The Art of Matchmaking: The Matchbox Process

Anca Matioc

What do you look for when looking for “The One”? Do you have a long, specific checklist where if they don’t check off every box, you pass them by? Are you open to everyone, just looking for a good soul? Or do you fall somewhere in between?

Looking for the right organization to partner with isn’t unlike searching for the right person to partner with in life. It’s never an easy or straightforward process, even though you might like it to be. You have to be flexible, but know what you’re looking for.

When choosing which groups to support with Matchbox, we look at our set of criteria, but also consider chemistry and a certain “je ne sais quoi”.

Matchbox by The Engine Room

What do we look for in a partner? Could you be The One for us?

Let’s take a look at our most recent Matchbox recruitment process in Latin America.

In this round of recruitment, we received 60 applications. That’s a lot of organizations, with very different profiles, missions, strengths, and challenges. Because of their strength and depth, we invited seventy percent of the projects onto the second stage, which was a more exhaustive project evaluation.

After direct discussions with the 10 finalists and background research, we ultimately selected two organizations for Matchbox long-term support.

So, how do you make your project stand out from the crowd?

We’re going to share some secrets on what we look for when we’re looking for a Matchbox partner. These tips are based on our selection criteria (that you can check out here) and what we’ve learned with our recruitment processes, including most recent rounds.

Get to know us and increase the chances we’ll hit it off

Based on our experience and reviewing over 150 Matchbox applications from Latin America and Sub Saharan Africa, we’ve put together these tips for you when developing your application.

  • Root your project in a problem, not in a technology. Technology is the tool that makes the seemingly impossible, possible. It’s alluring, it’s exciting, but it shouldn’t be the focus of your application. The problem your project addresses should be the focus. We need to be able to identify the problem you’re trying to solve, get a grasp of it’s complexities, and see the adverse effects it has.
  • Clearly spell out the change you are working towards. No one knows the political and social context surrounding your project as well as you do. We do not claim to be country experts. That means we rely on you to tell us what we need to know. Give us all the important historical, social, and political background we’ll need to understand the importance of your project.
  • Know who your allies, adversaries, and community are. If you build it, they will not come. Build it because they are already there. Every project should address a clear  problem that limits or harms real people. You should be able to identify who those people are. Be as specific as you can be. And differentiate between an actively engaged project partner, and those who may benefit but not engage with your work.
  • Be clear. Be concise. We can’t stress this enough. We know these subjects are complex and multi-layered and you could go on and on and on and on. Focus on getting in everything you need to say in the allotted word count. Use bullet points, avoid flowery language, edit and edit again, use the space wisely as to touch on each important point. We appreciate the extra effort. We are looking to understand your ideas, not be impressed by your vocabulary.

What qualities are we looking for in a good match?

During the entire process, we look for projects that we feel are powered by teams that are working towards systems change. We keep an eye out for these traits:

  • Project maturity. Is the project well thought out? Or was this something that is missing some serious problem analysis? There are always those projects that seem to have been put together hastily the night before. Yes, we can tell. Want a better chance? Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
  • Organizational capacities. Who’s part of your team? What’s their experience like and will it empower the project? How have you collaborated with others in the past? If you’re new to the scene, we’re still open to your project (in fact, one of our Latin American partners is in the process of becoming a legal entity) but we need to see a strong commitment and proven track record of the individuals.
  • Political relevance. We look for a  project that is relevant (and realistic) to the country’s social and political context, rather than one that concentrate on the technical innovation. We’re an organization that supports activists in using tech and data in their projects, but we’re not tech-utopians. We also check for a balanced articulation of potential failures or successes, and for realistic expectations.
  • Realistic, not idealistic. We believe that for a project to be successful – or even relevant – that project must address a real problem felt by real people, based in the local social, political reality. We are also realists, who understand limits of a single project. We look for that same vision in our partners. No one project can bring about a systems change so effective and all encompassing that eradicates corruption overnight.
  • Human centered projects. We are a support organization that specializes in integrating data and tech into projects. But again, we do not believe an app alone can solve a deeply complex political issue. We believe that for a project to be successful, it must come out of an actual problem felt by real people.
  • Technology and digital readiness. Have your problem figured out? Have the capacities to address the advocacy or campaign work? But do you still need help with implementation of tech and data? That’s what we’re here for.
  • The magic sauce. Yes, that’s right. This is the intangible. It’s the “fit” between your team and our team. It’s the attitude and enthusiasm. It’s a healthy dose of skepticism while still hanging on to some optimism. It’s the eagerness to learn and to work. It’s that “je ne sais quoi”.

How do we use this criteria to find the “right” partner? As mentioned before, it’s the checkboxes, plus the magic sauce. It’s a balancing act.

What makes a good matchmaking process?

When you have hundreds of worthy causes, but limited resources as an organization, you have to make tough decisions. While it may be true that we could go off of our ‘gut instinct’ and end up with great partners, there’s a couple of reasons we decided for a rigorous, yet flexible approach.

  • We try to balance the veterans with the newcomers. We want to make sure that our resources are well spent, and that our support goes to places where help is truly needed. Sometimes that means looking to new people and organizations, even new communities. Our work revolves around data and tech, but the people who need our help the most are usually less experienced. Many of them haven’t written grant applications before, much less developed a technical project. Our selection process lowers these barriers of entry, while allowing us to learn more about our partners.
  • Finally, we try to be as transparent and accountable about our decisions as possible – both to our partners and funders. We find this helps us remain credible as an organization, while rigorous scoring enables us to explain our decisions more clearly. We sought to create a system that allows for more objectivity, while keeping the process as simple as possible.

There’s always something different to fall in love with with each partner and that makes comparison difficult. Some of the groups we’re working with have very strong project ideas and might be great at storytelling, while others know their communities inside out and have incredibly convincing theories of change.

We wanted to develop a system that allows for more objective comparison, both throughout the different regions and multiple selection processes. And we hope we’re on our way.

Now, get to know us!

Got any feedback on our recruitment process? Let us know by getting in touch.

If you’re a funder, a fellow support organization, or a potential partner and want to talk to us about our approach or your project idea, feel free to look us up on Twitter or book a call.