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Designing for a Cause? A One-Stop Guide to the Best Volunteering Sites

Posted 5 years ago by Graeme Fulton
Designing for a Cause? A One-Stop Guide to the Best Volunteering Sites

There’s no doubt that working on something we care about is both rewarding and exciting, especially if it aligns with a purpose close to our hearts. Sometimes though, our day jobs can’t always provide us with engagement on this level. For instance, only 30% of the U.S workforces report being enthusiastic and committed to their work.

With 62% of 18–26-year-olds preferring to work for companies that provide volunteering opportunities, and 70% of millennials volunteering for causes they care about, it's clear that people are increasingly looking for work that is both fulfilling, and impacts the world in a good way.

For designers, this is no different. For instance, design critic Alice Rawsthorn suggests that now may be the perfect time for designers to get involved with social impact projects. At her talk at What Design Can Do, Rawsthorn highlighted various design projects that have contributed to solving environmental issues. She shows that not only are there opportunities for designers in such initiatives, but there's also a great chance to show the power of design for causes:

“There is absolutely no doubt that we need design to address the huge problems mankind is facing”

According to Linkedin, there hasn't ever been a more crucial time to connect people with their purpose, which may also mean there's no better time for you as a designer to have an impact. To help you get involved, we’ve picked out the best sites to find volunteering and pro bono opportunities:


What is Taproot+?

Taproot+ is an online platform built by the Taproot Foundation that helps nonprofit professionals describe their needs and connect to a curated group of motivated, ready skilled volunteers with the right skills to help.

We’ve built on our 15 years in pro bono to create a low-touch, high-impact model that makes pro bono easier to access and manage on both sides. A nonprofit and a skilled volunteer will work together on short-term, high-impact projects such as a video short or a competitor analysis.

How is Taproot+ different from other volunteering platforms?

Taproot+ is more than just matching. We guide nonprofits in articulating the right needs, selecting a skilled volunteer, and running a project; we guide skilled volunteers in articulating their skills, then pitching a nonprofit on how they can help. Taproot is also free to both nonprofits and skilled volunteers.

Do you have any advice for volunteers looking to use design skills?

Take the time up front to properly scope the project — what you will and won’t do as a volunteer. That means being specific about the design process — the volunteer’s schedule and turnaround time and the number of revision rounds. When it comes to design, set those expectations up front as nonprofits often do not have a ton, if any, experience working with professional designers. Last, be sure to sign a contract with the nonprofit up front so that it is clear who the work belongs to and how it can be used.

What’s next for Taproot+?

Taproot+ will be expanding to global markets in the coming months. We are so excited to offer this platform to nonprofits and skilled volunteers in India, the United Kingdom and Singapore (with more to come!) in order to make pro bono more readily available and more accessible. In India, we are thrilled to be launching Taproot+ ahead of the 2018 Global Pro Bono Summit, which will be held in Mumbai in partnership with iVolunteer and the BMW Foundation.


What is Catchafire?

Catchafire is a premium platform that connects talented professionals who want to donate their skills, pro bono, with nonprofits who need their expertise.


The professionals work with nonprofits on critical operational projects, such as creating a marketing strategy or building a new website, which allow nonprofits to build their overall capacity, and use their resources more effectively to create greater impact. Catchafire was founded in 2009 by Rachael Chong, who left investment banking to start this venture.

How is Catchafire different from other volunteering platforms?

Unlike other volunteer marketplaces, Catchafire provides nonprofits with a menu of pre-scoped project templates, which helps nonprofits articulate their needs in a way that is easy to understand for business professionals. We ensure that nonprofits are vetted and highly committed to each project through a financial investment. Projects on Catchafire allow professionals to efficiently engage with nonprofits on short-term, high-impact projects, ranging from 1–50 hours. Our Customer Success team is available to assist at any point during the process — even after a volunteer has begun work with an organization. We are a premium service that is free of charge to professionals looking for volunteer opportunities.

Do you have any advice for volunteers looking to use design skills?

Nonprofits who are looking for design assistance may not have deep knowledge of design, so we encourage volunteers to take the lead and share their expertise with confidence. This involves listening carefully to a nonprofit’s needs (including resource constraints and what their budget is for the project, if there is one), and making the best possible recommendations based on the information they have. Since Catchafire projects are meant to be completed remotely, starting every project off with a kick-off call is a great way to get to know each other more personally and set expectations for the project going forward.

Volunteer Match

What is VolunteerMatch?

VolunteerMatch believes everyone should have the chance to make a difference by making it easy for good people and good causes to connect. Since its launch in 1998, VolunteerMatch has helped the social sector attract more than $10.5 billion worth of volunteer services.


How is VolunteerMatch different from other volunteering platforms?

What sets VolunteerMatch apart is our reach. When a nonprofit posts a volunteer opportunity on VolunteerMatch, that opportunity has the potential to reach millions of interested volunteers. An average of 15 million people visit VolunteerMatch.org each year. In addition, each volunteer opportunity has the potential to reach 10 million pro bono and skilled volunteers through LinkedIn’s volunteer marketplace. 2.6 million employee volunteers search for our opportunities from companies like Starbucks, Groupon, and JetBlue. Check out this summary for more.

Do you have any advice for volunteers looking to use design skills?

Volunteers looking to learn or leverage their graphic design, print design, web design, and UX design skills currently have nearly 700 volunteer opportunities on VolunteerMatch to choose from, most of which are virtual and can be done anytime, anywhere. Imagine that: a world where you can give back to your community from home and in your PJs.

Project 501

What is Project 501?

Project 501 is a platform for non-profit and socially-good organizations to connect with creative and technical volunteers.

The platform started a few months ago as a side project to scratch my own itch. There were a few organizations that I wanted to help this past year, but I only had so much that I could donate. I knew that if I could find organizations that needed creative help, volunteering my time and expertise could be a more valuable contribution. I built P501 as a means to find organizations that needed this sort of help.

How is Project 501 different from other volunteering platforms?

Project 501 is specifically focused on creative and technical volunteering opportunities. The platform is a small operation and only has a few projects active at any given time, but that allows me to focus on helping organizations connect with the best volunteer(s) for their needs.

Do you have any advice for volunteers looking to use design skills?

The people you might work with at a non-profit often come from non-technical backgrounds. There is more work required to scope out a project and set the appropriate expectations. It’s important to be patient, keep a positive mindset, and help teach these organizations about the creative process.

Anything cool/interesting that you want to add?

Project 501 is still a side project, and one that I have considered open-sourcing. If anyone is interesting in contributing to the design, development, or community building for this little project, reach out to me on Twitter (@robinsongreig).


What is DoSomething.org?

DoSomething.org is the place to come if you want to help make a difference in your community. We’re one of the largest global orgs for young people and social change.

How is DoSomething different from other volunteering platforms?

We have over 5.6 million members tackling social change campaigns that impact every cause, from poverty to violence to the environment. Basically any cause, anytime, anywhere. You can search our campaigns using our campaign finder at https://www.dosomething.org to look for a campaign that matches your cause interests, how much time you have, and what kind of action you want to take (volunteer, make something, donate something, etc). If you need any help getting started or have any more questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

Speaking with the above initiatives was a great way to get a better understanding of the volunteering landscape for designers. Here are a few more similar sites we haven’t had the pleasure of talking with yet, but are well worth checking out:

Voluntaires ONU

Voluntaires ONU is specifically for online volunteering — as long as you’ve got an internet connection, you can help out various non-profit organisations working towards peace and development.

Economy of Hours

Economy of Hours provides a way to buy and sell time and skills through their own currency called ‘echoes’. There are sometimes projects that have a large impact on local communities listed on their marketplace of opportunities, so it's definitely worth checking out.

Good Company

Good Company is a ‘Corporate Workplace Giving and Volunteering Platform’ based in Australia, with a selection of opportunities requiring design skills. As well as enabling employees of corporate companies give back during work time, it’s also possible to volunteer as an individual in your own time. If you can’t find the role you want, you can fill out an expression of interest form so that charities can find you too.

What’s next?

Most of the sites listed above are great platforms for companies to post jobs, and for designers to discover opportunities. However, in our search, we also came across different types of initiatives, who have alternate approaches to volunteering and pro-bono work. In addition to opportunity discovery, they have a focus on improving the collaboration between creative industries and charities, with an aim to increase the success and completion of social impact projects.

One great example of this approach is an organisation called Super Global, based in the UK:

We’re on a mission to make collaboration between agencies and social ventures so easy that we make ourselves obsolete. We’re doing it by building cross-sector relationships and mutual understanding.

Sam Applebee, founder of Super Global highlights how charities and creative (and technical) agencies can sometimes have misunderstandings, so is looking for ways to improve collaboration between the two. This is what we’ll explore in a follow up article on this topic, where we’ll also discover some more ways to get involved with volunteering as a designer.

Any suggestions?

Hope you found this resource useful, and if you know any more places to find volunteering opportunities, let us know on Twitter!

For more on design for social good, check out part 2 where we got the thoughts of some leaders in this field.

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