Many who want to help during the current COVID-19 pandemic don’t know how to get involved in a meaningful way, something generally true during and after disasters. A fellow Scout leader, who works at the Marin Community Foundation, shares my interest in promoting community service among Marin’s youth. Our conversation recently turned to coordinating volunteer efforts during the pandemic. My colleague had high praise for the remarkable job the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL) does solving this problem.

I reached out to CVNL’s Director of Marketing and Communications, Katelyn Willoughby-Bagley, who was quick to pay respects to the role of trained professionals when a disaster strikes, “We are incredibly grateful to our first responders, who put themselves in danger to save lives.” CVNL’s role begins after that:

What happens when the critical first response work is completed—once the victims have been transported, the injured treated, and fires suppressed? The workers on the scene in the days, weeks, and months after a disaster see less of the limelight. Second responders work to clean up the ravages of a disaster area, stabilize infrastructure and help return regions to normal operations. Although they may not literally be putting out fires, those who work in the nonprofit sector play a vital role in disaster recovery.
CVNL operates Emergency Volunteer Centers (EVCs) in Marin, Napa, Solano, and Sonoma Counties. EVCs act as clearing houses, engaging spontaneous volunteers and matching them with community needs. Trained emergency personnel staff each EVC and provide volunteers a one-stop location to learn where help is needed and determine how they can best help. Nonprofits with disaster-related volunteer opportunities can post on CVNL’s Volunteer Portal for free and can even get support with postings or related questions by emailing

During the current crisis, food is one pressing need among many. SF-Marin Food Bank is having an enormous impact reducing food insecurity, along with many other nonprofits making a difference. After a few clicks on CVNL’s website, anyone can choose from a host of meaningful ways to help within their community. From my office in San Rafael, I see there is a need for help with food preparation at the Ceres Community Project 3 miles away. The Ritter Center a mile away needs help with its food pantry. Homeward Bound needs help sewing masks. Opportunities abound.

CVNL goes beyond matching volunteers, taking a holistic approach to supporting non-profits by offering comprehensive programs to assist both nonprofits and volunteers with key needs, including: (1) an impressive range of training in areas such as planning and communication; (2) assistance with executive search and succession planning; (3) consulting services for boards, staff and volunteers; and (4) corporate engagement strategies to help companies develop Corporate Social Responsibility plans and prepare to coordinate a response when disaster strikes. CVNL has a comprehensive resource page, providing access to resources like a “Stronger Together” webinar series, designed to equip and support leaders during this health crisis, and curated information relevant to the needs of nonprofits, including volunteer management tips, advice for boards of directors, and ways to advocate for the nonprofit sector.

Willoughby-Bagley noted that, “CVNL has a long history in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.” One secret to its success has been, “recognizing that volunteers are a more valuable resource when they are trained, assigned, and supervised within established emergency management systems.” Not surprisingly, volunteers are urgently needed to help the community respond to challenges related to COVID-19. Critical volunteer roles include food distribution and packing and delivering supplies. CVNL has established a volunteer page specific to addressing ongoing community needs related to the pandemic.

For those with risk factors that prevent volunteering in person, “CVNL also helps oversee and manage physical and monetary donations by distributing them to nonprofit agencies helping individuals directly affected.” It has established a fund to support disaster services: Click here and select “Support COVID-19 Relief Activities” to make a donation.