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Getting started with an idea for social impact: Q&A with Vollie’s Matthew Boyd

Profile of Dom O'Donnell
Written by Dom O'DonnellPosted on 1/2/2021

This story has been produced through the Australian Communities Foundation and NEXUS Australia partnership.

“We’re so much bolder when we’re young,” says Matthew Boyd, Co-Founder and CEO at online volunteering platform Vollie.

“Young people question and challenge tradition so much more.”

Boyd is speaking from experience. A frequent volunteer from a young age, Boyd started to identify issues with traditional pathways to volunteering.

“There can be so much red tape involved in traditional volunteering. That makes it difficult to find out about and try different opportunities, and see which are the right fit for you.

Boyd explains his volunteering experiences often left him feeling like he could be applying his skills in a more targeted way.

“That’s when I came up with the idea of an online platform where prospective volunteers could connect with organisations through specific opportunities.”

Five years down the track, Vollie has facilitated over 150,000 skilled volunteering hours for over 800 non-profit and social enterprise partners. And with its focus on online volunteering that can be completed from anywhere, the platform is well placed for a post-Covid world.

Vollie’s mission is to advance volunteering into the digital age and provide modern day professionals with meaningful opportunities to give back anywhere in the world.

We caught up with Boyd ahead of this year’s NEXUS 2021 Australia Summit to chat about his experience of starting Vollie and receiving the award.

“It’s not a selfless act. Volunteering can fill you with satisfaction and happiness knowing that you’re making a difference.”

Tell us about how you got started with Vollie.

Matthew Boyd, Co-Founder and CEO of Vollie

It started with an idea I had back in 2015. I was in a job at the time which wasn’t particularly fulfilling, and I wanted to do more – I wanted to make a positive difference.

I was volunteering with a number of different organisations, and I noticed a lot of problems with the volunteering process – whether it be getting started or all the different hoops you have to jump through.

I started looking around for a way to connect my skills with causes I really cared about, but there was no obvious pathway. I started to dive into a lot of research from here and understand the value of volunteering to the Australian sector – the billions of dollars it saves the Australian economy every single year. But when I started looking at engagement rates, I saw young professionals were underrepresented.

I was also speaking to a lot of friends and colleagues around me asking what they thought about the idea of an online volunteering platform where you could connect your skills to a cause you really cared about, and you didn’t even need to leave your house. And there was just overwhelming support for it. I ultimately quit my job at the end of 2015 and got to work on the idea. Vollie went live in November 2016, and here we are years later, progressing pretty well.

What is the role and value of volunteering in the landscape of positive social impact?

Volunteers and the value they bring to the sector very often fly under the radar. There are thousands of these people who do valuable work for communities and the people that live within them, the animals, and so on. They keep parts of the Australian economy ticking along, and I think they’re heavily undervalued by the government – that’s been shown in terms of the amount of funding and support that volunteering receives.

And it’s not a selfless act. Volunteering can fill you with satisfaction and happiness and help you sleep better at night knowing that you’re making a difference. And with skilled volunteering, it’s great for professional career development as well.

Tell us about your experience of NEXUS.

My first real taste of NEXUS was when I attended the 2018 event and I just loved it. I was blown away by how many diverse yet like-minded young people were brought together by this event.

You would sit at a different table every session and you’d always meet new people. When some of the NEXUS crew got up to talk about the Collaborator Award, I was sitting on a table with Susan Kariuki, CEO of Youth Agenda.

It was serendipitous because Susan and I were already talking about the work Youth Agenda do in Kenya with young people to help them get job-ready and give them the best possible opportunity with their career moving forward. She said to me “what we’d really like for these young people is to connect them with mentors – skilled professionals who could support them”. And at the time, we had been thinking about mentoring at Vollie, so it just made sense. We ultimately put forward a proposal and were lucky enough to win the award.

When we rolled out the program, we were able to connect 110 young people in Nairobi with different Australian mentors. All the feedback was hugely positive. It’s a lovely collaboration, which wouldn’t have happened without NEXUS.

“It’s that point where people from different walks of life within the social impact space connect and collaborate. I think that’s the power of NEXUS.”

What makes the NEXUS community unique?

I think it’s got something to do with the way it connects you to so many other young people working for the greater good.

As the name would suggest and really summarise in a nutshell, what makes NEXUS unique is the sense of coming together it gives you. It’s that point where people from different walks of life within the social impact space connect and collaborate. I think that’s the power of NEXUS.

What is the role of young people in the social impact space?

Young people have an incredibly important role to play. We question the status quo so much more when we’re young. We’re more likely to say something isn’t good enough or it should be done this way or that way.

“We question the status quo so much more when we’re young. We’re more likely to say something isn’t good enough or it should be done this way or that way.”

You don’t need a million dollars to start your own social enterprise or start your own venture or whatever it is. If you’ve got a good idea and you’re passionate, then you can drive that and you’ll find a way.

What are your three tips for a young person who’s just starting out with an idea for positive social impact?

  1. Validate your idea. Before you quit your job or invest a bunch of time and money, validate your idea. Spend months – or weeks if you’ve got to act quickly – talking to people and looking for existing competing solutions. It doesn’t matter if there’s already something similar out there – you just have to be able to answer why someone would go with your option.
  2. Know your strengths. Be really honest with yourself and play to your strengths. And where you aren’t strong, find others to fill in the gaps.
  3. Look after yourself. Burnout is real. For the first few years of Vollie, I would run myself empty every single day, and it led to serious burnout. It also led to making some mistakes I could have probably avoided. Try to go at your own pace and listen to your gut.

“I think that’s where philanthropy could really make a difference – in those early stages… That’s when philanthropy can make ideas happen.”

What role can philanthropy play in supporting young changemakers?

Unlocking funding is the biggest challenge for young people starting out. You don’t necessarily have the networks you might have later in life, so you’re asking yourself: where are these funders? Where are these groups that can support the venture? I found it incredibly hard to facilitate those connections at first.

I think that’s where philanthropy could really make a difference – in those early stages, whether that’s when someone is trying to get their idea off the ground, or they’re in year one or year two and very close to giving up. That’s when philanthropy can make ideas happen.