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Nov 20, 2017

Bridging Volunteer Passion with Important Needs in the Community

In September 2017, BESA celebrated its fifth anniversary of connecting individual and corporate volunteers to productive projects that help nonprofits. BESA’s website shows the joy and energy that hundreds of individuals and companies bring to address a host of needs in the community. From organizing volunteers to coordinating in-kind and cash donations, BESA creates a solid bridge to connect people’s passions to meaningful ways to help the community. If you want to give back to the community, BESA provides a platform to help you identify causes and projects to which you can devote your time, money, or goods and services. Check out its 20 volunteer leaders and see the time they volunteer and projects they lead for BESA. In the past year BESA expanded its services to provide companies with BESA Promise, a tool for them to easily see their company-wide philanthropic impact, whether through awarding grants, donating goods, or supporting teams of employees to volunteer for BESA service projects. 

Allen Proctor, President & CEO of SocialVentures interviewed Matthew Goldstein, Executive Director of Besa. This Q&A was first published by Columbus Business First (September 2017).

What led you from marketing clothing to marketing personal fulfillment?

OSU brought me to Columbus from Philadelphia, and Abercrombie & Fitch trained me in market research. My introduction to volunteering was with the Columbus Suicide Hotline. I soon found it was the most fulfilling part of my week. I knew my friends would feel the same so I got them to volunteer as well. Seeing how much that introduction helped them, I realized there was a business in matching people’s desire to help with meaningful ways to help. With my market research background I knew I could create compelling opportunities that would resonate with young professionals.

What obstacles did you need to overcome?

We had to create trust with both nonprofits and with companies and volunteers. Companies and individuals needed to trust that we would use their time and money constructively. Nonprofits need to trust that we could create volunteer opportunities that would not be a burden to the nonprofits and that they could rely on us to recruit volunteers that would show up, do a good job, and be friendly and positive. To make this work we also needed to make it simple to volunteer so that the complexities of organizing a volunteer project were invisible to the participants and required little effort by the nonprofits. 

You opted to organize as a nonprofit. How has that helped your business model?

It has allowed us to provide multiple ways for people to help other nonprofits. We are 65 percent funded by revenues from organizing company volunteer events and we could organize volunteers without nonprofit status. By being a nonprofit ourselves, however, we can also be the conduit for companies to channel cash and in-kind donations through us to help on projects. Moreover, being a nonprofit has helped us to understand nonprofits better so that we can identify the problems which nonprofits need help with and design projects that truly address problems rather than being make-work projects. 

What makes for a good volunteer project?

An ideal project is one that solves a problem for a nonprofit and leaves the volunteers with a clear sense of accomplishment. For example, Columbus 2020 volunteered with BESA and Dress for Success Columbus to prep client totes, create hundreds of inspiration cards, and get the boutique ready for its 2017 makeover. Later, for Columbus Kindness Month, the community rallied and transformed the Dress for Success Columbus fitting rooms.

How do you know that you make a difference in the community?

We tally the value of cash and in-kind gifts, place a dollar value on volunteers’ time, and aggregate the corporate philanthropy channeled through our BESA Promise platform. That lets us celebrate the dollar value each project provides to a nonprofit.  In total, over $860,000 in goods and services has been provided to nonprofits through BESA. 

What are your plans for the future?

We have just completed a year-long redesign of the BESA Promise platform so it can scale better, enabling us to add our first non-Ohio company to the platform. Today we have the BESA platform to connect individuals with volunteer opportunities and the separate BESA Promise platform for companies to track all the dimensions of their community support. We need to merge those platforms. This month we have launched a $1 million campaign to merge the two systems and build out additional tools to help companies and individuals connect with the community. 

What are you most proud of as you celebrate your fifth anniversary?

I am proud of the relationships we have been able to build and that helping the community has been the foundation of those relationships. When corporations tell us that working with BESA has created a more positive culture at their company I know that we are doing our job.