Catchafire: The eHarmony Of Volunteering For Busy Professionals

If you're not volunteering because you want to really make an impact, this new matching site--now expanding out of New York--can link you to an organization that needs your exact talents.

Most busy professionals would love to volunteer, if only they had the time and inclination to seek out worthwhile experiences. But all too often, it's difficult for people to find and pursue opportunities that cater to their skills. Catchafire, a sort of hybrid between Idealist.org and eHarmony, aims to change that. Now that the organization has found success in its home base of New York City, it is allowing professionals outside of the city to sign up as well.

According to Catchafire CEO and founder Rachael Chong, 95% of nonprofits need and want access to pro bono work, but they don't know where to find it. On the flip side, professionals often find volunteer sites difficult to wade through, with nonprofits asking for nondescript "help" but not clarifying exactly what they need.

"We're trying to make the volunteer experience a two-way street. The professional is committing significantly, and if the social good organization is not bought in equally, the volunteer is not going to have good experience," she explains.

Catchafire makes the whole process simple: Nonprofits pay a sliding scale membership fee and submit ultra-descriptive calls for volunteers, detailing the exact amount of time that will be spent on the project, what the precise duties will be, and what kind of professionals should apply. For example, the Resource Foundation's call for a public relations plan explains that their chosen volunteer will spend 20 to 30 hours over 2 months on the project, save the organization $6,000, require the submission of "tactical recommendations for how best to reach target audiences using limited resources," and so on.

Professionals on the site submit their qualifications (including job information), and are matched up using Catchafire's algorithm to nonprofits that they might be interested in. All of the nonprofits currently listed on the site are based in NYC, but as of last week, any interested professional can apply to do virtual pro bono work.

The model is proving successful; Catchafire has registered nearly 1800 social good organizations and 10,000 professionals. Since launching nationally last week, project applications from professionals have doubled. And the nearly 3,000 professionals outside of New York who signed up before the launch can now actively get involved.

It's no surprise that Catchafire is catching on. In an increasingly competitive job economy, people are anxious to burnish their skills whenever possible, make new connections, and stand out on job resumes. That's one reason the LinkedIn added a volunteer-and-causes feature to encourage its users to tout their selfless deeds. Of course, some people sign up to volunteer because they just want to do and feel good.

Next up for Catchafire is expanding to organizations that need volunteers on-site, but don't have a NYC presence. "We're making it possible for professionals to have a transformational experience--a high-quality volunteer experience through well-structured projects," says Chong.

[Image: Flickr user Rahim Packir Saibo]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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