Catchafire: Matching SA Nonprofits With Volunteer Experts

By Kiko Martinez

SAN ANTONIO — While looking at ways to support local nonprofits in their recovery efforts last year, the San Antonio Area Foundation joined other local funders to bring Catchafire to the San Antonio area for the first time.

Since October 2020, five area funders – San Antonio Area Foundation, Social Venture Partners San Antonio, H.E. Butt Foundation, LISC San Antonio, Methodist Healthcare Ministries and DOCUmation – partnered with Catchafire to give 102 local nonprofits free access to its platform.

Catchafire’s principal objective is to connect nonprofits with volunteers looking to provide extra support, particularly with projects requiring extensive professional expertise like public relations, website design and corporate strategy.

“I think of Catchafire as an avenue for connection between nonprofits and volunteers,” said Patricia Mejia, Vice President for Community Engagement and Impact at the Area Foundation.

Becky Dinnin, Executive Director of Social Ventures Partners San Antonio, which helped coalesce the funding partnership for the project, concurred with Mejia in terms of the key focus being blazing a path toward effective synergies.

“I think of Catchafire as a Match.com for nonprofits and volunteers,” said Dinnin. “These volunteers are people who want to use their skills to help nonprofits – whether that’s in project management or even law. All of our volunteers are very important, but Catchafire is just another way that people might want to give back to nonprofits.”

Between October 2020 and July 2021, many local nonprofit organizations – such as National Alliance on Mental Illness, Celebrate Dyslexia and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul – have leveraged more than 1,700 hours of volunteer service through 127 projects. In all, the value of the work put into those projects by Catchafire volunteers is estimated to be over $300,000.

One San Antonio nonprofit organization that has benefitted from Catchafire is Students of Service (SOS). The nonprofit stays busy educating local youth about service learning and providing them an opportunity to travel abroad. 

Students participating in the program take in the world around them and become motivated to provide meaningful service to their own communities. It’s a mission that SOS founder and executive director Amir Samandi is fully committed to – yet one he knows could not be accomplished without its all-volunteer staff.

For a small nonprofit like SOS, Samandi has relied on Catchafire to connect those essential volunteers to his organization. Since the pandemic sidelined SOS’s in-person community service and its international travel, Samandi has been working on strategic planning and change management. Thus, it was crucial for him to find volunteers who offered skills in those fields.

“It was really helpful to talk through a lot of that with executives who have had experience in the corporate world,” Samandi said. “It gave us a lot of clarity on how we were going to move forward. Catchafire is a great force-multiplier that can take a small team and make it bigger to get a project done and help get you over the finish line.”

Samandi has used 16 skills-based volunteers provided through the Catchafire platform over the last year. These experts have come from across the United States and the globe, including countries like Canada, Germany and Singapore. 

Volunteer Kim VanBorkulo, who is an executive coach based in Seattle, found SOS through Catchafire and now helps the organization as a consultant.

“What is so great about Catchafire is that you can find organizations that align with your mission,” VanBorkulo said. “You can volunteer with organizations that you fully believe in.”

As Mejia sees it, San Antonio has some of the nation’s most talented nonprofit leaders and some of the greatest disparities to address. 

“We believe our investment in Catchafire levels the playing field a little,” Mejia said. “It provides an opportunity to pull from expert consultants from across the country and the world to help them further their mission and better serve our community – one project at a time.”

The San Antonio Area Foundation support, strengthen and sustain nonprofit’s mission in a variety of ways. Click here to learn more.

Kiko Martinez is a freelance writer in San Antonio and part of the Area Foundation’s new Storytelling Ambassador contributor network.