Posted 19 April, 2013 by Susannah Vila

Matchmaking for Social Impact: Our Working List of 13 Pointers

In the past few years, there has been an increase in platforms that make it easier for people with all different kinds of skill sets to get involved in emerging social good projects in both big and small ways. These platforms make matches between skilled volunteers and initiatives working for social change. At the engine room, we’ve been trying to understand what kinds of matchmaking works well, for whom and why. (See here and here).

Even after these explorations, we have barely scratched the surface. Fortunately, a few groups actively working on matchmaking have joined the conversation, and their feedback to our posts have been quite useful. We brought these folks together to discuss and improve on the below list of pointers for people (like us) who are designing or managing programs that include an element of matchmaking. We were joined by projects like Sparked, VolunteerMatchGlobal Giving, Edgeryders, Hurilab and more.

Here are the pointers that we reviewed. Want to add a lesson learned? We’d love to chat with you – get in touch!

#1 – Combine different models of management and participation. Try shaping and obtaining specific deliverables for social good projects in the way that Catchafire and the Taproot Foundation do, while also providing opportunities that have lower barriers to entry. These may include quick online tasks, more time-intensive online skill sharing, an offline engagement or a short over-the-phone consultation.

#2 –  Microvolunteering is kind of like a gateway (volunteering) drug.  Microvolunteering is a small piece of work that’s done in a short burst. It can be a gateway experience in that it can make people want to get more involved by doing a more time-intensive project. Sparked does a lot of this, and has observed members of its community move from microvolunteering into online, skills-based projects that take more time and energy. The team at the World Bank Institute recently used LinkedIn to experiment with microvolunteering: they asked a group of experts to share feedback – and many did. Posting a social good project’s question online was all it took to gather the insights of people with specialized expertise.

#3 – Human energy is essential for building incentives and keeping people engaged. Sparked doesn’t manage volunteer/non-profit engagements with an account manager, but they do, as their engagement partner Heidi Massey put it, encourage groups of volunteers within corporations that they partner with to name team captains. These team captains “walk up and down the halls of the company, not just sending an e-mail but but following up at the drinking fountain to ask people to volunteer.” For Sparked, this offline push is imperative. Heidi suggested that matchmaking is 6 to 8 times more successful with in-person conversations and recruitment.

#4 – Regardless of the model(s) for matchmaking that you choose, make sure to manage expectations. Account managers like those used by Catchafire and the Taproot Foundation make it easier to set, and meet, expectations. Even if you don’t create these roles, you can try and categorizing models of engagement according to what you’ll do and what people should expect from you. As an example, Sparked has a lot of conversations with nonprofits before they bring in volunteers. They help nonprofits tell a strong story about what they’re doing and what they need.

#5 – Start with just one audience. Do a lot of research into what makes your audience tick and why they’d want to participate, then use this to inform your support of their entire experience. This applies both to your audience of skilled volunteers and social good projects. For example, if you are going to be selling pro bono work as a mechanism for professional development, it is doubly important to understand the field in which a would-be volunteer is developing their career. Only by knowing the kinds of skill sets that they would want to add, how and when can you best sell experiences to people.

#6 – Start with just one service area. Taproot puts a lot of research time into moving into a new skill set that they match non profits with. If they want to start matching non-profits with, say, crowdfunding expertise, they would spend many, many hours learning about how to know if someone actually has this expertise and how you control quality within this skill set. VolunteerMatch mentioned that they didn’t begin by focusing on one niche, but that they could see the value in this especially when it comes to skills related to new technologies.

#7 – Partnerships allow you to reach new communities. As an example, take a look at how VolunteerMatch and Sparked partner with employee volunteer programs. By partnering with corporations to engage employees, they can build pool of available and interested skilled volunteers. Then, they can even create incentives for participation that are customized to each group of employee volunteers. Are the employees at Kraft Foods motivated by something much different than employees at FedEx? VolunteerMatch can shape each partnership to allow for these variations and keep each audience as engaged as possible.

#8 – Partnerships prevents you from reinventing the wheel. Marc Maxson, speaking about Global Giving’s partnership with VolunteerMatch, mentioned how happy they were not to have had to build a new platform from scratch. If another program is building or using mechanisms for matchmaking – and they’re working – why not first see if you can apply those mechanisms to the audiences that you want to work with?

#9 – Doing pro bono work can be clear career development move. Marc Maxson of Global Giving also mentioned that many people seem to volunteer as a stepping stone towards getting a new job. Because of this, the most obvious partner for matchmaking programs may be universities, since they have huge communities of skilled individuals looking to get more skills.

#10 – There are actually downsides to making everything free for the social good initiative. Take the example of the Mexican NGO Alternativas y Capacidades. Executive Director Mónica Tapia told us about her experiences as a recipient of Microsoft’s matchmaking services, in which Microsoft worked with her to find technology services but only covered the costs of the first part. After Microsoft stepped back, the organization paid for the rest and, in doing so, gained useful experience in contracting and managing technologists.

#11 – Put resources into building community among social good projects who receive pro-bono expertise as well as among the volunteers. By making sure that projects you work with are connected with one another, you can provide them with more value. For example, Alternativas y Capacidades gained new skills through its engagement with Microsoft, which it could (hypothetically) share with peers. This kind of horizontal sharing of lessons learned is facilitated by community building activities.

#12 – How will you know if it worked? One of the challenges we surfaced in our mapping of technology for social good matchmaking programs was the difficulty in measuring impact. To avoid this, you can try to develop ideas and plans for impact measurement from the very beginning. Case studies of success (and failure) are an choice -for an example, take a look at Sparked’s board of successes. There, you’ll find a variety of requests for help that were posted by not-for-profits. These requests have attracted feedback from the crowd that appears to have added value for the organizations who posted them.You can also bring the audiences that you work with into the process of writing a case study. Take the example of one Latin American based organization, the Avina Foundation, which writes descriptions of achievements in collaboration with the NGOs that it convened in order to articulate its own value-add.

#13 – Technology solutions can be useful for managing engagement, setting expectations and measuring success. We often caution against choosing a tool before understanding your challenges, audiences and problem set. However, online platforms do appear to be helpful for some of the most prominent (and scaled) matchmakers around. Take a look at the platform that VolunteerMatch provides: users can see the social good projects that they have helped, how much they have helped, and where they rank in comparison to their co-workers. The platform helps to minimize the need for a (real life) account manager. The fact that clients pay for it also means that VolunteerMatch has a business model to sustain its work.

If you got to the bottom of this post, then you must really be interested in matchmaking. We assume that means you have some experiences and tips of your own to offer – or corrections to make on ours. Great! Have some time to share them with us? That’d be even better- let us know in the comments or get in touch to hear more about what we’re working on.

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