Maybe you’ve said to yourself, I’d love to volunteer, but I don’t know where to go — and I’d prefer to help out in a way that takes advantage of my particular skills and knowledge.
If so and you’re a professional — which could be anything from an accountant to a public relations pro to a graphic designer — you should check out a free site that I just heard about: Catchafire.org. Based in New York City, it just might match you with the perfect nonprofit or social enterprise, where you'd volunteer five hours a week over a period of three months or less. Who knows? Your volunteer work may even lead to a paid job.
“I want to make the social-good sector more efficient and bring organizations the kind of talented volunteers they need,” says Catchafire's chief executive and founder, Rachael Chong. “The current system is broken — and that pains me.”
(Give yourself a pat on the back if you knew that Catchafire’s name comes from the classic Bob Marley reggae album, Catch A Fire. Chong says, “We need our passion to catch a fire as volunteers and nonprofits spread the power of skills-based volunteering.”)
(MORE: Find a Nonprofit Job Matched to Your Passions)
How Catchafire Works
Basically, here’s how Catchafire works:
First, you go to the site and create a profile, or what Catchafire calls a “volunteer resumé.” Provide information about your professional experience, skills and passions and check off the types of causes you care about most, from animal rights to women’s issues.
Then browse Catchafire's always changing “project menu.” Each listing tells you about the opportunity available, details the work that you'd be doing and describes the nonprofit or social enterprise.
Catchafire uses a kind of Match.com algorithm to send you a personalized list of potential projects, so you can select a volunteer opportunity and organization that seem to be a good fit. The groups that have listed openings on Catchafire include the Environmental Defense Fund, Teach2Serve, United Initatives for Peace and Rainforest Foundation.
The vast majority of projects can be worked on at home. A few require on-site work, typically in New York and Boston; Catchafire plans to expand in-person opportunities around the country.
Once you pick a project from Catchafire's recommendations, you send the organization a cover letter explaining why you’re right for the job. If selected, you can start work as a full-fledged volunteer.
Your Competitive Advantage
Many of the 10,000 volunteers who’ve signed up with Catchafire are in their 20s and 30s, but Chong is eager to attract professionals in their 50s and 60s — they're ideal candidates, she says.
“Boomers have a real competitive advantage over younger people as volunteers,” says Chong, just named by Fast Company as one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business." “They have more years of experience and fuller resumés.”
She also thinks people 50-plus are more likely to want to volunteer as a way of giving back.
“Many young professionals volunteer to build up their skills," Chong notes. "Older professionals think of volunteering as a pinnacle to their careers and a way to bring meaning to their lives.”