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Turning The Table On Traditional Volunteering: An Interview With Catchafire’s Rachael Chong

Turning The Table On Traditional Volunteering: An Interview With Catchafire’s Rachael Chong

Rachael Chong is the CEO and Founder of Catchafire

For those who are not familiar with Catchafire can you tell us a little bit about how it works?

Catchafire works a bit like a dating site — we match professionals who want to give back with social good organizations that need professional services but can’t afford them at market rate. Say you’re a PR manager, a graphic designer, a video editor, or a marketing executive. You fill out a profile with Catchafire, giving information about your skillset and your cause interests. Meanwhile, social good organizations can list projects in areas that require a certain set of skills — for example, a social media campaign for an HIV-AIDS education nonprofit, or a fundraising event for an animal shelter. Our special matching algorithm suggests possible matches.

What was the inspiration behind Catchafire and where does the name come from?

I worked in finance for a few years at the beginning of my career, and I was disappointed by the lack of opportunities to use my professional skills to give back. I did a fair amount of traditional volunteering — I worked in soup kitchens, I stuffed envelopes, and while I think those opportunities are very important, I wanted something that would really leverage the skills I was building at my job. The more skilled professionals I spoke to about this, the more I found it was a pretty common sentiment. Then I read that more than 80 percent of young professionals want their career to address social good in some way. I found it astounding that it wasn’t easier to find outlets for all that skill and good intention, because clearly there are many cash-strapped nonprofits in great need of professional services. So I founded Catchafire in hopes of making it easier to find that outlet. And the name is from one of my favorite Bob Marley songs.

Why is it important for people to volunteer their skills?

Because everyone wins! For the social good organizations we serve, it opens up a whole world of access to services they could never afford ordinarily or know where to find. Organizations can spend a lot of time and resources trying to figure out how to do something themselves when they don’t have the staffing or money for. When you bring in a pro bono professional, you’re guaranteeing that the job will be done efficiently, and it frees up the organization’s time and resources to devote to other important tasks. It’s also great for the professional. We’ve heard many times that people who give pro bono through Catchafire have really benefited from the contacts they’ve made, and from working in a new setting. It’s can be great project-management experience, especially for early-career professionals or those hoping to switch career tracks. Pro bono looks great on a resume. And of course, giving back to a cause you really care about feels great, too!

Can you tell us your favorite success story since launching the platform?

Some of our most successful matches are the ones that have created lasting relationships. It’s always great to hear that a pro bono professional is staying in touch with their organization, or is able to help in ways that extend beyond the scope of their Catchafire project. One of our favorite member organizations is Prosperity Candle, a startup social enterprise that empowers women entrepreneurs in regions impacted by political conflict and natural disaster. Since coming to us last fall, they’ve already done four projects with us and are right now waiting for matches on three more. They are a tiny organization and normally do everything themselves, so they really appreciate the professional help. Their co-founder, Siiri Morley, got along so well with their pro-bono professional who worked on a Social Media project for them, that she’s agreed to take her on in a long-term pro bono engagement.

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in growing Catchafire?

One of the biggest challenges we’re faced with now is how to expand Catchafire into other markets (we currently only serve organizations with a presence in the greater New York City area), without losing the personal touch and individual passion that has made us successful so far. We’ve raised more than 2 million dollars worth of professional services in just two years. We’re proud of what we’ve done so far, but we think the model has the potential to make a huge impact on the way social good organizations operate, and for that to happen, we need to scale up tremendously. Part of what makes this so challenging is that it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario. We need to expand the list of organizations we serve at the same rate as we expand our roster of skilled professionals — and that requires getting the word out to both networks in a major way.

How can Care2′s general readership help push forward your mission?

Filling out a Catchafire profile is the first and best way to help. Once you do that, you’ll be well on your way to getting matched with a social good organization working on a cause you care about. Check out our Project Menu to see what types of projects we currently offer, and let us know if there are others that you think we should add! And if you have a friend who’s an ace web designer, a pro fundraiser, etc., help us spread the word! You can read some of our success stories to get inspired, and then sign up for our newsletter, friend us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter! Connect with us, and we’ll keep you posted on what’s next for Catchafire.

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33 comments

+ add your own
1:55PM PDT on Aug 19, 2011

I wish you could get a way of really connecting people to org or org to org,that would be great.
David knowlton
JESUS AND ME CHILDREN'S MINISTRIES UGANDA
jesusandmecm@yahoo.com

3:48AM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

Thanks for this article.

5:53AM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

great networking

12:00PM PDT on Jun 2, 2011

Rachel,
Utah is very strong in volunteer work but people don't know where to turn to for volunteer work. Bringing professionals who want to help with organizations that need them, is exactly what we need here. Yes, I strongly believe that Utah is ready for your org to expand to!!!

12:32PM PDT on Jun 1, 2011

Have volunteered for some time in the past. Wonderful feeling doing voluntary work.

8:52AM PDT on Jun 1, 2011

Excellent idea, thanks :)

6:54AM PDT on Jun 1, 2011

Wonderful concept - perhaps the way to expand is to get positive press in other cities and countries to inspire others to do the same thing or set up a Catchafire branch.

6:28AM PDT on Jun 1, 2011

This is a great idea. Maybe I will try it when I get out of college and actually have some professional skills. lol

5:37AM PDT on Jun 1, 2011

Thanks for the article.

11:48PM PDT on May 31, 2011

I think this is super clever, BUT what if I have no skills but would like to learn something specific? Like, I, for example, no nothing about the care of wild animals, but lets say I wanted to volunteer in a place where they'd be willing to teach me the skills I need, would a website like catchafire help me find such a place?

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