama urged people to register or find volunteer activities on, a Web site operated by the Corporation for National and Community Service. The site offers volunteer opportunities provided by All for Good, a Web application that was created by volunteers from organizations including Google, the Craigslist Foundation, and YouTube — and hosted by Google.

‘Open-Source’ Technology

Governed by a new nonprofit group called Our Good Works, the project is aggregating information about volunteerism from a wide range of nonprofit groups, including the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Idealist, Network for Good, and the United Way. It is using an “open source” technology so groups or individuals can develop new ways to use the data.

The effort has been controversial with some nonprofit officials who say it duplicates efforts already under way or who dislike the requirement to grant All for Good the right to license the information they provided to third parties. (See The Chronicle’s coverage of the genesis of All for Good.)

One of the groups that resisted getting involved — VolunteerMatch, a major online volunteer-recruiting organization in San Francisco that serves more than 65,000 nonprofit groups — announced yesterday that it has come up with a different way to license its information. It has decided to offer its data to All for Good or any other group under what is known as a Creative Commons license — a license that is designed to encourage groups to share information on the Web while setting down some basic conditions.

“We decided not to sign an exclusive license with All for Good,” said Greg Baldwin, the group’s president. “We chose a bolder strategy, to open up the VolunteerMatch data set to all noncommercial development.”

He said the All for Good project “helped us understand the real demand to make our information more open.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, a faculty member at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is a leader of the All for Good project, said he was pleased that VolunteerMatch had found a way to collaborate with the effort. “I applaud their creativity because it will allow their data to reach a much wider audience.”

Huffington Post and Craigslist

All for Good plans to announce the names of the board members for Our Good Works on Monday. Some names have already been made public, including Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, the online news and blog site, and Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, the online classifieds and forums site.

The United We Serve campaign will start officially on June 22 at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in San Francisco, sponsored by the national-service corporation and the Points of Light Institute, a volunteering and civic-engagement group. Several nonprofit leaders said that Michelle Obama is scheduled to make the announcement, although administration officials declined to confirm that.

The president urged people to come up with their own projects — for example, getting a group together to volunteer each week at a homeless shelter, reading to children at the local library, or picking up trash in a local park. includes “tool kits” to help people organize projects like creating a community garden or conducting a home energy audit.

The corporation said that invitation is a recognition that “some organizations are stretched in their capacity to take on new volunteers.”

The campaign will culminate with activities on September 11, which has been newly designated a National Day of Service and Remembrance to commemorate victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks. However, the president said he hopes Americans will “continue the service work you begin this summer for the rest of your life.”