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September 15 2011


Catchafire Launches Virtual Pro Bono

Catchafire is an organization based in New York that connects skilled professionals with pro bono volunteering opportunities. This month Catchafire is growing beyond New York by launching virtual pro bono, an online service open to professionals and social change organizations nationwide.

Catchafire’s purpose is to allow skilled professional to “give what [they’re] good at” to nonprofits and social enterprises. Organizations that are interested in benefiting from the pro bono work pay an annual membership fee to be part of Catchafire’s network and to receive the guidance of a Catchafire Community Manager. Professionals who wish to volunteer their services can join the network for free and start working on one of Catchafire’s projects. Social benefit organizations can read more about how the program works on this page.

The virtual pro bono system will allow professionals from anywhere in the United States to help out Catchafire organizations, including organizations working in education, human rights, microfinance and beyond. This helps organizations by broadening the pool of talent that can apply to their projects, increasing the types of projects that they can post and bringing attention to the organization’s work. “The move to virtual pro bono is possible now that we can provide our organizations and professionals with just as good an experience virtually as we can in person,” says Catchafire CEO Rachael Chong. More information on virtual pro bono can be found on the Pro Bono Best Practices page of their site.

January 07 2011


Q&A: The MIT Global Challenge

The Center for Future Civic Media has established some great relationships across groups at MIT with overlapping interests. In fact, those groups are wonderful presences at our regular Thursday meetings, teasing us with well-timed eye-rolls when our researchers' geek out five minutes too long about, say, Django libraries or KML data.

Two of these groups--the Community Innovators Lab and the MIT Global Challenge--have helped put together a "Q&A triangle", featuring Alexa Mills of CoLab and Kate Mytty of the IDEAS Competition and the MIT Global Challenge, to help our blogs' readers understand civic and community work through the perspective of our own groups.

First up is Kate. The IDEAS Competition and MIT Global Challenge are an annual invention and entrepreneurship competition that support and encourage innovation in overcoming barriers to well-being in communities around the world. They are powered by the MIT Public Service Center to spur innovation as public service. Teams work in a variety of areas -- water, sanitation, disaster relief, access to health care, education, energy and much more.

1.) What are you most surprised that works well in the Global Challenge? And what are you most surprised doesn’t work as well as you’d think?

Through the MIT Global Challenge site, what suprises me most are the connections that are possible. We’re just in the beginning and a lot of people are offering their and asking for help. That shows the potential of the community. When any platform is started to connect people around a shared purpose you hope and anticipate people will benefit from that platform. Seeing it in practice -- and I was here for very little of the development process -- is powerful.

We’re still in the learning phase and there’s a lot to be gained in the next year by watching how people use the site to push forward their ideas, connect and discover opportunites. The one space I’m hoping takes off more is a lot of community partners (NGOs, MIT alumni and much more) have spent a lot of time defining the gaps they see in their communities -- problems to be solved . I’d love to see a time come when “problems” and “solvers” will meet with more speed and urgency.

2.) What circumstances are conducive to good competitions?

Ask me again in a year and I’ll be better prepared to answer (I’ve been doing this for six months now). My gut response says, at least for our competition, a shared purpose, a sense of urgency, a community of support and development for the teams entering the competition, enough money to make it worth their while, and probably an ethos of celebration. There are a lot of incredible ideas out there -- in any competition -- and sometimes, by the nature a competition, those ideas are lost and the winners are celebrated. I see it as important to celebrate the work that goes into entering the competition and then join together as a community to support furthering the efforts of ongoing teams and projects.

3.) How would you describe the process of getting sponsorship and the ongoing role of sponsors?

Great question. We have a set of sponsors -- organizations and individuals -- that are passionate about innovation, entpreneuership, and public service. Two of the key sponsors I point out are Monster Worldwide and the Yunus Challenge supported by supported by MIT alumnus Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel (who also supports J-PAL and IDI ). With their sponsorship, they support innovation in certain areas -- for Monster this year, it’s around information technologies for empowering migrant workers and the Yunus Challenge, it’s innovation in agricultural processes. Giles Phillips, the MIT alum, we work with through Monster is involved every step of the way and is every bit as invested as we are. That’s a key strength and there’s room for other sponsors to come on board and support innovation in other broad areas -- whether mobiles, disaster relief, entrepreneurship or what have you.

- - - - - -

This post is part of a Q&A triangle between three offices at MIT: the IDEAS Competition and MIT Global Challenge, the Center for Future Civic Media (C4FCM), and the Community Innovators Lab (CoLab). Each office asked three questions of the other two offices, generating six blog posts. Check out the other posts, which will be published between January 6th and 11th, if you’re interested:

• CoLab interviews C4FCM • C4FCM interviews IDEAS • IDEAS interviews CoLab
CoLab interviews IDEASIDEAS interviews C4FCM • C4FCM interviews CoLab

Sponsored post

November 30 2010


Graduate sets up Volunteer Organisation in Sri Lanka. SL Volunteers.

After Graduating in 2008, like many fellow graduates, Lucy Nightingale from Manchester University struggled to find employment and with graduate unemployment rates hitting all time highs, Lucy dreamed of escaping the UK to leave the doom and gloom behind. The idea of idly travelling the globe, hopping from beach to beach did sound tempting, but Lucy feared it would not make her employment situation any better when she inevitably returned. After researching opportunities abroad, volunteer teaching seemed ideal, as it offered her the opportunity to experience another culture and at the same gain experience and skills.

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October 24 2010


Bit of Background

Before I begin writing about my experiences volunteering in Sri Lanka, I thought I would give a little background to my involvement with these projects. 

Since volunteering in 2005, in Sri Lanka, I have been planning my return trip. So with University out of the way, I got back in touch the society I volunteered with for 6 months. They were happy to hear that I was interested in coming back to teach English and volunteer at the orphanages. I slowly learnt that there enthusiasm for my return was partly because they had not received as much volunteer help for the past few years and in the past 8 months they have had no one come to continue previous volunteers work. 

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September 18 2010


Where can I find volunteers?


Volunteers are the lifeblood of your organization. Your board are volunteers, and they are responsible for the oversight of everyone at your nonprofit or charity.

Volunteers are also there for you when you need to do an appeal mailing, when you're stuck with one hundred phonecalls you need to do for a phone-a-thon, when you need someone to do grant research for you, or pro-bono graphic design, when you're tired and just want to go home.

Volunteers are so wonderful. And they save your organization $18 for every hour they're there.

So where do you find these wonderful, mythical creatures?

1. Your donor database. Is there anyone in there, a loyal donor, who could be engaged as a volunteer?

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September 13 2010


Story ideas 9.12.10

I almost hate to admit it, but some of my best story ideas come while cruising and dreaming or hitting garage sales. At the latter remember – you have to TALK to people to get information.

So at a garage sale just down the street I ran into a friendly guy and we were wandering and checking out the stuff he had for sale when another neighbor yelled out, “Hey why don’t you put your fire stuff out!”

He had me right there…as a dusty old bag was pulled out and there it was! Nomex! You wouldn’t understand unless you’ve been in a forest fire. Fire retardant clothing. Bright yellow. Outrageous. Brought back memories.

Turns out Tony was a former volunteer firefighter. A dying profession. It seems that rural fire departments in my area are no longer allowing volunteers to man the trucks and hoses and haven’t been for some time.

Used to be in the outback areas if you wanted to fight fire, you had to do it yourself. Many of the men in the community would sign up and at the sound of the bell (or phone) they’d drop everything and head to the smoke (or accident). For a while I remember there being an issue with not enough volunteers. And now this.

Story idea: what is the status of volunteer firefighting in YOUR rural areas? Is it still thriving or has it died out due to lack of volunteers or (worse yet) bureaucracy?

And speaking of volunteerism, how easy is it for folks to volunteer at schools in your community? Now I just retired from teaching a little over three months ago – and when I went back on campus the first few times it was okay but then – WHAM! The doors slammed shut and I was told I needed to complete a volunteer form and get fingerprinted. Same for my daughter who at 18 was a recent grad of the school and had been training the school’s color guard for nearly a mont.

Problem? They slammed down so hard and fast that no one know what we needed to do exactly to get the paperwork done. Some kind soul finally figured it out and got the proper forms up to the front desk. And the district finally confirmed that yes my fingerprints from teaching were still good…but now my daughter has to PAY to volunteer. Sweet.

Story idea: with all of the cutbacks to schools and complaints they don’t get enough help – are they making it hard or easy for folks to volunteer? What kind of barriers are set up or what kinds of incentives are given to help out?

Enjoy the week – I’m on the road again.

September 02 2010


Net2 Think Tank: Finding Volunteers

Let's face it: finding good volunteers is tough. A good volunteer can be a priceless addition to the team, but the process of matching the expertise and timing needs of the project to the skills and availabilities of potential volunteers can take time and resources away from your organization. This month's Net2 Think Tank is exploring ways that organizations can use the internet to make finding volunteers more efficient and effective. Share your tools, tactics, and best practices with the NetSquared Community!


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July 29 2010

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