Besa fills a unique role to expand community service


Matthew Goldstein did market research for Abercrombie & Fitch when he started volunteering on Saturday mornings for a suicide hotline.

“Those three hours were some of the most fulfilling and rewarding and insightful and heartfelt hours of my entire week,” he says. “I quickly realized that I wanted more hours of my week to be filled with those types of opportunities. And as I started to do that myself, I started getting my co-workers involved.”

He saw how many people were hungry to get engaged, so in 2010 he resigned from his day job to start Besa.

Besa coordinates community-wide service projects, in order to make it easier for people and companies to give back to the community.

“In my former job, I worked with a lot of smart and talented people that wanted to give back. They weren’t sure how to give back, particularly with their busy schedules,” says Goldstein, who serves as the organization’s executive director. “That’s where Besa steps in.”

Over the past four years, the not-for-profit has created unique one-time volunteer projects for working professionals, who are mostly millennials. All public projects are scheduled for evenings and weekends.

He says it’s important to reach millennials because once they get engaged in the community, they tend to stay involved.

Besa has a manager of engagement, whose entire job is figuring out what opportunities would resonate with Besa’s volunteer base. Goldstein doesn’t want to be viewed as a warehouse of volunteers, but as a partner connecting people with nonprofits.

With just four employees, Besa relies heavily on about 20 volunteer leaders to spearhead its projects. These leaders make sure enough volunteers show up and that they stay engaged in the activity, which results in a high repeat rate.

Many volunteers also try different things, but when they find a charity they like, they’ll often go deeper on their own, such as becoming a board member.

Growing to meet demand

Besa puts together about 300 service projects a year, which is not enough to meet the demand of potential volunteers.

“If you go to our website, most of our projects are either full or nearly full, Goldstein says.

About 8,000 people have volunteered through Besa since it started, but Goldstein believes the organization could find enough volunteers to do 500 or 600 projects each year, if it had the budget.

So far, Besa has been able to grow with a diversified revenue stream of individual donors, grants and corporate support. Corporate support includes working with Columbus corporations to improve employee engagement in philanthropy.

For example, anytime Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream’s 600 employees want to volunteer, they do it through Besa with projects like painting a mural or putting on an ice cream social and learning lab at Saint Stephens Community House, Goldstein says.

“That way they can focus on what they do great, making incredible ice cream, and then we can focus on what we do great, which is engaging their associates in these volunteer opportunities,” he says.

Besa’s partnership with Express, another client, has already enhanced the culture of the company. In 2015, Express employees participated in 1,800 volunteer hours; that grew to more than 3,000 in 2016, Goldstein says.

“Some of the companies we work with, we’re seeing their employees are three times more engaged with Besa in place than before,” he says.

Capture data to tell your story

But the needs of companies go beyond engagement, Goldstein says. It goes to grant administration as well as just managing how employees sign up and track their volunteerism.

“Companies want to tell their story of their impact in the community, and a lot of times, they don’t have the data to tell that story,” he says.

Goldstein hopes a software application called Besa Promise will not only help companies more efficiently manage philanthropy and volunteer programs, but also enable Besa to take its next step in growth.

With Besa Promise, employees can independently sign up and track their activities through the platform. And on the back end, administrators can collect, understand and bisect the data, to better know the company’s story and impact in the community.

Besa wants to sell the software to use the revenue as a social enterprise vehicle to expand in Columbus and to other cities. It might also look into more than one-time projects as it grows.

“People want these authentic experiences,” Goldstein says. “You look around at the world, and I think you can get depressed pretty easily when you turn on the TV. But at the same time, there’s a spark in all of us that we want to be engaged in the solution.

“It’s just finding out how to connect on the ground, in our communities to make a difference.”