January 21, 2011; Source: Crain's New York Business | Some years ago, while working as investment banker in New York City, Rachael Chong joined other USB employees on a volunteer house-building project in the Bronx. It didn't take Chong too long to figure out that she – and other professionals like her – have more to offer nonprofits than hauling lumber around a construction site.
Acting on that instinct, last year Chong set up Catchafire, a service that, according to Crain's New York Business, "matches highly skilled New Yorkers with local nonprofits that need their expertise." Today, the group pairs volunteers, many of them midlevel professionals who have fulltime jobs in the financial services industry, with groups looking for special kind of assistance – from budget development to online marketing to database customization.
Since its founding in April, Catchafire volunteers have contributed some 3,600 hours that Crain's says is worth about $600,000. Organizations that sign up volunteers pay a modest service fee based on the nature of the project but never in excess of 5 percent of what it would cost to hire someone to do the same work.
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Catchafire volunteers praise how well the service matches their skills with what organizations need. "One thing they're really good at is helping nonprofits identify precisely what it is they really need, which maximizes the chances of a great experience on both sides," said Mark Wachen, co-founder of an online marketing firm.
Having already more than proven its worth to nonprofits as a valuable source of volunteer talent, Catchafire will rollout yet another service. The group plans to provide directors of nonprofits with access to CEOs of for-profits that have at least $1 million in revenues who are willing to lend their advice. Perhaps these Catchafire volunteers can help light a fire under some promising nonprofits.—Bruce Trachtenberg