Connecting professionals with volunteer opportunities

Marketplace Staff Jan 1, 2011

Connecting professionals with volunteer opportunities

Marketplace Staff Jan 1, 2011


Tess Vigeland: Now, from new ways to donate, to new ways to volunteer. I was surprised to learn that New York City has the second-lowest volunteer rate for a major U.S. city, behind only Miami. Rachael Chong, a former investment banker, decided to do something about that.

Her new startup is called Catchafire. The site connects skilled New York professionals with nonprofits needing their service. Rachael, thanks for joining us.

Rachael Chong: It’s lovely to be here.

Vigeland: Now you’ve described Catchafire as something like an eHarmony for professionals and nonprofits. Explain for us the problem that you saw and this site was created to address.

Chong: Sure. So, the problem was something that I saw personally. And then when I started to research it, I saw that it was a much bigger problem. On the one hand, you have about 25 million professionals in the United States, who have skills that can help build capacity within nonprofit organizations. On the other side of the equation, a statistic by Deloitte & Touche, last year 2009, says that 95 percent of nonprofits say that they need and want access to skilled volunteers, but they don’t know where to go find them. So, Catchafire is actually providing these services to nonprofits at a cost that they can afford.

Vigeland: It really does sound like a match-making effort then.

Chong: It really is.

Vigeland: You mention that these volunteers are not given the opportunity to use their skills. Volunteering, that’s all about offering your skills, not being given the opportunity to do something.

Chong: So I used to be an investment banker, and my bank offered me volunteer opportunities. You know, going out with the team and building a house or working at a soup kitchen. And that type of volunteer opportunity, I think, is very important and I participate in those to this day. But I wanted to volunteer what I was building every day, which were my financial skills. And those opportunities were not available to me through my job, and they also weren’t available to me when I looked for them outside of work.

Vigeland: Well, I know you’re also joined in the studio today by one of the Catchafire volunteers, Robert Tsai. Hi Robert.

Robert Tsai: Hello.

Vigeland: And your background is management consulting and investment banking. What made you decide to get involved in this?

Tsai: Certainly, I was interested in applying the skills that I developed in my professional career towards making a positive change in the world. And so, the good thing about the Catchafire platform was they did have a list or a menu of organizations that were looking for talent. And they also had very well-defined projects that they needed completely. And so I was matched with nonprofit called Global Goods Partners and they market research projects.

Vigeland: And describe that project.

Tsai: Global Goods Partners actually is an e-commerce site, so they sell fair-trade goods sourced from artisans around the world. So it’s really operated as a nonprofit, but they are subject to market forces, right? So they have to compete against the Amazon.coms of the world, and so they definitely wanted help from professionals that knew about e-commerce that could help them analyze data and help them compete in the marketplace.

Chong: It’s really exciting to hear Robert speak about his project as well, because nonprofits often have a hard time scoping projects and structuring them in a way that makes it easy for a busy professional. This project that he describes, a market research project, is very similar to the structure of our other projects, such as a logo design project or a social media campaign or a PR plan.

Vigeland: Well Robert, I know you weren’t in this for yourself, I mean, volunteering is all about giving of yourself. But can you give us a sense of what you think you gained from this experience?

Tsai: Well certainly, if you think about where this economy’s going these days and everyone’s scared of high unemployment. Using these types of volunteer opportunities is a very good way to hone your skills, whether they are in PR or financial analysis. And if you’re in the market to look for work, I think these types of experiences are just very positive ones to share as you’re interviewing, to say, “Hey, I do care about the world. I’m not just about the money. I’m not just about myself.”

And I think when we see what’s been going on in the world today, I think we do need more of that.

Vigeland: All right, Rachael Chong, CEO and founder of Catchafire. Thanks so much for joining us.

Chong: Thanks so much Tess.

Vigeland: And Robert Tsai is a volunteer with the project. Thanks for being here as well.

Tsai: Thanks.

Vigeland: Catchafire plans to expand beyond New York City. And they’ve also launched a “Give What You’re Good At” holiday campaign, asking New Yorkers to volunteer $1 million worth of work by the end of January. You can find more resources on volunteer networking sites and on social media fundraising here on our News in Brief blog.

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