Volunteering by Design

David Smit MA ’12

By Frank Radosevich II
May 11, 2012

When David Smit, a master’s candidate for visual communications and design, asked people why they didn’t volunteer, he uncovered a variety of reasons.

Few had the time to spare. Others said they lacked the necessary skills to help. Some cited bad experiences that soured their outlook on lending a hand. And many said simply they didn’t know where to look for volunteering opportunities.

“If you go to Google and type in ‘volunteer in Peoria,’ you’ll never find anything,” said Smit, who has also worked as an adjunct art professor at Bradley. “I thought I could solve all of these issues.”

A firm believer in community service himself, Smit set his sights on solving this disconnect between helpers and groups with his thesis project. What he created was Volunteer Heart of Illinois, an online initiative that aims to bring non-profit organizations, potential volunteers and local businesses closer together.

During the early stages of the project, he met with some 70 different charities or non-profit groups in Peoria County to help shape the website’s layout. The online application he envisions would allow organizations to advertise their needs and users browse for projects they would be interested in doing. The application would also feature a master calendar where associations could list their fundraisers or hours for volunteering.

Since everything is online, users could track how many times they have volunteered around town. The easier and more enjoyable it is to volunteer, Smit said, the more people will pitch in or donate down the road.

“It’s a way to share what you are doing to get people involved with it,” he said.

Smit said designers are more than artists; they are problem-solvers. The task of a designer, he said, is to aid a client in explaining something to their customers or partners. Making that answer visually appealing is just part of the graphic design process.

“Graphic design’s main functional tool is solving problems,” Smit explained. “I’m trying to get people to be more active in their community.”

With the template for the website complete, Smit said local groups are keen to have the project complete. He said he talked about partnering with an organization to help bring the initiative to fruition.

“When it will be ready is the only question I get from non-profits,” he said. “They are pretty excited about what’s going on.”