Reposted from the Florida Today website, it's a bit long, but worth a read IMO.
As the founder and executive director of the nonprofit M.O.R.G.A.N. Project, Kristen Malfara counts on the annual "Turtle Splash." The May fundraiser raises up to 30 percent of the yearly budget to help provide pediatric medical equipment to families with special-needs children.
And with the event's 3,000 plastic turtles to sort through -- not to mention setting up and running it -- Malfara needs some help. She said she's struggled in the past to get 75 to 100 volunteers.
When she heard about the "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day" promotion -- offering volunteers who donate a day to designated charities a free pass into a theme park, she signed her project up.
"Oh, my God," she said of the more than 300 responses after the posting hit the Web on Jan. 1. "It's not even on there anymore. I had to pull it off Jan. 4 . . . I was overwhelmed by the people that contacted me . . . The Disney thing exploded."
More than a half-dozen nonprofits contacted by Florida Today agreed, reporting boosts in volunteerism because of the Disney promotion announced last fall. A recent review of the Web site listing eligible opportunities showed about 80 Space Coast groups seeking from one to hundreds of volunteers.
Walt Disney World Resort spokesman Dave Herbst said the goal of the program was to inspire 1 million people to participate in community volunteerism.
"This one is truly derived from our company culture," Herbst said. "There has always been a strong impetus within this company to participate in voluntary community projects of all sorts."
The promotion replaces last year's free birthday admission to Disney World or Disneyland.
Patti Bryan is the head of Walk on Water Ministries, which offers disadvantaged and disabled children the chance to interact with horses. The nonprofit was expanding and getting a new stable and riding trail for its horses and sought volunteers via the Disney promotion. Typically, she gets between 25 and 40 per event. That weekend, she got 146, she said.
"It's been wonderful," Bryan said. "It's helped immensely."
An added bonus is people who took part in the perk, but are showing interest in volunteering with the ministry on a more regular basis. She estimated about 20 people fit that description.
"Several people from the first time have come back," she said.
Florida Air Academy also reported high response to a recent beach cleanup.
More than 380 people showed up to help after posting on the Disney site, said Bonnie Miller, a school registrar who coordinated the event. Groups of 20 to 25 people each spruced up 14 different beach sites.
"I don't think anybody had any idea it would grow so fast," Miller said of the promotion.
Disney partnered with Hands On Network, the volunteer sector of Points of Light Institute, which evolved from former President George H.W. Bush's support for volunteers.
Chris Allen, executive director of the nonprofit Hands On Orlando, said the volunteer promotion definitely has had an effect.
Allen said charities seeking short-term volunteers seem to be faring better than those who are seeking longer-term commitments, which may include orientations and weekly work.
Hands On concentrates on group projects that typically last about three hours and don't involve long-term obligations.
"We're very pleased overall with the volunteering we're seeing," Allen said, whose nonprofit offers "hubs" to help communities manage volunteer projects. "It's just (with the Disney promotion) they have filled up so much faster.
Allen said as of mid-January, about 1.2 million slots nationwide had been posted via the Disney parks Web site.
While the Orlando nonprofit is helping facilitate the "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day" efforts in Brevard, he is hoping that a "Hands on Brevard" eventually will take off.
"That is the big, huge thing that could transform the community," Allen said. It's "giving people interesting, hands-on ways to make a meaningful difference."
Robert Dickerson, 62, is an Indialantic snowbird from Rochester, N.Y. Spending January through March on the Space Coast, he hadn't really been thinking about volunteering -- until he heard about the Disney promotion.
With a planned visit from his grandchildren, he and his wife Blanche, 59, a former schoolteacher, decided to take advantage of the free tickets and signed up for the Rolling Readers Space Coast Inc.
"We're happy to do it," said Dickerson, a retired scientist who now reads to kindergartners at Creel Elementary in Melbourne. "We like working with kids."
Susan Thomas, tutor mentor coordinator with Rolling Readers, said the nonprofit literacy program had about 25 to 30 volunteers -- such as a the Dickersons -- come in through the Disney promotion. Her organization works with schools with many children from low-income families, she said.
About 500 people are asked to commit 30 minutes to an hour per week for a semester.
"For some people, I think the Disney promotion gave them a nudge to give us a call," Thomas said
Disney wouldn't say how many volunteers have qualified for freebies yet -- or how much people who then come into the parks typically spend beyond the ticket. But Herbst did say the company is "excited about what the response has been like."
Sean Snaith, an economist with the University of Central Florida, said there's certainly goodwill intended.
"It's altruistic in a sense, but it's also trying to promote business," Snaith said.
People using their free park pass may be bringing people with them who have to pay to get in. And while patrons' spending habits differ, they're likely to spend money inside the park -- on food, entertainment or souvenirs.
Out-of-town visitors can also ramp up revenue both inside the parks and at surrounding businesses -- hotels, restaurants and other spots.
"We're still struggling to come out of this recession," Snaith said. "Any boost to the economy is going to be a welcome one."
Organizations that are reaping the rewards of the promotion are hoping this drive to inspire will stretch beyond the initial perk.
Forest Gilder, operations manager with the Brevard Veterans Center on Merritt Island, said he has a few regular volunteers, as well as those who come in to fulfill community service requirements.
But after posting via the Disney Web site that he needed people to help with data entry, greeting museum visitors, maintenance and handling the telephones, he's got a go-to list.
"That's given me a source," he said, noting he'll need help for a memorial garden in the works. "It's generated a feeling for community volunteerism. Now, I've got 40 people on a list that say, 'I'd be glad to help.' "
Disney perk or not, Dickerson, one of the new Rolling Readers volunteers, said he and his wife intend to come back.
"We'll do it next year," he said of the volunteer work.
The MORGAN Project's Malfara, is hoping that the Disney promotion will help craft a generation of children who are inspired to donate their time. Sometimes, she said, people just need a little bit of enticement.
"Once people actually volunteer, it touches their hearts," she said.