Firm matches social-good groups, skilled volunteers

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Working as an investment banker after graduating from college, Rachael Chong noticed that while they had professional skills that could add value to nonprofits and for-profit social enterprises, many of her peers could not find volunteer opportunities that put those skills to productive use.

“The talent was not able to connect with the nonprofits and causes that needed it,” she says.

Later, taking a break from her graduate work in public policy at Duke University, Chong worked for BRAC USA in New York City, a nonprofit she helped found to raise money for a Bangladesh-based nonprofit.

With a staff of only two people, the fundraising group lacked the organizational “capacity” to handle tasks ranging from marketing and accounting to legal work and website design, tasks she helped address by enlisting skills-based volunteers.

So for her master’s thesis when she returned to Duke, Chong wrote a business plan for a company that would use technology to connect professionals who want to donate their skills with nonprofits and social enterprises that need skilled volunteers.

That company, based in New York City, already has registered 2,000 organizations and 10,000 professionals, and brokered the completion of 1,000 pro-bono projects.

And it recently launched a marketing effort to promote skilled-volunteerism in the Triangle.

Ninety-five percent of the nearly 2 million nonprofits and other social-good groups in the U.S. say they “need and want access to pro-bono services but do not know where to get it,” says Chong, Catchafire’s CEO and founder.

And among the 63 million adults who volunteered in the U.S. in 2010, 60 percent did not volunteer again in 2011, she says.

“The reality is that both sides of this marketplace are broken,” she says.

Catchafire lets social-good groups register, for a fee, and select what they need from a menu of 80 different projects that spell out the scope of work and templates for completing it.

The menu, with projects ranging from designing a website or customizing a database to developing brand messaging, describes the steps for completing each project, a set of “deliverables,” meetings needed between the client and volunteer, and the total hours required.

Professionals visiting the Catchafire website can fill out a profile that includes their resume and causes they care about, and Catchafire in turn lets them know about projects matching their skills and interests.

A key ingredient is the  matching fee, a requirement that ensures social-good groups have “skin in the game,” Chong says.

With the value of projects often totaling $25,000, a required matching fee totaling 5 percent of the market value of the deliverables, “shows commitment and serious needs” on the part of the social-good clients, she says.

“Nonprofits don’t always give volunteers a good volunteer experience, and if you’re time is being wasted, you don’t want to volunteer again,” Chong says. “What we’re trying to do is provide people not only with the opportunity to volunteer their skills, but also to create meaningful, impactful and fulfilling experiences.”

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