Catching Feelings for Catchafire: Company Crush

I’ve talked to police officers, Chief Executive Officers and security officers, but last Friday was the first time I ever talked to a Storytelling Officer.

Hayley Samuelson, Storytelling Officer at Catchafire, was kind enough to fill me in on how the nearly 5-year-old for-purpose social mission business and certified B Corp has helped redefine the volunteering landscape (and, in doing so, swept this Peg off her metaphorical feet!).

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An Agile Approach

Catchafire’s founder Rachael Chong was frustrated that she couldn’t easily find skills-based volunteering opportunities, so she decided to create a platform that matched nonprofits with volunteers. I asked Hayley why Rachael chose to structure the company the way she did.

“We’re a social mission business because our work supports a mission that we truly believe will make the world a better place. To do that work effectively though, we need to be able to pivot quickly,” she explained. “As a tech start up, we have to constantly adjust to changing times and a social enterprise model allows us that flexibility.”

Why be a B Corp? “Since we’re trying to create a world where it’s common for people to serve the greater good, it only makes sense for us to operate in a way consistent with that goal. ” Hayley’s explanation made sense, and a little exploration revealed that she wasn’t just talking the talk – Catchafire’s B Corp profile shows that employees get 6 FULL DAYS of paid time off every year for community service. I was crushing hard after learning that!

Millennials <3 Volunteering

Hayley told me that Catchafire’s growth has coincided with a shift in the professional community driven largely by millennials and their desire to make an impact. “Traditional volunteering, like painting a house, for example, will always be important,” she explained, “but millennials searching for a larger purpose want more. They want to grow professionally and have a major impact. They also want to do good without wasting time.”

The numbers back up Hayley’s 04-Blog-Company-Crush-Catchafire-Graphobservations. About a year ago, Catchafire and several other organizations partnered with LinkedIn to list volunteer opportunities on the professional networking site. As of January 2015, more than 4 million LinkedIn users have expressed interest in skills-based volunteering. Of those 4 million professionals, 72% are Millennials, 21% are Gen X & Mid-Career Professionals and 7% are Baby Boomers & Senior Leaders.

Measuring Impact

Part of Catchafire’s Manifesto declares “We incentivize measurable actions over good intentions.” When I asked Hayley how to understand and measure the outcomes of volunteer work, she recommended asking these questions: 

  1. How much time did you give, and how much money would that equate to if you were billing as a contractor?
  2. How might that contribution have allowed the organization to use its resources to further its mission? (For example, if you did $1000 worth of pro bono work a nonprofit that provides clean water to people in developing nations, that money can now be spent on installing X new wells.)
  3. Did your impact grow after you left? (Did you create marketing collateral that will continue to encourage donations for years to come? Did you build a website that will allow thousands of people each month to access the resources they need?)
  4. Did you develop professional skills or build your resume?
  5. Are you happier? Do you have meaningful memories of your volunteer work? Have you cultivated meaningful relationships?

The first questions were somewhat expected, but the last one caught me off guard. Surely you can’t measure happiness?

Hayley explained that although metrics like happiness and relationships are difficult if not impossible to quantify, they are real outcomes and shouldn’t be ignored just because they can’t be expressed by tidy numbers. “If you want a complete picture, you can’t leave them out.” If you’d like more information on measuring your impact, check out this blog post from Hayley.

The Moral of the Story

As our time together drew to a close, Hayley shared a piece of advice for other communicators working for social good. “Remember that stories are very powerful. If your company has a social mission or a larger purpose, that story is inherently interesting and you have to let people know about it. The more ways you can do that, the better. Use visuals and videos to tell your story and show people how you’ve made a difference in the lives of your stakeholders.”

Hayley acknowledges that the marketing world is a whirlwind of fads and quickly changing best practices, but says that telling good stories will always be crucial. As a Storytelling Officer, I guess she’d know!

What’s your take on skills-based volunteering? Is it a passing fad or a revolution in the volunteer world? Have you had skills-based volunteering experiences? How did they compare to other volunteer experiences you’ve had? Let me know in the comments below!

The Company Crush series spotlights companies using inventive business models to create positive change in the world. By sharing their stories, we hope to inspire more people to use business as a force for good.

Alison was RoundPeg's content marketing specialist though November 2016. We are sure she still spends her days seeking inspiration, writing inspired content, then trying to inspire other people to read it! When she isn't trying to save the world by the might of her pen, she hangs out with her dog Wall-E, reads contemporary literature and eats an impressive amount of chocolate.

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