Catchafire Launches Service to Match Volunteers and Non-Profits

Despite all the networking and new opportunities provided by social media, it can still be a challenge to match people who have the time and the skills and the inclination to volunteer with the organizations that need their help. The New York-based startup Catchafire.org launched its beta last week, aiming to tackle that problem. Catchafire is a platform for matching professionally-skilled volunteers with non-profits and social enterprises.

Catchafire plans to charge non-profits a fee for each match that they make through the site. This fee, according to Catchafire, is "a tiny fraction of the value of a volunteer manager's time spent recruiting and vetting candidates," not to mention the value of the volunteer's contributions to the organization or cause itself.

The company was founded in 2009 and has been in private beta. 2000 volunteers have already registered, and 300 non-profits have registered their needs with the service. According to the company's press release, the average price to hire a volunteer runs around $200 per match.

Chief executive and company founder Rachael Chong, Catchafire founder and CEO, says that for the 60 non-profits that the company helped find volunteers last y ear, the most common needs were public relations, marketing, social media management, and design. This sort of skills-based volunteering is a smarter way to volunteer, says Catchafire, as it means that someone can take advantage of their specific skills -- typically professional skills and expertise -- in a volunteer role.

Chong says she formed Catchafire because she found a huge discrepancy between the type of volunteer tasks she found herself doing and her actual skill set. “I was trying to volunteer and do this stuff through the banks I worked for. But I found myself carrying a piece of wood the size of my body around one day, thinking I’m not the person who wants to be building a house. I spent 6 months trying to find a chance to volunteer financial skills and eventually, quit banking to go into microfinance before starting this company. Even though I had to do it, I believe that people should not have to sacrifice their well paying jobs to make a difference.”

Volunteers can sign up for free, and can import their contact information from their social media profiles. Education and professional background can be imported from LinkedIn, for example. All this information, including details about interests, location, and availability is used to help place a volunteer with the right task and the right organization. Volunteers are quickly vetted to make sure they do, in fact, possess the skills they promise.

Currently, the service prioritizes volunteers in New York City, although the company says that a lot of the tasks can be performed virtually.