In early 2017, I was looking for opportunities to volunteer with non-profit organizations. I ended up building a platform to connect non-profit organizations with skilled volunteers for project-based work.
My prior experience helping non-profit organizations has generally included making small donations and volunteering time to help with simple tasks. While researching local organizations to help, I couldn’t help but notice most of the websites were rather dated and difficult to use.
It seemed that if I could help an organization rebuild their website, this might be a more valuable use of my volunteer time. The same could be said for an accountant offering financial help or a marketing expert helping the organization setup a communication strategy. These skill-based volunteer opportunities were hard to find.
The political climate at the time created a sense of urgency to launch this as soon as possible, as many people were motivated to find ways to help. I decided to give myself a one month deadline to design, build, and launch an MVP.
In hindsight, I could prototyped this entirely with two forms: one to collect project descriptions and one to collect volunteer information. I wanted to learn more Ruby on Rails, so I used this as a learning opportunity. I decided to build a website to connect organizations with volunteers willing to lend their professional expertise.
The initial platform needed to complete a few simple jobs. As an organization leader, I needed to be able to create an account, post a project description, review the profiles of potential volunteers, and send a few messages to volunteers to discuss the project.
As a volunteer, I needed to be able to create an account and profile to outline my relevant expertise, browse open projects, submit my name to projects I found interesting and relevant, and send messages to organization leaders to discuss the project.
One month and many rails tutorials later, I had a functional prototype live. The site was hosted on Heroku and used Sendgrid to fire off emails whenever a volunteer expressed interest in a project or anytime a user sent a message to another user.
After testing to make sure everything worked as expected, I posted the site on Product Hunt. Within a week, 500 people had created volunteer profiles and 20 organizations had posted projects. The average project received between two and a dozen volunteer applications, and several organizations received graphic design, web development, and marketing help.
Shortly after launch, however, I began to realize that this platform would not work without proper project management. Organizations needed help writing good project descriptions and evaluating potential volunteers to pick the best fit. I also became concerned about volunteers’ level of commitment to following through with the projects. Unless someone began to spend significantly more time to play this project management role, the platform would not be successful. After a few attempts to find a solution, I made the difficult decision a few months later to shut the platform down.