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Social Good

Rachael Chong

CEO & Founder, Catchafire

While working as an investment banker after college, Catchafire founder Rachael Chong was amazed at how inefficiently her employer chose to give back.

“There was one day every year when all the bankers would pile into a bus, and we’d go build a house,” Chong laughs. “But I’m 5’2”, 100lbs — building a house doesn’t exactly feel like my forte.”

The point being: What can a group of studious bankers bring to a construction site? (Other than an optimized budget for the snacks table, of course.) Wouldn’t it be more impactful if they could volunteer their skills — financial modeling, pitch decks — instead?

“It just seemed like there was this incredible opportunity lost,” she remembers. “That charities would be better served if people could donate not only their time, but also what they’re good at.”

Think of Catchafire, which Chong founded in 2010, like online dating for nonprofits. Charities post projects on which they’re seeking companionship — or help — and volunteers are matched wherever most impactful. Sample pairings mights include a marketing expert donating social media strategy, a graphic designer gifting a new website or an accountant lending a pro bono hand with yearend taxes. Simple, yes. But powerful.

"Online dating" for volunteers and nonprofits

TRADITIONALLY, VOLUNTEERISM HASN’T considered the volunteer. You either build a house or serve at a soup kitchen — if you’re getting crazy, maybe paint a school.

“But there are [roughly] 2M charities in the United States alone… and not all of them need help in such a physical way,” Chong explains. “Especially when you consider 75% of nonprofits operate on less than $500,000 annually, it’s clear not all of these organizations are getting access to basic business services.”

By basic business services, we mean: Everything from a functioning website to a company budget to marketing materials that help explain the charity’s mission — things you probably didn’t do with your National Honors Society hours.

“I remember feeling pretty darn clueless when I went to build that house,” she says. “And it seemed like all of my coworkers felt pretty darn clueless, too. Why was it impossible for us to find a way to give ourselves — our skills — in a way that’s truly impactful?”

The Issue: Volunteerism Isn't Based Around Skills

75% of nonprofits operate on less than $500,000 annually”
Rachael Chong - CEO and Founder of Catchafire
There are [roughly] 2M charities in the United States alone… and not all of them need help in such a physical way.”

CATCHAFIRE WAS FOUNDED AS A SOLUTION — a means of disrupting a space that, because it doesn’t tend to come with a ton of money, has remained fairly stagnate.

“The way we work is simple: We source the best projects from the best nonprofits all over the world,” Chong reveals. “Then you, the volunteer, can search by cause or interest — say if you’re interested in women’s issues — or by the kind of skills you’d like to offer.”

You can also sort projects by the amount of hours they will take to complete. See something you like? Catchafire’s proprietary platform pulls in LinkedIn information, so, the organization can determine if you’re a fit for the job.

“Some of the names you probably recognize, like Habitat for Humanity and City Year,” Chong continues. “But then we’re also in at the ground level helping organizations like Connected in Hope, which provides services to women in Ethiopia, get off the ground. It all depends on what gets you excited.”


We source the best projects from the best nonprofits.”
“You, the volunteer, can search by cause or interest — say if you’re interested in women’s issues — or by the kind of skills you’d like to offer.”

PERHAPS MORE SIGNIFICANT than their 5,000 matches and counting is the way Catchafire helps the world’s largest companies — Viacom, JP Morgan, Merck Pharmaceuticals — redefine the way their employees volunteer.

“It’s a matter of finding the right projects for the right people,” Chong finishes. “So, for example, it felt natural to pair an entertainment company like Viacom with the Transgender Legal Defense Fund. They made a beautiful video together on how difficult it is for transgender individuals to change their names. It’s been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, and that, to me, is real impact.”


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