Volunteering has many merits. You can help others, feel good about yourself, meet other like-minded people and develop your skills. But volunteering can be frustrating if you’re looking for an organization whose cause you believe in, that can make use of your skills and whose needs fit within your schedule. Finding the right fit for volunteering can be a challenge.
Catchafire is a website designed to make volunteering easier. Catchafire analyzes a volunteer’s interests and skills to find an opportunity with an organization whose cause the volunteer supports. Think of it like eHarmony for volunteering.
I recently spoke with Rachael Chong, CEO and Founder of Catchafire, about the ways in which the company matches volunteers with organizations needing help.
“We believe that a great pro bono volunteer experience can be transformational. We’re really committed to providing not only meaningful and impactful but delightful pro bono experiences,” explained Chong.
Catchafire matches volunteers with non-profit organizations that need the help. Many non-profits have a need for a professional staff but lack the budget to hire people to do the work. Catchafire helps non-profit organizations staff projects with volunteers who have professional skills. The company was named after the Bob Marley album and currently has about 10,000 volunteers and 2500 organizations enrolled.
How Catchafire Works
Volunteers provide Catchafire with their LinkedIn profile or a resume which they can manually enter on the application, as well as what types of causes they are interested in. “We’re then able to push projects that match a person’s skill sets and interests to their inbox or their Catchafire dashboard,” Chong said.
When volunteers see a project they like, either that they found on the Catchafire website or that was sent to them by Catchafire, they can apply for the project. The application is then sent to the organization who reviews the volunteer’s resume and application. “That gives the organization vetted and rich information so they can make an assessment of whether they want to move forward with this specific pro bono professional for their specific project,” Chong explained.
To get an idea of volunteer opportunities available through Catchafire, you can search the projects by cause, such as Education, Poverty Alleviation, Human Rights, Civil Rights, International Affairs, or I Just Want to Do Good. You can also filter the results by the skills you offer, such as Event Planning, Finance, Marketing, Writing, and Social Media. Chong said, “The most popular projects we’re finding are in marketing, communications, and design, anything to do with helping an organization build awareness and get the word out about the amazing work that they’re doing for their beneficiaries.”
Most of the organizations at Catchafire are smaller non-profits. They must have a physical presence in the United States, though these organizations help people throughout the world.
Volunteers can be from outside the US, though Chong advises that it’s easier if the volunteer and the organization are in the same time zone. Local volunteer opportunities are available in New York, Boston and the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill areas.
Chong is looking to expand the demographics of the volunteers at Catchafire. “Most of our working professionals are in between the ages of 24-45 but we’re really interested in expanding our opportunities to the Baby Boomer generation, the retirees who have the deep skill sets and a lot of experience and oftentimes a desire to now apply those skills for good.”
People can volunteer for free but organizations must pay a fee. Catchafire charges volunteer organizations a small commitment fee to list a project.
Chong explained, “The commitment fee that organizations pay us to participate in our service is very important in insuring that that organization is serious before we match them with one of our busy professionals whose time is the most important thing. We have two customers, the non-profit who we want to deliver great value to from a professional services standpoint, and the volunteer.”
Chong believes that the commitment fee ensures that both parties are invested in the volunteer experience. Volunteers are giving their time and skills and the commitment fee shows that the organization recognizes the value of what is being provided, according to Chong.
Benefits of Using Catchafire
Catchafire’s volunteering opportunities can provide flexibility for busy professionals. “The majority of our projects can be done virtually,” said Chong.
Catchafire can also be beneficial for those who aren’t currently employed. Volunteers who have professional skills can use volunteer projects to keep their skills fresh and can actively continue to build experience in their profession.
Chong said, “We are trying to create great volunteer opportunities for people so that they can have an experience that only comes through giving one’s time. It doesn’t come through donating because when you donate money you don’t get an experience. When you give your time you actually have the opportunity to connect with another individual on a deeper level that has the potential to be transformational.”
A Catchafire Volunteer’s Experience
I also spoke with Kit Thompson who is working on a project through Catchafire with the National School Climate Center, a non-profit organization that seeks to create safe school environments. She signed on with Catchafire because of the flexibility of the volunteer opportunities as well as the “wide array of interesting pro bono opportunities.” Thompson recently started her own business, Kitaliana, which provides Social Strategy for Small and Growing Businesses. Catchafire provided her with a way to make use of her professional skills and develop some new skills.
Thompson was searching for volunteer opportunities when she discovered Catchafire. “Their website seemed so compelling, I figured they must be doing something right.” She applied immediately to be a volunteer and Catchafire contacted her soon after that, suggesting a project that was a good match for her. “They’re pretty hands-on. It wasn’t as if I signed up and then I was on my own.”
When Thompson signed up with Catchafire, she listed her skills as a writer and a social media strategist, but she was offered a project that also required graphic design skills. She applied for the project and was accepted. “It was good for me to use my graphic design skills. I’m not a graphic designer nor do I pretend to be but this experience allowed me to practice my skills.” Her design (shown on the right) is now being printed for distribution.
For Thompson the key to success with volunteer projects is taking the job as seriously as a paid job. “It’s good to remember that it’s still a commitment – deadlines must be honored and deliverables delivered, just as with a regular job. Yes, you’re working for free, but the social nature of a community site Catchafire and the social network in general, demands that you give your best efforts – your reputation may depend on it.”
Thompson said that she would definitely do another project using Catchafire. Thompson sees Catchafire as a valuable tool for those who want to volunteer. “For freelancers, independent contractors, and especially the unemployed, it’s a gateway to not only give back but to hone skills, create portfolio content, bolster professional experience, and interact and network with interesting people. Volunteer projects can even lead to paid work or a full-time job.”
If you find yourself having the inclination and opportunity to do good in the world, check out Catchafire to match your passions, skills and interests with those of a worthy organization.
Have you been looking to do volunteer projects? Have you had difficulty finding opportunities that are a good match for your skills, interests and schedule? Let us know in the Comments section below!
Rachael Chong, CEO and Founder of Catchafire, will be a speaker at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women on October 2, 2012 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Conference for Women is a non-profit, non-partisan, one-day professional and personal development event for women that features dozens of renowned speakers sharing inspirational stories and leading seminars on issues, including health, personal finance, executive leadership, small business and entrepreneurship, work/life balance, branding and social media marketing, and more.
You can learn more about the Conference at their website.