Monday, December 13, 2010

The Catchafire Concept

Any nonprofit or social enterprise ought to utilize the available skills and resources in the most effective manner. On the flip side, too, high-skilled volunteers don't want to see their energy and expertise squandered on the wrong sort of work. That's the impetus behind Catchafire, a New York-based for-profit business that specializes in matching skilled volunteers with nonprofit organizations that need their specific sort of help.

Founder Rachael Chong, a former investment banker, stumbled on the idea for Catchafire after joining a volunteer project offered by her firm. Helping to build a house in the Bronx, she found herself hauling lumber in an effort that wasn't exactly putting her financial and organizing expertise to optimal use. When she sought out a more effective volunteer opportunity, she found few offerings, and immediately sensed a niche to be filled.

Catchafire, which describes itself as "an eHarmony for skilled volunteers and social mission organizations," specializes in making exactly that sort of love connection. The site solicits small-scale, achievable projects in the areas of marketing, public relations, social media, strategy and finance, then matches the projects with volunteers eager to use their professional skills on a flexible pro bono basis, charging only a fraction of typical market rates for the services provided.

You can hear some success stories right here, or peruse a list of organizations Catchafire has assisted, including the Go Project, a group that provides academic support to low-income students, the African Rainforest Conservancy, the Tibet Fund and the Business Council for Peace.

But the true strength of Catchafire, it would seem, lies in the simplicity of its concept. Properly matching skilled volunteers with causes where they can make a difference in a manageable amount of time makes for the most fulfilling type of win-win. Imagine if every business took a page from the Catchafire playbook, relying on built-in capabilities and leveraging them to benefit a cause for good.

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