Mini Case Study: Catchafire pairs professionals with social change organizations
People generally want to volunteer in some capacity; social change organizations generally need volunteers. Soup kitchens and Habitat for Humanity seldom have a shortage of volunteers, because most anyone can do it. But, for a professional who wants to use their specialized skills, it’s not so easy to find an organization that wants them. And, how do organizations that need rebranding, for instance, specifically solicit a talented public relations volunteer? Catchafire, an organization masterminded by Rachael Chong matches skilled volunteers with specific projects at social change organizations, pairing human capital with necessary, but otherwise costly, projects in nonprofits.
Catchafire was born from Chong’s personal experience. As a former investment banker with the drive to volunteer her financial skills, she could not find a single organization willing to accommodate her schedule and use her professional skills. After moving to the social sector, Chong found herself a key player in growing BracUSA which she did successfully after “employing” her skilled friends to do discrete tasks, such as marketing, budgeting, and organizing. She used this positive experience to address two massive needs: more than 25 million professionals with relevant skills who aren’t given to opportunity to use them for social good, and organizations that can’t afford things they need like a web designer and a marketing strategist.
Here’s how it works: Organizations sign up with Catchafire for a nominal amount (currently $200). This amount covers a significant portion of Catchafire’s operations, and it also raises confidence that the nonprofit is committed both to the project and to the volunteer. At the same time, folks who want to volunteer their skills upload their resume and browse the menu of Catchafire’s partner organization’s projects. They are organized by category, and there are projects ranging from little interaction with the organization itself (like logo design) to heavy involvement and facilitation of important conversations (like mission and visioning). Once the vetting and matching of volunteers to projects happen, it’s a win-win for the volunteer, who has the opportunity to help an organization out while also developing professionally, and the nonprofit, which saves a lot of money while getting a quality, tangible product. For now, partnerships are limited to those that somehow reach the New York area (more than 700!), but Catchafire is seeking to grow to accommodate the nearly 5,000 volunteers currently in their database.
The model works. For volunteers, “their motivation is to give back and do good, but they also want to build their resume, gain leadership experience, and network,” says Chong, “which is the outcome of almost every project so far.” For organizations, “some have definitely come back for additional projects” and feedback has shown how much the resource-strained nonprofits value Catchafire’s placement services. It’s highly successful, and is trying to increase capacity to expand reach. Right now, Catchafire is in the middle of their $1 million giveaway which seeks to raise $1,000,000 in volunteer service between November 1 and January 31.