“Usually we work with adults,” says Lorna Arnott of the Association for the Physically Disabled, “But in this instance we were helping a child with disabilities who had just lost both their parents. They had to move in with another family, but the shack needed developing to accommodate this child’s needs.
“We basically put up a wish list of building materials and volunteers and time, as well as financial assistance,” Arnott continues, “And we received lots of donations, including clothing.”
Arnott’s appeal went out over forgood, an online service which matches South African non-profits with volunteers and donors which officially launches today. It’s described by CEO Andy Hadfield as a “dating site for good causes, we hook two people up and hope something good happens.”
The premise behind forgood is simple. Charities and non-profit organisations (NPOs) can list an advert asking for goods or volunteers and civic minded browsers can pick one or more to help out. Likewise, people who have time, goods or a specific skill they want to donate can create an advert offering that up to the world and an NPO can get in touch to say they need it.
“The moment I realised this was going to work,” says Hadfield, “Was when I cleaned out my cupboard and found I had a big bag of clothes I was never going to be able to fit into again. I put up an advert on forgood and within four minutes got a call asking for them. Then I got 40 more calls from other NPOs who also wanted them, and realised I’d found our first major bug…”
Aside from the ability to mark an advert as closed, Hadfield – a serial entrepreneur and regular on our ZA Tech Show – says he’s also working on a partnership which will allow goods donated through forgood to be transported at cost and that the app should be able to create pickup and delivery points on the fly too.
This level of convenience and being able to offer anything at all addresses the key problems many people face when they want to volunteer, says Hadfield’s colleague Garth Japhet, an ex-doctor who runs communications NPOs Heartlines and Soul City and represents South Africa for Social Media at the World Economic Forum. The problem is that many people want to donate time or resources, but simply don’t know what they can do.
“It’s empowering both parties,” Japhet says, “The giver can give on their own terms, and from the organisation’s point of view you get a range of offers you may not have realised you needed.”
As an example, he cites his sister. A retired human resources professional, she wanted to do something outside her office work in her spare time, so she advertised her gardening skills on forgood. As a result, she’s now working on landscaping the grounds of a children’s home in Cape Town.
“We also have a metalworker who has a passion for animals,” says Japhet, “He’s now making cages for animal rescue charities. The key is passion: whatever your passion is we’re going to use that to make a difference.”
Platforms for volunteering do exist overseas, says Hadfield, but nothing has taken off locally in the same way. forgood’s ambitious aim is to achieve the kind of scale where it’s sustainable, and still be relevant to the local market. For the latter that’s by maintaining a database of vetted NPOs to ensure the system isn’t abused on the demand side, which should – he says – maintain the site’s credibility. Eventually, the plan is to allow users to rate charities as worthy of volunteering for, and potentially to introduce some form of due diligence on volunteers too.
As for the problem of hitting a critical mass of users which will make it attractive to charities, that’s where the business plan starts to come in.
Unlike a fundraising platform like Justgiving, forgood is neither registered as an NPO nor is it taking a cut from charities or donors. The gap spotted by Hadfield and Japhet, which could make it a sustainable business lies in the third type of customer it hopes to attract: corporate CSI departments.
“Big corporations have HR departments that specifically look for volunteering opportunities for their staff as part of their CSI obligations,” explains Japhet, “These tend to be run by people who are superpassionate about a specific cause, and companies struggle to find enough opportunities to meet targets.”
Enter forgood, which will produce a white labelled dashboard that can create a feed from its “Causes needing…” sections onto a firm’s intranet, and encourage staff to offer up goods and services of their own into the larger forgood platform.
Japhet is passionate about the reasons businesses would want to licence forgood, and it’s not just about ticking CSI boxes.
“When we sell to our corporate clients, it’s not BEE,” he says, “There’s lots of research that says companies which encourage staff to be involved in local communities attract and maintain better employees, there’s a business case to get involved.
“If you look at recruitment overseas, in the US for example, people list their volunteering record on their CVs. It helps set them apart…. We can unlock whole staff communities, that’s the most powerful part of it.”
Hadfield says that one major South African household name has already bought into the system, he just can’t tell us who it is.
Ultimately, Japhet says, the plan for forgood is to build a platform that’s scaleable to other countries with similar levels of inequality and the kind of social division that leaves middle class citizens often unsure the best way to help address that. As an intermediary between volunteers and good causes it could be use for anything, from immediate calls for humanitarian aid and disaster relief, to supporting a radio station’s Christmas giving campaign.
“Philosophically,” he says, “What we’re doing is addressing the gini coefficient: looking at other countries in similar circumstances, looking to make the most of excess capacity.”
“It’s like what Airbnb for the hotel industry,” says Hadfield, “We’re creating a lot of extra capacity through being the simplest thing to use.”
Will it find an audience? Hadfield points us at the most recent Charities Aid Foundation global report which reckons that South African’s aren’t just generous, the country’s voluntary sector is the fifth fastest growing internationally. Is there a danger, I ask, that it will encourage clicktivism – will donating old shoes be seen as being as worthy as caring for orphans?
Japhet is confident that won’t happen.
“Making that first contact is the difficult part,” he says, “Once people are involved with a charitable organisation, their contributions tend to grow.”
Lorna Arnott agrees. Her organisation traditionally works with individuals rather than large communities of people, and it’s increasingly difficult to tap into corporate funding unless you can offer big budgets and returns. And online crowdfunding isn’t really working either.
“One of the frustrations in the past,” says Lorna Arnott, “Has been the endless amount of fundraising websites which are so saturated with people giving little bits here and there that what eventually reaches us is tiny.I like that this is different. It helps us reach people individually, and gives people a platform to get rid of stuff without it ending up on another junk store. It’s amazing how you make relationships with people.”