Randomly matched as roommates during their freshman year in college, Jane and Rachael are now working together on a project to bring together nonprofits and volunteers. The project is called Catchafire, what they are calling “an eHarmony for nonprofits and skilled volunteers.” Their goal? “Change the way people volunteer.”
Catchafire has been an idea waiting for a spark within Rachael for a long time. Rachael actually started thinking about Catchafire when she was working in investment banking after graduating college. The firm had volunteering opportunities and Rachael really wanted to get involved. Unfortunately, During her first excursion, the petite woman’s volunteering job was to move plywood around. Her skills were obviously not be using used correctly.
She spent six months looking for a skilled volunteering opportunity and couldn’t find anything. At that moment she realized how difficult it was to find a skilled volunteer position. She made the decision to leave investment banking and enter microfinance, something that was able to satisfy her passion in poverty alleviation. Thereafter, Rachael decided to go to graduate school with a focus on public policy. Upon graduation, she didn’t make the same mistake working in corporate America, and instead went to work for BRAC USA, a Bangladesh based nonprofit organization, which was just starting in the United States.
Rachael and the woman who hired her had to build the business from scratch. “I was really overwhelmed and I needed help, so I just contacted my friends who were professionals in marketing, private equity and so on. I had one of my friends review the budget and I had another one of my friends review the marketing strategy. I could structure things in a way that made it easy for them to volunteer while also continuing on with their busy lives. How I did that was I made sure the project had one deliverable, they could volunteer flexibly, and that it was short term enough. It freed up my time and the CEOs time to focus on what we needed to do to build the business, which was fund-raise and think about the program.” With the help from friends, using Rachael’s strategy, BRAC USA was able to raise 40 million dollars in 9 months. That right there shows how efficient and effective Rachael’s strategy was.
The success made her wonder, “Why doesn’t every nonprofit figure out how to leverage the use of a professional?” She goes on, “There was no solution that facilitated skills based volunteering at scale.” Rachael mentions the other services out there for nonprofits and volunteers, but she explains that those are more like craigslist.
After her stint at BRAC USA, Rachael still wasn’t quite ready to start her business. Instead, she went back to school to learn more about the work she was planning on getting involved. Thereafter, Catchafire formed and her good friend Jane was brought on the team. I was curious to know how their business relationship is. Although many businesses with friends don’t work and most experts say it’s not a good idea to get into business with friends, Rachael and Jane prove it differently. “I think that its a great working relationship because Jane is really awesome at the details and operations. She’s great at making sure that when something starts, it also ends. That allows me to do what I am good at, like forming relationships and opening doors for us,” says Rachael.
How does Catchafire exactly work?
“You give us basic information. It can actually be as simple as you giving us your LinkedIn url. What were collecting from you is; what skills you want to volunteer and your work experience. In the future we will be bringing in work motivation and personality traits. We then deliver you a customized list of projects that match who you are. Then you can pick and choose from this customized list,” explains Rachael.
What happens after you’re matched?
“When we match you up, you have two weeks to see if it’s working out. So after two weeks, once you decide your match is good, you guys [the nonprofit and the volunteer] are responsible for it. Catchafire is pretty much out of the equation after that, unless something horrible happens,” says Jane.
A good experience for nonprofits and especially volunteers.
Jane and Rachael understand that many people have been reluctant about volunteering because of the poor experiences they have had in the past. Volunteers are especially reluctant because of the inability to use their skills. They really want to change people’s attitudes towards volunteering. Jane states, “What we’re trying to do is also save volunteers the time it takes to find nonprofits.” They’re are some obvious pains with the nonprofit and volunteering system that Catchafire hopes to alleviate. Furthermore, Rachael and Jane are aware of what volunteers want to get out of their experience. Rachael describes her understanding, “While volunteers are not expecting to receive cash, they are expecting certain things. They are expecting to make an impact. When it comes to certain skills, they are expecting to build their resume.”
And what are people thinking about Catchafire?
“People are psyched.” Rachael exclaims.
On June 28th Catchafire had their ’50 Project Kickoff’. The event invited 50 New York Nonprofits & Social Enterprises and 50 volunteers. They launched 50 projects that showcased how their volunteers will use their expertise to make a huge impact.
Catchafire is currently based in NYC. As it continues to grow, it will begin expanding across the nation.
Alex Monroe is the author of this post. He is the flavorful and passionate founder of GetYourBizSavvy.com. He thrives off of the best noun in the dictionary: entrepreneur. He also guarantees no BS at this revolutionizing place called GetYourBizSavvy.com