Rachael Chong graduated with one goal in mind: “Better the world through business.”
“As crazy as it sounds, I really was so idealistic that I took that job with the intention to learn business so that I could apply my business skills to change the world,” Chong, a Barnard College and Duke University alum who worked at a large investment bank, told Free Enterprise.
— Catchafire (@catchafire) April 5, 2017
Once a year, the bankers she worked with boarded a big bus bound for various community volunteering activities.
“For the whole day, we would be put to work using our hands packing boxes or building houses for those in need,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, this type of volunteering is great and serves an important purpose, but, on this particular volunteer day in The Bronx, frustrated that I couldn’t help build a house because I didn’t know what to do with a hammer, I got fired up.”
That’s when the idea spark for Catchafire, Chong’s innovative, New York City-based volunteer matching service, caught fire.
“I thought, ‘What if bankers, instead of building houses, did what they were good at and gave their finance, accounting and business skills to nonprofits that needed that type of professional help?’”
— Catchafire (@catchafire) June 8, 2017
In 2009, Chong scratched that “what if” founder itch and went all in on her dream to create Catchafire. The buzzy for-profit venture matches skilled professionals with social mission-driven nonprofits in need of advanced skill sets for unique short-term projects.
To find projects to donate pro bono professional work to, volunteers search the Catchafire website’s “Find a Project” section, which filters for social causes, skill sets and time commitments. They then create a volunteer profile and apply for volunteer opportunities through a simple two-question application. If the project they’re interested in requires an interview, Catchafire schedules a two-way conversation between the volunteer and the nonprofit they hope to help. If the nonprofit and the volunteer agree that they’re a good fit, they’re matched and begin working together.
A certified B Corp, which styles itself as an eHarmony of sorts for volunteer work, charges nonprofits for connecting projects with volunteers. Participating organizations pay a one-time fee of $2,000 for a one-year Catchafire membership, or $199 per month for 12 months.
Projects Catchafire volunteers assist with, donating their time and “what they’re good at,” range from one-hour consultation phone calls to three-month projects.
— Catchafire (@catchafire) April 27, 2016
“We’re committed to providing transformational volunteer experiences, so all of the nonprofits we welcome into our community must have demonstrable impact, strong leadership and be aligned to our mission,” Chong said.
“Our nonprofits are required to make a financial investment to confirm their commitment to our partnership and Catchafire Consultants’ time. This also allows us to continue to provide high-quality matches and support to our partners.”
Among the many nonprofits to receive professional volunteer services through volunteer matches made via Catchafire — along with the projects they were helped to complete — are: Ubuntu Africa (annual report writing); Open Circle (website user interface creation); Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (infographic creation); Meals On Wheels of Durham (membership strategy creation); ArtReach, Inc. (grant proposal budget creation) and Rise Worldwide (business plan writing).
Offering an example of a typical Catchafire match, Chong shared the story of Jerelyn Rodriguez, a Forbes Under Thirty rising social entrepreneur and South Bronx native who launched a nonprofit in New York City called The Knowledge House. The STEM-driven organization provides low-income youth with web literacy and tech entrepreneurship training to help them develop the skills needed to earn a job in the exploding technology sector.
“Jerelyn herself was a low-income kid from the exact same neighborhood that she serves today,” said Chong. “Through Catchafire, in a few months, Jerelyn has made six matches with a variety of business professionals. These professionals have helped her raise money, create a database, build a website, develop marketing materials and so on.”
One of the professionals Catchafire matched Jerelyn with is a volunteer named Allegra who works at JPMorgan Chase, also hailing from the South Bronx.
“Allegra was thrilled to find Jerelyn,” Chong continued, “someone from her neighborhood that needed her help to help more kids in the South Bronx. It was a perfect match. Allegra helped Jerelyn pitch to raise funds and also connected her with the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.”
Best of all, she said, many of the professionals who connected with Jerelyn continue to be supporters, donors and even board members of The Knowledge House today.
“For me personally, Catchafire’s mission is a long-term commitment,” Chong said, “and, as Catchafire evolves and grows, my social entrepreneurship journey also changes.”
As for what’s next for Catchafire, Chong is staffing up for what she calls “another growth spurt.” The 24-employee company plans to expand its team by almost 50 percent this year to serve yet more nonprofits and volunteers.
“Our mission is large and audacious,” she said. “It is to make the philanthropic sector more efficient and more effective so we can empower people in the social good sector to solve social problems faster and better, and to make it normal for people to give their skills and talents for good.”