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Posted 28 January, 2013 by Susannah Vila

What We’re Learning About Matchmaking Between Skilled Volunteers and Social Good Projects

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.

Matchmaking Between Skilled Volunteers and Social Good Projects

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.

Skilled Professional Volunteers and Non-Profits

An infographic created by one organization featured in this post, Catchafire, to explain how their service works.

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.)Online Volunteers Complete Tasks for Global Non Governmental Organizations

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:

Organization Paid* Charge** Experts Clients Pros Cons
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?

5 thoughts on “What We’re Learning About Matchmaking Between Skilled Volunteers and Social Good Projects”

Justyna Król @justynakrol says:

Dear Susannah,
thanks for starting a conversation on this topic!

Almost two months ago, the Edgeryders (http://edgeryders.eu) community met in Brussels for #LOTE2 gathering. One of the things we discussed there was the creation of Social Capital for Social Venture initiative. Here’s a brief description:
“The Social Capital for Social Ventures (#sc4sv), led by Nadia El-Imam and Vinay Gupta. The idea is to mobilize non-monetary inputs towards social business creation: “By putting time and specialized skills (like language or design skills) at the disposal of new small enterprises, we take what we have (skills, time and talent) and use it to fill in the gaps left by what we don’t have: access to investments of financial capital. This is self-help into employment for a largely unfunded generation.””

During the discussions we were trying to find the best model for us. The options we were analyzing went along the models you described in this article.

At this point, what I would most interested in analyzing is what are the pros and cons for each model, rather than for each platform. Some of the questions we might want to answer while describing the models are:
1. Account manager. What benefits does the involved role of the account manager bring? Are there downsides to it?
2. Volunteer motivation. Which model provides for the highest motivation among expert volunteers? Why?
3. Quality control. Is the quality control of volunteer work an important factor for social good projects looking for support? (here we come back to the role of the account manager)
4. Legal aspects (particularly when it comes to supporting socent). What about the legal protection of intelectual property? Is it better for a platform to set up the rules for it or to leave it to be dealt with by the users?

I would be happy to take part in such analysis! I believe it would very well serve all matchmaking platforms.

Thanks again for your text!
Justyna

Barbora galvankova @BarboGalvankova says:

Hi Susannah,
Thanks for putting this together!
The typography of management processes you described in your blog me think about several issues related with the crowd sourcing / crowd funding platforms that I would like to learn more about.

Coming back to Justyna’s comments, I would be more interested to track. How are these models/ platforms are used.
I believe the strong potential of this platform is to go beyond the traditional service provider relationship and lies in the new ways of the interconnection that these platforms provide.
I believe that if you want to learn more about what is working and why you better try to better understand the users’ behavior in different environment setting (here be it the typography selected here with or without managers) capture this by trying to track patterns in user’s behaviors. What is the value the users get from interconnection from the manager or vice versa?
What are the implicit functions / features of the platforms that have been effectively used by users which haven’t been developed as the primary ones and for what purpose? How this is been tracked and how are they transformed into new features, functions ?
Lastly, I would focus on the motivations of users to choose one particular platform/ model , so to say , be it communities/ groups / NGO/ individual volunteers.

Let me know what you think! like Justyna I would like to learn more about this and would be happy to take part in further analysis.

Thanks ,

Barbora

Monica Tapia A. says:

Thanks Susannah. It’s very interesting to see the type of “good intermediations” needed for matching skills and projects.
We recently launched “Fondos a la Vista” http://www.fondosalavista.mx where Microsoft matched us with a very good IT firm (one of their business partners). They also reviewed the proposal, negotiatied and paid for the first part of the programming. We paid for the second and following parts.
It has been a very good match, compared to our other IT consultants and freelance programmers based on free software, where we have worked based on CFP and emails databases, through CiviCRM and Drupal communities.
In Mexico, we are not only lacking skilled IT human resources, but also at professionals buisness-like skills that can put together proposals, budget well and comply with the deliverables on time and budget.

Hi both!

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. One point that you touch on and that I did not address here is the question of whether or not the exchange of money can actually be detrimental for an up and coming social good project. For example, do traditional donor/grantee relationships dis-incentivize collaboration with other social good initiatives? Do they encourage projects to outsource work instead of developing the capacity of someone on their team?

We’d love to to dig deeper into answering (all of these) questions – shoot us an email if you’d like to talk further: post (at) theengineroom.org.

Monica thanks so much for sharing your experiences. If I remember correctly, your experience with CiviCRM turned you into a great resource for other civil society organizations in Mexico that wanted to learn more about the tool. A question: when you are matched with IT support from elsewhere does this prevent you from building skills within your own organization that might be helpful down the road (for you and others)?

Also, regarding your comment, “In Mexico, we are not only lacking skilled IT human resources, but also at professionals business-like skills that can put together proposals, budget well and comply with the deliverables on time and budget.” I have a hunch that the below is the case in a lot of places. That’s why I think it’s so important for people to be mediating between those with technical capacity and those who need it.

We’ll be having more conversations about this in the coming weeks and we’ll keep you in the loop.

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