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Catchafire matches talented volunteers with opportunities to serve

Catchafire – with 10,000 volunteers and 2,500 organizations signed up – connects skilled professionals with meaningful volunteer projects.

By Paige McClanahanContributor / June 1, 2012

Rachael Chong is CEO and founder of Catchafire, a 'social mission business' that aims to connect skilled professionals with meaningful volunteer projects.

Courtesy of Catchafire

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Tom D’Eri needed some help. In September of last year, he co-founded a small social enterprise that helps people with autism find employment. He quickly realized that he needed some outside assistance with things like branding and website development, topics that he didn’t have much experience with himself.

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Mr. D’Eri could have hired some expensive consultants to do the work for him, but he was eager to find a better value for his money. So he tried something new: He got in touch with the folks at Catchafire.

Founded in 2009, Catchafire is a “social mission business” that aims to connect skilled professionals with meaningful volunteer projects. To date, the organization, which is based in New York, has built up a database of about 10,000 volunteer professionals and 2,500 organizations that are looking for pro bono services.

And the Catchafire team says that it's just getting started; 10 years from now, Catchafire wants to be a household name.

“Our vision is a more effective and efficient social good sector, and – on the other side – a world where it’s commonplace to serve for the greater good,” says Rachael Chong, Catchafire’s CEO and founder.

Too many pro bono projects leave volunteers feeling disillusioned, Ms. Chong says, and too many nonprofits are struggling with some fairly straightforward technical tasks. Catchafire offers a solution to both of those problems by matching skilled professionals with specific, time-limited projects.

Here’s how it works: Accountants, photographers, lawyers, PR gurus, marketing strategists, and the like log onto the Catchafire website, upload their resumes, and fill out an application. That information is crunched by an algorithm, which figures out which projects in the database will be a good fit for each potential volunteer.

“We’ve created this technology platform that works essentially like an eHarmony or a Match.com, meaning that we’re able to tailor the match to the individual,” Chong says.

The process has worked beautifully for D’Eri’s organization, which is called CanDo Business Ventures and which has its main office in New York. Their first volunteer, who advised the organization on brand messaging, was “fantastic,” D’Eri says. “He really took the time to understand what our business was, and then how to communicate that really succinctly…. Now, he’s actually one of our advisers, so we’ve continued a relationship.”

CanDo Business Ventures is now working with a second Catchafire volunteer, who’s doing web development, and D’Eri has put in a request for a third.

Working with Catchafire is ideal for organizations that are short-staffed, says D’Eri, whose own enterprise has just one long-term employee other than himself. Taking on the volunteers has allowed him to focus on what he does best, instead of getting bogged down in technical subjects that he doesn’t have much experience with. 

Catchafire volunteers aren’t paid for their work, but that doesn’t mean that D’Eri gets to enjoy their services for free. Like the other organizations that list pro bono projects in the Catchafire database, CanDo Business Ventures pays Catchafire a membership fee, set on a sliding scale. That’s a critical part of the Catchafire model, Chong says: “We need to make sure that both parties are serious before they engage.”

If both the volunteer and the nonprofit are committed to the process – and in most cases, Chong says, that’s been the case – then both sides will come out happy at the end of the project.

It’s all part of Catchafire’s goal to create a more “meaningful, impactful, and delightful volunteer experience,” Chong says. “We know that if somebody has a great experience, they will very likely give again.”

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