Big Idea: Sparked is an online-only volunteer hub for people to donate their talents to non-profits, as well as an engagement tool for businesses to engage and incentivize employees to contribute to volunteer causes.
Why It’s Working: Users can donate expertise and skills instead of money, and make time commitments according to availability and interest level.
In late 2010, Ben Rigby and Jacob Colker co-founded Sparked, a mobile app with the noble purpose of empowering non-profits. “We wanted to make volunteering fun and social,” Rigby says. But they noticed an interesting thing — nearly all the usage of their new app was happening between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. — during work hours.
So they pivoted, and recast Sparked.com as an online volunteer portal designed primarily to help companies mobilize their workforces for volunteer efforts. The site still connects non-profits with potential volunteers but makes money by letting companies such as Kraft Foods, LinkedIn and the U.S. State Department use its platform to help organize employees.
Here’s how Sparked works: Instead of pledging time, corporate volunteers donate time and skills to selected non-profits or other bodies in need of help. An editor can do some pro bono copywriting, for example, or a social media coordinator can donate Twitter expertise. Volunteers are matched to and able to find tasks by indicating areas of benevolent interest, such as at-risk youth, public health or animals. Tasks can be simple — for example, a graphic designer will be asked to suggest five website improvements for a struggling non-profit.
Intra-company standings and gamification rewards make volunteering into a competition and accelerate engagement. Skeptical that it can work? According to Rigby, companies that have signed on have experienced astronomical engagement boosts.
“Typical volunteering engagement for a corporation is around 8%,” he says. “We’re seeing participation rates up in the 50-80% range, just because it’s so simple. You can take 15 minutes or two hours and do it when it’s convenient to you.”
Sparked is supported by a combination of venture and angel funding, with investors including True Ventures andKapor Capital. Rigby declined to provide revenue numbers, but says the company’s success so far indicates that business and charity aren’t mutually exclusive.
“We’re not Pinterest by any means,” he says. “But it’s going well.”
Would you volunteer more if your company made it easy?
This article was first published in Mashable