Launched in November, last year, Melbourne start-up Vollie is breaking down barriers to tech-savvy millennials engaging in volunteer work. In addition to satisfying the demand for skilled labour from not-for-profits, including charities and social enterprises, co-founder and managing director Matthew Boyd said the online platform is helping professionals progress their careers and companies demonstrate their corporate social responsibility.
Boyd spoke to Dynamic Business about streamlining the volunteering process to make it more accessible and the results the self-funded venture has achieved in its first two and half months.
Dynamic Business: What is Vollie’s unique selling point?
Boyd: Vollie is introducing volunteers to a skills-based style of volunteering, where work is performed remotely. Projects posted on Vollie are exclusively online, meaning volunteers can donate their skills and experience to NFPs from anywhere in the world, at any time. We’re responding to the growing desire for flexible work practices (e.g. remote, short-term and conveniently scheduled work), especially amongst millennials, and demand from NFPs for skilled professionals including copywriters, book keepers, marketers, website builders and social media experts.
Dynamic Business: How does it work for NFPs and volunteers?
NFPs can post projects on Vollie and they have a choice of two subscription packages. They can either go with a self-service package on the platform, or Full-Support Package which includes a pre-onboarding workshop and their own account manager to name just a few added benefits. On the other side of the equation, Vollie is a free and easy-to-use platform for prospective volunteers. Once a user keys in what they’re good at and the cause they care about, Vollie identifies the projects that align with their skills and passions within a matter of seconds. Once the user selects the project that suits them, they can complete it in their own time and around their schedule. Once complete, the volunteer can submit the work for approval by the NFP and then both parties can rate each other out of 5 stars and leave feedback. Further, volunteers can add the experience to their LinkedIn Profile, which can lead to better job opportunities.
Dynamic Business: Does the platform also assist companies?
Boyd: It does. To meet their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), many companies engage employees in volunteering programs. However, reports show that implementing these programs is challenging for companies because employees have limited time to devote to volunteering. Vollie offers businesses a CSR solution that takes it out of the ‘too hard basket’. The platform negates barriers to employees volunteering but allowing them to do so in their own time, remotely. In addition, the impact of a company’s CSR is tracked by the platform, which provides details reports on individual and collective volunteering efforts within the employer’s workforce. We want to work with businesses across all CSR requirements as they move to a for-purpose way of operating their organisation. This new approach to corporate volunteering us one that can greatly amplify the causes companies care about the most.
Dynamic Business: What experiences led you to start Vollie?
Boyd: I was raised in Buckinghamshire, England, about an hour west of London. After completing an honours degree in marketing, I travelled for a year and it was during this time that I visited (and fell in love with) Melbourne. When I relocated to Melbourne 2008, I became involved in volunteer work, which I found incredibly fulfilling.
While volunteering has continued to play a positive role in my life, I experienced first-hand just how difficult it can be to make a meaningful contribution to the not-for-profit (NFP) sector. With over 300,000 NFPs operating nationwide, prospective volunteers can become overwhelmed before they even start, and while charities regularly field calls and emails from people who want to get involved, those people often don’t know how they can help. Consequently, volunteers can find themselves in work that doesn’t utilise their skills, which creates disengagement.
On top of this, people struggle to find the time to support the causes they care about due to a lack of flexibility in the sector. According to State of Volunteering, this is the biggest deterrent to volunteering in Australia, especially for people aged 25 to 35, who lag behind Baby Boomers and Gen X when it comes to getting involved. In response, Volunteering Australia, which has called for the sector to better engage the next generation of volunteers by embracing technology.
I was determined to redesign volunteering in a way that would better engage Australians, especially Gen Y, so I quit my job at the end of 2015 and co-founded Vollie with Tanya Dontas, who is our Head of Operations. Our team also include digital strategist Tom Uhlhorn and superstar talent hunter Alexandra Smith. Yump Digital, who built our fantastic website, and Greenpoint Media, who manage our PR, are honorary members.
Dynamic Business: How are you driving volunteers to the platform?
Boyd: The Vollie customer journey is tailored to meet the needs and wants of Gen Y volunteers. In addition to opening-up conversations with millennials in their favourite online hang-outs, including a number of social media channels, we’re promoting the platform in publications they read, appearing at events they attend and engaging the businesses they work for.
Our marketing has played a key role in engaging the next generation of volunteer. Vollie’s team have extensive marketing experience, and in the development stages we spent a great deal of time talking with our audience and understanding what they want from their volunteering opportunities. We listened and incorporated this feedback into the platform. We speak to our audience like they are our mates and want them to feel part of the brand.
Dynamic Business: What success has Vollie enjoyed this early on?
Boyd: Vollie has been embraced by an exciting lineup of NFPs including Make-A-Wish, Greenpeace, Starlight Children’s Foundation, The Butterfly Foundation, Earthwatch, The Jane Goodall Institute, Foodbank and Suicide Prevention Australia. The skills we’re seeing the most demand for, amongst this cohort, are those in the digital space (e.g. web development, analytics, SEO support) plus business development, legal, graphic design and copywriting.
Of the thousands of volunteers who’ve signed up to the platform, our analytics reveal that already one in three are repeat users. Further, millennials account for 50% our web traffic, which is great because they’re our target audience, but we’re also seeing a solid amount of interest from the generations to either side, ie. 35 to 45 year olds and university students.
In the two months since our site went live, over 40 projects have been posted on the platform, totaling almost 800 volunteering hours. Critically, NFPs are, on average, deriving $1,157 in value for every ten hours volunteered by users. This has left us confident that Vollie will enable everyday Australians to generate more value for NFPs than they otherwise would have by making donations or through fundraising.
Some truly exciting projects have been posted on the platform, including a brief for a costume designer to create a pirate/princess outfit for one of Make-A-Wish’s superstar kids. We also had an Australian traveller who was in Zimbabwe helping the rhinos while also volunteering online for the Australian Rhino Project back home. Meanwhile, our friends at Foodbank are, with the support of a volunteer lawyer, working on legislative changes to help overcome their biggest barrier to providing enough food for Australians in need: sufficient transport.
Dynamic Business: What does the future hold for Vollie?
Boyd: We’re looking to form more partnerships with businesses and charities. We’ll also explore the option of investors as we look to scale the business. We plan to go global with Vollie and get it to the stage where even the smallest NFP, no matter where they are in the world, can engage skilled professionals from any country.