How You Can Use Your Skills for Good

Catchafire Matches Industry Volunteers With Nonprofits

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Rachael Chong
Rachael Chong

When Catchafire debuted last fall, we unveiled a scalable pro bono service platform founded on two fundamental principles: that professionals would welcome an opportunity to volunteer their individual skills for the benefit of the public and that every one of the 1.6 million nonprofits in America should be able to easily leverage the good will of those professionals to help them in their missions.

We envisioned communications professionals helping organizations get the word out; brand strategists refurbishing brand identities; web designers creating elegant, usable sites; and successful CEOs sharing management skills with leaders of nonprofits -- all pro bono. This is what Catchafire is good at: matching talented professionals who want to serve with organizations with specific professional needs tailored to those professionals' interests and skills.

In the few short months since we've been connecting professionals to purpose, the advertising community has quickly become one of our most valuable and generous proponents. Agencies such as ZenithOptimedia have signed up to offer their employees flexible, impactful opportunities in the new year to engage in meaningful pro bono service.

One of the important distinctions separating Catchafire from existing volunteer matching sites is our Project Menu, which outlines pre-scoped, discrete projects. This means that volunteers sign up to help with specific deliverables such as market research, market analysis, social media plans, brand identity plans and Google Adwords plans. This highly focused type of project is equally helpful to nonprofits and time-pressed professionals. In addition to the benefits enjoyed by mission-driven organizations receive pro bono, Catchafire projects offer valuable leadership development and networking opportunities to our volunteers.

Before launching Catchafire, I was an investment banker. I had a really hard time finding a way to volunteer for a cause I cared about in a meaningful way. I tried all the usual outlets -- soup kitchens, building houses, stuffing envelopes. While all of those things were important, I never got the sense that I was making the highest possible impact. That was frustrating to me, but it was also an indicator that there was an opportunity to fill a need in the marketplace while driving social benefits.

That's when I began to think about the idea of pro bono service matching -- that people with real professional skills might want to contribute to causes using the same talents they've spent so long cultivating in their own careers. And I knew that there was a tremendous need in the nonprofit world for skilled professional services -- while many nonprofits want access to these kinds of services, a recent Deloitte survey exploring volunteerism found that 95% of them did not know where they could go to access them.

Now that we're up and running, it's heartening to see best-in-class nonprofits such as Pencils of Promise, which helps build schools and increase educational opportunities in the developing world, working with an organization such as the Four A's. PoP Executive Director Adam Braun is a deeply passionate, energetic and tremendously creative individual. He founded his organization with $25 and in just two years has turned it into one of the fastest-growing nonprofits in the country. When he came to Catchafire, he was ready to leverage the resources of the advertising industry to scale PoP into a major national nonprofit with a significant international footprint.

He said he needed advice on "how to build a major cause-marketing campaign with corporate backing, become a pro bono client of an industry-leading ad agency, host large-scale events and generally boost outreach and fundraising capabilities through traditional advertising channels." This was uncharted territory for him, and he expressed doubts about his ability to manage his rapidly growing organization with confidence and vision while taking on this element he knew little about. What he needed was some expert help. Enter Nancy Hill, CEO of the Four A's -- a talented, seasoned and compassionate business leader with a set of skills and experiences poised to help Adam realize his vision.

We were thrilled to make the match -- who better to help Adam navigate the complex world of advertising than Nancy? As spelled out in the Catchafire project description, the two of them agreed to meet for three one-hour sessions to talk about Adam's goals and how best to approach them. It turned out that Adam was on location in Laos for PoP, so their first session was over Skype.

When Adam and Nancy complete their Expert Advice Project, Nancy will provide Adam with a list of recommendations, his personalized field guide to the ad industry. That's a pivotal part of Catchafire's model for this type of project -- real, tangible, actionable advice. But even more important, they will have built a professional relationship and developed a mutual understanding of each other's goals, tactics and motivations that we think will have a long-lasting effect on the way they both do business.

Rachael Chong is founder and CEO of Catchafire.
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