Brian Hemesath, owner
Brian Hemesath, owner

The problem:

Volunteer coordinators needed an efficient, effective way to communicate with and manage their volunteers. They were spending too much time dealing with spreadsheets and phone lists.

The innovation:

Web-based software that gives athletic competitions, event coordinators, nonprofit organizations, churches and festival coordinators the ability to communicate with and manage volunteers. Coordinators can send out email blasts, store information, easily create job shifts and schedule volunteers.

How they did it:

VolunteerLocal grew because of the late Mo Dana.

Back in 2003, the former director of the Des Moines Arts Festival needed an easier way to manage the hordes of volunteers signed up to help at the annual event. She asked local Web developer Brian Hemesath to fix her problem. Hemesath is also the founder of Diligent Information Services LLC and Catchwind LLC, both of which he has now sold.

He developed the software for the Arts Festival to use and let the project “sit on the shelf” for a few years, he said. But in 2007, the Hy-Vee Triathlon came knocking at his door, and he realized his product had business potential. The software, offered in both free and pay-per-event versions, has been used by the 80/35 music festival, the Des Moines Social Club, the USA Triathlon and organizers of events across the country and around the world.

Now, after years of helping event coordinators organize their troops, the company has created a feature that will better connect volunteers with the festivals, sporting events and shows they’re passionate about. Des Moines residents can search and sign up for area events via the company’s website during what it is calling the Summer of Volunteering, said Kaylee Williams, the company’s community builder.

“We just want to get people together who want to volunteer in Des Moines,” she said. “(Des Moines) is sitting on a mountain of events that need volunteers.”

The company is testing the waters this summer in Des Moines, Williams said. “We’ll see what we learn from this year and take it where we can,” she said.

“We’d love to see a Summer of Volunteering in every city,” Hemesath added.

The payoff:

Although VolunteerLocal began as a side project, Hemesath said he has enjoyed watching it come full circle and solve problems around the globe. “We jokingly call this a low-profit company,” he said. “We didn’t build this to take to the bank. We wanted to build a service that people would love and use, not make money.”