Can you make a business model around volunteering? The co-founders of GoVoluntr have put their bets on yes.I met M.J., Kevin, and Young when they served as judges of a panel for New Leaders’ Council Silicon Valley Startup Saturday in the Fall of 2012. They provided insightful input from a social entrepreneur perspective to current fellows who pitched potential fundraiser ideas. They also introduced their work to make volunteering opportunities social, easy to find, and company-friendly.
Co-Founder and GoVoluntr’s CEO Young Han also led a session on social entrepreneurship (along with GoodJoe founder Nathan Pham) and participated in the informal social innovation unconference we organized in Spring 2013. The events provided a whole new snapshot on his passion for this work, his depth and breadth of experience in entrepreneurship, and the dynamic qualities that help him articulate GoVoluntr’s broader vision.
Young is a serial entrepreneur with the title of “Professional Do Gooder”, he helped launch GoVoluntr in 2011.
Listen to the Interview
GoVoluntr: Creating a Business around Volunteering
What makes a social entrepreneur unique is adopting a mindset of impact + enterprise. Adding layers of impact to the already-challenging task of creating a business is a puzzle all its own. As Young explains in his interview, it can help to be passionate about a problem or cause.
The founders of GoVoluntr saw a need in volunteerism. They saw potential to build a community of do gooders by making volunteer opportunities easy to find, creating ways to easily track and reward volunteers, and finding ways to centralize and encourage volunteering by companies.
Their innovative platform does these things in an easy-to-use format. A new user can select to create a volunteer, nonprofit, business, or school profile and login using Facebook. From there the fun begins by finding volunteer opportunities—which include one-time events (like local film, music, and art festivals) as well as ongoing needs (such as mentorship, math/reading tutoring, or museum volunteering). Sign up for an event and you receive a reminder by email as well as an automatic tracking of hours. In case you volunteer outside of the offered opportunities, you can submit “missing hours” to continue tracking your total.
To gamify the experience, volunteers receive rewards and badges for their service to the community. And companies can encourage employee participation by providing ways to track hours and share unique volunteer experience internally.
Read Interview Responses
Q | Innov8Social: You have a rich history in entrepreneurship, tell us a little about your path to your current startup GoVoluntr.
A | Young Han, GoVoluntr: I don’t think a typical person would call my entreprenuerial journey “rich” but it does sound much nicer to say that than saying, I’ve failed several businesses prior to GoVoluntr. (LOL). I think that there are a lot of experiences that have helped me to land on GoVoluntr. Including my various business ventures, community service roles, and my time at Starbucks and Apple. I know that I’ve always had a desire to be an entrepreneur since I was in high school and was able to leverage my experiences in the last decade to realize and bring together my passion for business and volunteerism through GoVoluntr.
Q | Innov8Social: Do “social” and “entrepreneurship” mix—-or does it create more challenges for the social entrepreneur?
A | Young: I think they mix wonderfully. I believe that with societal changes that have been trending, the next iteration of businesses will be inherently socially conscious business model. Partly due to the demands coming from future “paying” customers as well as the the future workforce looking for more and more responsible business operators to work for. Currently there are some challenges in overcoming the initial misunderstanding of what constitutes a social entrepreneur and we face the inability to understand how we are a for profit social good company. We are bridging our monetary gain with our social impact, creating a fairly unique model where the more money we make the more good we do and vice versa. It is becoming increasingly more popular though with great social good startups like Tom’s shoes and Causes leading the way.
Q | Innov8Social: Tell us a little about GoVoluntr—how does it work, what inspired this startup idea, how is it structured, have you rec’d initial funding?
A | Young: GoVoluntr is an online platform that brings together volunteer, nonprofits, and businesses to engage in doing good. We enable volunteers/employees to quickly and easily find the right volunteer opportunity, register for specific shifts, positions, times and dates, then work with our nonprofit partners to track and verify their service hours. Once the hours have been added by the nonprofit the volunteer starts to earn virtual recognition through Volunteer Pins. They can earn VPins the more they volunteer and each VPin comes with Points, that they can then go to our Volunteer Rewards store to purchase goods and services from businesses that support community service.
In addition we help Nonprofits effectively source, track, manage, report, and reward their volunteers. For businesses we offer a turn key employee volunteer program, cause related marketing program and robust reporting. They all fit together to create a mutually beneficial ecosystem around doing good.
We have raised an initial seed round to get us started and will be working on subsequent rounds as we work towards further building out the ecosystem and platform.
Q | Innov8Social: What advice or tips do you have for new entrepreneurs who are trying create value but also make a positive impact?
A | Young: Be unbelievably passionate about your impact and laser focused on the value you are creating. It’s not necessarily harder to be a social entrepreneur but like anything, it has it’s unique pros and cons, but being a social entrepreneur will require a certain amount of creativity and resourcefulness as it’s not a path that has been tread as much as other fields and industries.