Volunteering time to a not-for-profit (NFP) organisation is something most of us would like to do more of. However, it’s one of those things that tends to take a back seat when life gets in the way. Maybe our schedules are unreliable or we don’t know where to look, or we feel there aren’t any local opportunities in the areas we’re passionate about.
However most of these excuses are exactly that, excuses.
Vollie, a start-up birthed from the city of Melbourne and one of SPARK Deakin’s Accelerator winners, has recognised these excuses, and has devised a way to make volunteering easier and more aligned to the future of work, particularly for the 16-34 market. At present, 32% of Australians are volunteering, but if we look at the age breakdown, Millennials aren’t doing so well.
We had a chat with Founders and serial volunteers Matt and Tanya about their fast-growing platform Vollie, which brings willing and skilled volunteers to charities and NFPs, where they can work together to solve a problem digitally. Matt and Tanya believe the problem with volunteering lies with access, and the solution lies with making the opportunities available remotely, where the gig economy is flourishing. Even better for employers, volunteering is actually a fantastic type of team building activity for maintaining a happy workforce.
At present, there are 130 NFPs registered on the platform, alongside thousands of volunteers in all areas from accounting to digital marketing. They generously shared the age breakdown of their users, and it looks like they’re doing a good job of creating a product that is more aligned to the emerging generations.
But all this talk of Millennials and digital opportunities had me nervous. Digital natives are infamous for their commitment issues – of clicking ‘attending’ on a Facebook event despite knowing they’ll be in another country, or knowing that they’ll definitely be at another event on the same evening (guilty). Just because they come to your website, it doesn’t mean they’ll commit and complete a project, right? Our first question to Matt and Tanya centred around this lack of faith.
How do you make sure your volunteers are of quality and that they stick around for the duration of the project?
Matt and Tanya explained that when people sign up, they do so with their LinkedIn, which feeds their information through to their profile, instantly giving them credibility.
For the NFP, “we tell them to treat it as they would treat job applications. We encourage them to arrange a Skype or Google Hangout so they can have a face-to-face and ask them about their passions” Tanya explains.
From the volunteer’s perspective, both Matt and Tanya explain that there are hundreds of projects from a variety of organisations. If a person chooses an opportunity from an organisation that shares the same values as them, that motivation and mutual passion will usually ensure they remain with the organisation until the project is complete. “There is only a 10% drop off with projects” Tanya explains, “which is much lower than the industry standard. Retaining volunteers is one of the biggest problems in the industry.” Matt goes on to say that “the fact that the project has a clear start and end date also helps volunteers. They can plan around it.”
Let’s talk business. What has been the biggest road block?
Matt and Tanya agreed that the hardest part was building the platform and trying to sell it before it even existed. On a more personal level, Matt says that he’s “learnt to relax more as time goes on… I’m too much of a perfectionist and that causes stress and anxiety. I had a fear that Vollie wouldn’t exist if I didn’t put every hour into it… I was terrified it would never see the light of day.”
Tanya continued, saying she “was always trying to bring him back. You don’t need to get up so early, nobody is going to respond to an email at 6am. But there’s always that fear of failure.”
What about the biggest joy?
One of Matt’s biggest joys has been to see some of the NFPs close to his heart join the platform and upload projects. “When I start to see them use Vollie it’s like Christmas Day!”. For Tanya, it’s “every time we have a project completed and we can see the difference it has made on both sides. Sometimes it’s building a website… and to be able to create that for organisations who would otherwise not have had an opportunity to do so is amazing. My cause passions are quite broad, so to be able to impact all of those causes at once is Christmas Day for me.”
What would you tell the you of 2 years ago, when you first decided to pursue Vollie?
Both of these responses are so important, we’ll just leave them here verbatim:
Matt: “Manage your mental space. Stay as calm and relaxed as possible, knowing that things take time. Patience in your decisions is incredibly important. Sometimes you’ll be pressured into signing a deal with angel investors or an agency… don’t rush decisions… listen to your head, listen to your heard. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.”
Tanya: “Definitely patience. When you’re relying on other people you have to be patient. Unicorns give a warped perception of start-up land, but the reality is, it takes time… Your mental health is also very important and you need to take control of that. You’re not going to be much help to anyone when you’re sick.”
How has the SPARK Deakin program helped you?
Naturally, we wanted to know how the SPARK Deakin program has helped Vollie. There are so many components of the program ($10, 000 funding, access to legal aid and mentors, workshops, access to a co-working space and more), and each start-up gains something different. Here’s what Matt and Tanya had to say:
“The one week intensive at the beginning was a great pit stop for us. We had been going at it [Vollie] for a while and we thought we knew a lot. We questioned whether we were too far along to gain any value. But that one week intensive was great – Adam Davies was fantastic. It forced us to review absolutely everything. [We heard] great insights around tips and tricks with investors, what to look out for as well as financial planning… The fireside chats have also been really, really excellent. They’ve been around raising capital, sales as well as more general case studies from other start-ups”.
How do we get involved with Vollie?
Obviously, if you’ve got time and a willingness to volunteer, sign up here.
Vollie’s key focus of 2018 is to engage with corporates and their corporate volunteering responsibilities. “We have the process and technology ready to go, ready to work with their hundreds if not thousands of employees!” says Matt. “The great thing is, is that staff can pick causes they’re passionate about, so both parties gain from the experience.”
If you’re a Deakin student, alumni or staff member and are interested in SPARK Deakin’s Accelerator Program, click here! Successful applicants will receive a $10,000 grant, access to mentors, comprehensive workshops, legal advice and more. Keep an eye on the important dates and pop them in your diaries when they’re live!