By Grace Austin
Want to lend a hand? Or do you belong to a nonprofit that needs volunteers? Look no further than internet startup Catchafire. Founded in April 2009 by then-27 year-old Rachael Chong, Catchafire is a website that connects professionals who want to apply their on-the-job skills to nonprofits and social enterprises that need help. In just over two years, Catchafire has become the largest pro-bono service provider in New York, with a network of nearly 2,000 social good organizations and nearly 10,000 professionals, delivering over $3 million in professional services to date.
“You can think of us as an eHarmony for skilled professionals and social mission organizations,” said Chong, the company’s founder and CEO. Catchafire matches skills and cause interest of professionals to the specific project needs of a nonprofit or social enterprise.
“Organizations save time, resources, and money and are able to provide greater focus to their programs, allowing them to better serve their beneficiaries. Catchafire is also revolutionizing the way that professionals volunteer by matching them to more relevant and meaningful volunteer opportunities, resulting in greater social impact,” said Chong.
Catchafire has made nearly 600 successful project matches. One success story matched Change for Kids on a Salesforce Database Customization Project with Luis Morales, Managing Director of IT with FSA. Change for Kids invested significant time and money trying to implement a useful database with Salesforce, but with little success. Luis created a database that Change for Kids, which has been very successful for the organization. Change for Kids was so thrilled with Luis, they recruited him on their board of directors.
For a project that began in Chong’s apartment in New York, the company has expanded now to 13 full-time employees. Originally in investment banking, Chong grew frustrated finding volunteer opportunities in her spare time. During research for the start-up of the U.S. affiliate of BRAC [a non-profit development organization], Chong became aware of a significant gap between those, like herself, who wanted to devote their time, and nonprofits looking for help.
“[It] opened my eyes to an untapped marketplace of millions of professionals who want to give their skills to causes they love and millions of social good organizations that need their help. Inspired by what I had discovered, I founded Catchafire with the goal of making it easy for every professional to give their skills to make it easy for every nonprofit and social enterprise to leverage the goodwill of professionals,” said Chong.
Chong has felt numerous challenges, as many new businesses do in their first few years. The company’s lack of resources has made it difficult to both expand and spread the benefits of service.
“The most challenging part of our business is getting in front of professionals and communicating the benefits of pro-bono service. There are many benefits of pro-bono service including personal and professional development, growing your network, leadership, and building your resumé. The challenge for us is to spread this word to as many professionals as possible,” related Chong.
In contrast, Chong does not see her status, as a young, Australian-born Chinese female, as a challenge. “Being a minority may generally present challenges, which I do not want to belittle; however, I believe that in this day and age, in the city that I live and work in, overall, I am far more advantaged than disadvantaged,” said Chong. “Age, like race, is what it is, and I think that in this day and age and in this country, our personal attitude towards these uncontrollable factors determines our success and happiness more than the factors themselves.” While Chong dismisses her ethnicity and age as barriers to entrepreneurial success, Catchafire has considerable diversity amongst its employees.
“We have employees in all age groups, ethnicities, and nationalities, including Finland, Australia, and various cities across the United States. We also have a pretty even 50/50 split between men and women working here,” said Chong.
As Catchafire continues to grow, Chong envisions the website’s expansion to other cities across the country. Boston was the first step in this process.
“Our goals are expansion to new cities across America so that we can provide our services to as many social good organizations and professionals as possible,” said Chong. “Our vision is for all professionals to be able to give their skills easily and for all social good organizations to be able to leverage the goodwill of professionals.”