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Seeing the Forest for the Trees

3 Apr

Here’s the final installment from Chris Chavez, one of Catchafire’s newest team members. (See his first two posts below) These were his reflections at the end of a week of intensive training. That was three weeks ago, and incredibly, he has already welcomed four organizations to the Catchafire Team. Chris isn’t wet behind the ears, he’s on fire! Here are wise words from a (once-trainee) Catchafire Service Officer:

The Trees

My brain is heavier than it was in the morning! A lot goes into making Catchafire’s service as efficient and as helpful as it is. There are a lot of ingredients that ensure Catchafire members are satisfied with their experience: multiple stages of contact, clear communication between Catchafire teammates, consulting of organizations before they join our community and after, following the progress of projects, and keeping a healthy buzz around what we do – innovating pairing of hearts and minds with causes that need to build their capacity.

Open my Eyes

This morning I prepared myself to sustain a few dings and dents from some good ol’ fashion experiential learning… Well, the gods must have been listening because Thomas (aka Kathy) tripped me up a few times during my practice call. At the end of the day, I improved in some areas while regressing in others. Isn’t that always the case? I have a clearer sense of what I need to focus on in preparation for my first community calls next Wednesday.

The Forest

A final take-home from today’s training. Don’t take the power of algorithmic matching for granted. This a light bulb moment for me: we use algorithms every day to find information (on Google); to find relationships (on Facebook); to find special someones (on; to find places to eat, drink, and be merry (on yelp).

Catchafire is predicated on the same logic of sites and digital locales that we may be starting to take for granted. The sheen behind this tech is no longer as brilliant and arresting to non-digital natives – my mom has a Facebook account, google is a verb and Google’s a company! Even so, we cannot forget that individual creativity, evaluation, and rigor is driving all of our searching and supporting all of these algorithms and online activities. Catchafire uses everything – the creativity, the passion, the statistical models, the commitment, and the skills – to help professionals and organizations take part in a community of activity. It’s exciting and inspiring to join the effort.


Chris Chavez is a Service Officer at Catchafire. Prior to joining Catchafire, Chris worked with the Fiver Children’s Foundation supervising communications, development, and programming projects to inspire at-risk children to make positive life choices. Chris holds a degree in International Relations from Vesalius College at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and an M.Litt in International Relations from the University of St Andrews.


Catchafire’s Living Breathing Product

12 Mar

Read on for the second installment in a week long blog series from Chris Chevaz, one of Catchafire’s newest Service Officers. After each day of intensive training, Chris unravels this thoughts and share’s his insights. After his second day in training, Chris brought our product to life…

Day 2

Today we delved into the meat and potatoes of Catchafire’s platform, value, and culture. It’s one thing to learn about mission and vision and to buy into the purpose of it all. It’s quite another to learn about the secret sauce making it all happen in practice. Though, in this case, the sauce isn’t so secret – It’s available front and center for all to see on

Project Menu

This is the center of it all – the so called secret sauce. With over 40+ projects on offer, it can be an overwhelming resource to communicate and to digest. Like a guest with good table manners, however, Catchafire breaks up each project into bite size pieces, making the incredible value of the Catchafire service easy to process, and easy to articulate.

The menu is a resource explaining how Catchafire pro-bono professionals can direct their passions in a laser like focus to help organizations and illustrates to members the kind of systematic approach that will ensure a project is delivered with timely passion.

To have access to this menu, Catchafire asks organizations to make a membership investment.  This small investment helps to promote accountability among our members and ensures that a strong sincerity of purpose is communicated to our pro bono professionals. This ensures that Catchafire makes a high quality match between organizations and pro-bono professionals. In addition, it rewards organizations that are willing to think strategically about the scarce resources they have to invest. In the end, the Catchafire culture is not only about setting goals but also about accomplishing goals. This is crucial to transforming a mission in the service of a cause into an executable plan of action.

Catchafire Consultants

As part of day two in training, I sat in on a session explaining Catchafire account management. New members benefit greatly from the work put in by the accounts staff whose number one priority is to steward successful matches and provide feedback to member organizations and their pro bono pros.

I left the hour-long session with two major take-aways: The first was to “keep it real” – a saying that grounds what I do to a commitment to maintain the quality and integrity of the Catchafire community.  We only want to work with organizations and pro-bono professionals who are committed to the social good sector.  The second take-away was an emphasis on being proactive. Why wait? The Catchafire culture is one that seeks to shed light on circumstances; to be curious; to probe and always learn; and use the entire range of resources available at any given time.

I know I will continue to learn loads and will have fun in the process. I feel challenged by my new role and look forward to getting to it.


Chris Chavez is a Service Officer at Catchafire. Prior to joining Catchafire, Chris worked with the Fiver Children’s Foundation supervising communications, development, and programming projects to inspire at-risk children to make positive life choices. Chris holds a degree in International Relations from Vesalius College at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and an M.Litt in International Relations from the University of St Andrews.

Justin Kazmark’s Communications Role with Catchafire

3 Feb
How did you get started with Catchafire?

A mutual friend introduced Rachael and me a couple of years ago when Catchafire was still just a great idea.
What exactly is your role for them?

I collaborate with the Catchafire team on communications strategy and anything else I can help with.
Just before kicking off my collaboration with Catchafire this October, I returned to NYC following a five month thruhike of the Pacific Crest Trail — a 2663 mile walk from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada via California, Oregon, and Washington.
How was your journey across the country?

My fiancée and I started walking north from Campo, CA the morning of 24 April 2010.  For the next 144 days we walked across the Mojave desert, San Jacinto mountains, the High Sierra and the Cascade range until we reached the border of Canada near Manning Park, British Columbia.  Walked about a marathon a day.  Didn’t rain once in the three months it took to walk the entire state of California. Rained pretty much every day in Washington. An incredible experience.

How do you spend your time when you’re not working?

I’m an anagram enthusiast, an amateur Scrabble competitor and a Wallyball player.  I’m going to bike every street in Manhattan in 2011.
What do you like most about NYC?

Best part about the city is that I’ve been exploring it for more than a decade and I still feel like I’ve just scratched the surface.
What are some volunteer experiences you’ve had?

I started volunteering my time to various community organizations in high school.  It wasn’t until I was introduced to Catchafire that I had the opportunity to use my professional skill set to serve.
Where did you receive your degree?

I studied at a small college at NYU called the Gallatin School of Individualized Study.  Everyone designed their own course of study. I charted a degree in Semiotics.  There is no department of Semiotics at the university, so I drew from coursework across Linguistics, Philosophy of Language, Media Studies, Communications and several independent studies in Semiotics.

Get To Know Catchafire’s New Team Member, Ruti Wajnberg

20 Jan

How did you hear about Catchafire?

I heard about Catchafire through a close friend who recognized that the organization’s mission is very in-line with my own interests; mainly, the intersections between the private and public sectors in strategic and mutually beneficial ways. I attended the organization’s launch event where I heard Rachael speak about her inspiration for Catchafire – and from there, I was hooked. I’ve since created a Project Proposal in the field of online advertising and have been an active proponent of this volunteering model, both within my most recent company and in my social circles.

What will you be doing for Catchafire?

Initially, I will be hiring and training our Catchafire Consultant team and streamlining our sales channel. Once our sales strategy is ironed out, I will be transitioning into a Marketing role where I will be responsible for strategic partnerships, event planning and volunteer recruitment.

What past volunteer experiences have you had?

I have had many skills-based volunteer experiences. Most recently, I curated and facilitated Action Day of the Feast conference, which gathers the world’s greatest innovators from across industries and society to empower, inspire and engage each other in creating world-shaking change.

What past experiences have you had working with nonprofits and for social good?

I began my career working for non-profit museums, educating the public about genocide and the power of hatred. During my Masters in Entrepreneurship, I co-founded a socially conscious for-profit in the field of product recalls. Additionally, I have served on the Board of several organizations which I believe are building bridges between sectors, including StartingBloc, and serve as Events Director for The Feast, hosted by All Day Buffet.

What were you doing before Catchafire?

In my last position as Senior Digital Product Specialist at Yodle, I consulted with small business owners to build their web presence in order to get new leads online. In addition to this role, I launched several social and environmental initiatives – working to align the corporation’s socially responsible efforts strategically with its bottom line.

What are some of your hobbies outside of your job?

Many of the roles in which I volunteer allow me to pursue my hobbies – like event planning. Outside of those opportunities, I love live music and try to see as many concerts as possible – from hip hop to bluegrass to funk and soul. I also enjoy camping, spending time with my beautiful niece and taking advantage of all that NYC has to offer.

What is your favorite place in New York City?

My favorite place in NYC is Lincoln Center – my parents are avid opera fans and introduced us to this space at an early age. The front windows feature massive mounted Chagall’s (my favorite artist), and there’s just nothing like enjoying a glass of champagne on the balcony of the Metropolitan Opera House overlooking the courtyard’s fountain.

What inspired you to pursue this type of career?

I am inspired by the notion that a professional career and creating positive social impact need not be mutually exclusive, and am excited by the strides being taken to make this a reality for my generation.

Where did you attend college?  What was your degree in?

I studied History with a double minor in Music & Italian at New York University (NYU). Later, I received an MBA in Entrepreneurship from a University in Israel called IDC (the Interdisciplinary Center).

What’s one thing that you find interesting about yourself?

Upon graduation from NYU, I moved to a commune on the beach in Israel for six months where I learned how to plant grass, tend to roses, chop down a tree and drive a tractor.

The Many Adventures of Catchafire’s Emily Chong

13 Jan

Emily Chong’s life has been filled with adventures—moving across the world to New York City to volunteer and eventually work for Catchafire is just her latest.   Emily wanted to experience living in a new place and work for a young organization with a social mission.  So far, Emily has found  her work with Catchafire to be rewarding, since she appreciates working in an environment focused on helping people.  Before moving to New York, Emily worked as a marketing manager at a large retail bank in Sydney, Australia, where she felt her job wasn’t as meaningful as pushing forward Catchafire’s vision.  “Revolutionizing the way people think about volunteering is a great to be part of,” Emily said.  She compares the movement to Facebook in that, “The organization is creating a new form of dialogue.”

Moving to New York City isn’t Emily’s first big adventure, though.  She has been traveling and living all over the world since she was young.  Since she’d spent most of her time in large cities, after high school, Emily decided to go on a three month expedition with the National Outdoor Leadership School.  During this time, she hiked, climbed, and kayaked her way through Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico.  The wilderness was her home and she only went into a town twice.  This experience was a stark contrast from her youth spent in China, where she only saw big cities and pollution.  “I couldn’t even see blue sky,” Emily said.  “The trip really opened my eyes and made me decide that I always want to live my life in balance between the outdoors and the city,” said Emily. The experience taught her how to live her life, and also helped her picked up one of her favorite hobbies: rock climbing.

Emily has also chosen to explore volunteering in various parts of the world.  In Cambodia, she built houses on stilts for an organization called Tabitha after there was a flood.  In China, she worked in a hospice with her sister and Catchafire colleague, Rachael Chong, where they gained a close connection with a sick patient. Even her first three months with Catchafire was volunteer work.

Emily also brings to the Catchafire team a unique insight into our CEO & Founder’s mind, since she is Rachael’s sister.  “Rachael was always a leader and hardworker,” Emily said, as she joked about the childhood games they would play where Rachael would give Emily extra homework and stars for completing it.

At Catchafire,  Emily has learned a lot about what makes a start up different than an established organization.  “You have to be flexible as the company is still learning about itself,” Emily said. “Your title is irrelevant and it’s important to work as a team.” She has found that it is common to be short on resources.  “Everyone at Catchafire is young, so you don’t have many years of experience to rely on,” she said.  Emily longs to see Catchafire succeed.  Her short-term goal is to get more people signed up smoothly and to accomplish even more with the new hires coming on board, as she looks to welcome them into the good culture and values the organization currently has.  Her long term goal is for the mission to succeed so Catchafire can create a world  in which all professionals can give their skills and all nonprofit organizations can obtain them.

Matt Miller: The Technical Side of Catchafire

23 Dec

Around the Catchafire office, there are many note cards hanging in various places on the wall. They contain tasks and messages that hold the future of Catchafire’s website.  These note cards make up the vast to-do list of Matt Miller, Catchafire’s software engineer.  Building new features at, keeping everything running smoothly online and helping the rest of the staff with our technical needs are just part of the critical work that Matt does everyday.

Originally from North Carolina, Matt’s interest in computers began early on in elementary school.  By middle school he was already programming computers.  “One of my 7th grade teachers had me take home a new piece of software over the summer since she didn’t know how to use it,” Matt said.  He had it figured out for her by the time he returned for school the next year.  Matt went on to attend North Carolina State University before moving to Texas to complete his degree at Steven F. Austin University.

While in college, Matt had several opportunities to travel and work abroad.  He also got the chance to work abroad.  He helped at a university in Tanzania, and worked at a sea-farer’s center in Romania where he met people from 29 different countries.

After graduation, Matt moved to a tiny Texas town, where he lived on a farm and managed technology for a nonprofit supporting international relief and development work.  He moved to New York City last spring and shortly after, landed his job with Catchafire.

Besides computer software, Matt also likes building and making things.  “I started at a young age when my dad would pay me a quarter a day to use a hammer,” Matt said.  He also enjoys cooking and checking out live music.  In fact, his favorite place in New York City is the Rockwood Music Hall.  “I like watching my friends play there and meeting other creative people from around the city,” said Matt.  He enjoys volunteering for the South Side Community Garden in Williamsburg where he cleans the lot, plants tulips, and looks forward to planting vegetables in the spring.  He thinks one of the most interesting things about him right now is his 3D printer that he uses and works with from his home.

Catchafire proves to be a great fit for Matt every day.  “I wanted to use my skills and actually enjoy my job,” said Matt. Catchafire allows him do something with his work that matters to him.  He wasn’t interested in just any old job where he only worked to get paid.  Like many Catchafire volunteers, Matt wanted a more fulfilling experience.  From that realization, Matt was able to find a place where he could use his professional skills for good.

The Story Behind Jane Slusser: Campaigns, Causes, and Burger Clubs

16 Dec


Jane Slusser volunteering for the Obama campaign.

Catchafire’s Chief Service Officer, Jane Slusser, started working at Catchafire with the motive of promoting a new and interesting way to volunteer.  At first, she was really only thinking  about the volunteers.  She had been a volunteer herself and found it natural to approach Catchafire from that standpoint rather than the organizations.  However, over the past year, Jane has gotten to know many of the nonprofits and social enterprises of New York City, and has found that her focus has now shifted to include their needs high on her list of goals for Catchafire!  Jane hopes to see organizations run more efficiently, and believes that through the help of professional volunteers, any nonprofit or social enterprise can be run better and more efficiently.

Jane’s experience with volunteering began at a young age. When she was younger, she helped her mom volunteer to raise money for their town’s community pool (which finally got built just a few years ago). Entering into college, Jane participated in a 28 hour dance marathon for the Elizabeth Glaser Foundation.  Today, she enjoys helping with the Tribeca Film Festival while also getting free tickets to see the films.  Ask Jane about her greatest volunteering experience and she won’t hesitate to mention her work on the Obama campaign.  In fact, she’ll tell you it was one of the best experiences in her life so far.   Jane saw first-hand what great results come from a well-run volunteer effort,  and after the campaign wanted to make sure all the enthusiasm from those volunteers was funneled towards new channels of  engagement and participation.

Prior to her life at Catchafire, Jane came to New York City from a small town in Northern California to attend Barnard College.  After living in a town of 5,000, Jane was excited for the opportunity to come to a big city.  At Barnard, Jane met her  current colleague, Rachael Chong when they were paired up as freshmen roommates.  The two roomed together for all four years of school.  “Rachael was a good roommate,” Jane said, “and even took care of me when I was sick just a few weeks into the first year and bought me a teddy bear.”  A few months later, there was an  instance when Rachael got paint all over Jane’s white rug.  Although she acted okay with it, Jane struggled to keep her very neat and clean (somewhat OCD) personality from showing her annoyed feelings.  Today, Rachael and Jane laugh about this as one of their favorite roommate stories.  Another one happened before the two even met.  As the more details-oriented one, Jane  sent a letter to Rachael introducing herself and trying to plan who should bring what for their room.  However, Rachael was traveling and did not receive the letter until the night before arriving at school.  Jane  worried that her new roommate must think she was a “big nerd” for sending the letter.  Little did she know that they would end up being great friends and working together for a great mission in the future.

Before joining Catchafire, Jane worked at Oxford University Press until she quit to volunteer full-time for the Obama campaign in 2008.  She said, “in publishing I was editing history, and in the campaign I felt like I was making history.”  Deciding that she preferred the latter  motivated her to make the leap to quit her job.  For her, the passion she put into volunteering for the Obama campaign turned into a job at the inauguration in DC.  After that, Jane started to pay a bit more attention to her old roommate’s idea, eventually coming on board with Catchafire last year.

Aside from Jane’s work with Catchafire, she  devotes herself to another passion in New York City—burgers.  She belongs to a Burger Club with four of her friends.  The group meets once a month at a new burger place and write a blog to keep up with it.  Though she admits it may disappoint those expecting some secret underground burger,  Jane’s favorite burger place is Shake Shack.

When she was younger, Jane wanted to be the first female president, a paleontologist, a lawyer, or an actress.  Somehow, Jane feels like her job as Chief Service Officer brings together a bit of each of these roles (except for the dinosaurs).  She also jokes that in college, “Rachael often told me I should be a construction worker since I was always putting everything together in our room.”  Always having ambitious goals, Jane has combined this hardworking attitude and love of volunteering into a career at Catchafire where yes, she does occasionally move furniture.

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