In the past few years, there has been a spike in online lending and crowdfunding platforms that facilitate the curation, vetting, and evaluation of new projects looking for different kinds support. This and other transactional changes in the space of collaboration makes it easier for people with all different kinds of skill sets to get involved in emerging projects in both big and small ways.
We here at the engine room find this trend interesting, and full of potential for advocacy groups that are looking for technical support to push ambitious projects forward. To better understand who is doing what in this space, (and maybe more importantly, what is working and why), we did a cursory survey of interesting matchmaking platforms.
Though the goal of many matchmaking platforms is the same — supply expert assistance to social good projects by coordinating relationships between those giving pro bono time — they go about it in very different ways. One of the primary distinctions between the types of services provided by matchmaking platforms is the amount of effort that they put into managing the relationship between experts and the projects they are supporting. Some platforms model engagements on traditional service-provider relationships, and provide devoted account managers, contracting formalities, deliverable schedules, and clearly defined timelines. Others leave the details of the relationship up to the users.
Both of these approaches have strengths and weaknesses, and we’ve set out in this post to look into some of them. Using several examples, we’ve worked to breakdown a typography of management processes that matchmaking platforms use to support relationships between the expert and the social good project. We take a look at the management practices of: Taproot Foundation, Catchafire, UN Online Volunteer Program, Sparked, Volunteer Match, and Idealist.
TYPE 1: Your Very Own Consultant At a Reduced Rate or Free (Who You May Not Have to Pay)
This is the type of matchmaking platform that provides professional service-provider relationships and spends significant resources on managing the interaction between the expert and the project being assisted. Two examples of platforms that provide this kind of hands-on, professional management are The Taproot Foundation and Catchafire.
Both organizations employ account managers whose primary role is to ensure that the two parties (the expert and the project) get value from the interaction. To that end, the account manager vets users, helps define deliverables and timelines, and tracks the progress of the engagement to make sure that things get accomplished.
TYPE 2: Tell Us Exactly What You Are Looking For and We Will Put You in Touch with Someone Who Can Help
The United Nations Online Volunteer program does not employ account managers to stay on top of engagements between skilled volunteers and development organizations. However, it requires social change initiatives to fill out a detailed form. The form asks questions that aim to push initiatives looking for skilled volunteers into describing the work they need done in as much detail as possible. In doing so, UNV seems to be trying to automate an important function that is performed by the account managerrole: working with the social good project to frame its needs so that they are well-defined, realistic and clearly time-bound. (This is especially true with regard to social good projects looking for technology support.)
TYPE 3: Here’s an Expert’s E-mail Address!
Sparked, VolunteerMatch and Idealist are examples of matchmaking platforms that function more like directories. Anyone interested in providing support can browse a list of social good projects and contact the ones that catch their eye. Any project looking for help, can post a profile. This kind of structure makes for a much lower barrier of entry. There is no account manager requiring you to prove that you have the time to take on a volunteer, that you’re actually doing the work you say you are doing, and to volley contracts and timelines back and forth. There are no rigorous application forms to fill out. The obvious downside of this means that the there is no oversight by third parties and engagements between experts and projects are less likely to lead to strong outputs. However Sparked, especially seems to require this less because it matches expert volunteers to micro tasks rather than fully fledged deliverables. Matchmaking between experts and social good projects is an important part of what we do, which is why we wanted to take a closer look at how it is working (and not working) for others. If we missed a matchmaking platform that you want us to take a look at, shoot us an email or drop a line in the comments. We’re happy to update the post with information about more services.
Matchmaking Platforms Mentioned:
|The Taproot Foundation||N||N||Individuals working in branding/marketing and other professional fields||Nonprofits in the U.S.||Involved role of the account manager||It is only in the U.S. and social good recipients must have reached a higher degree of professionalization|
|UNOV||N||N||Individuals who wish to get involved in development programming||International organizations accredited in their countries as nonprofits||Awards volunteers annually and features them in regular newsletter content.||No human resources are dedicated to making sure that social good organizations have what it takes to manage their volunteers|
|Catchafire||N||Y||Individuals working in branding/marketing and other professional fields||Nonprofits in the U.S.||Involved role of the account manager||Clients must have an existing budget for the work they need done|
|Volunteer Match||N||N||Participants in corporate employee volunteer programs, part of Corporate Social Responsibility efforts.||Nonprofits in the U.S.||Low barrier to entry for social good projects and for individuals who would like to volunteer||Less commitment is required on the part of the expert, and less incentive on the part of the expert|
|Sparked||N||N||Participants in corporate employee volunteer programs, part of Corporate Social Responsibility efforts.||Nonprofits in the U.S.||Low barrier to entry for social good projects for individuals who would like to volunteer||Less commitment is required on the part of the expert, and less incentive for the expert|
|Idealist||N||N||Individuals interested in careers in social change||Nonprofits Globally||Low barrier to entry for social good project for individuals who would like to volunteer||Less commitment is required on the part of the expert, and less incentive for the exper|
* Does the platform ever pay expert volunteers?
** Does the platform ever charge social good projects?