Volunteer Forever

Your Gateway to Volunteering Abroad

Idea Summary

Volunteer Forever is a for-profit company committed to social good. We will be an online resource to assist international volunteers throughout the volunteer abroad process. Our website will enable volunteers to learn about volunteer abroad programs; review their volunteer experiences using a Yelp-style interface; connect with other volunteers; connect with valuable services such as international phones and travel insurance providers; fundraise to pay for volunteering placement costs and airfare; and create a registry of travel goods from which family members and friends can purchase needed items for their loved ones who are volunteering overseas. Currently, no other online resource combines all of these functionalities into a single site. By doing so, we seek to empower the international volunteer to do good anywhere in the world. 

Write a summary paragraph: In about a paragraph, describe what problem you are solving, how many people are experiencing the problem, and what your solution is.

Volunteering abroad can be a scary process and the resources available to assist international volunteers are spread over many different sites and difficult to access.  Volunteer Forever's founder experienced these problems firsthand when he recently volunteered overseas at an orphanage in India.

By consolidating resources and information pertinent to international volunteers onto a single site, we will establish VolunteerForever.com as the preeminent destination for volunteering abroad. Our market research and personal experiences volunteering abroad indicate three “must haves” for international volunteers: trustworthy information about volunteering abroad, inexpensive fundraising mechanisms, and a way to connect with fellow volunteers.

Tell us more about the problem you are solving.  Why is it a problem and how big of a problem is it?

The 2009 Volunteer Travel Insights report highlights these needs for international volunteers.  According to the report's 2481 response survey, of those who responded they did not volunteer abroad, 43% of respondents did not do so due to a lack of money. The same survey found that 51% of respondents who volunteered abroad reported volunteering for over one month, which can result in a total trip cost of $2000 to $5000. Also, of the respondents who did not volunteer abroad, 31% did not do so due to a lack of information. A direct quote from the reports states “lack of information is an interesting reason as it speaks of a potential gap in terms of resources available for researching volunteer travel abroad.” Finally, the same survey found that 57% of respondents volunteered alone, highlighting the desire to connect with other volunteers.

Who do you think your target customers are and how many are there?

A 2008 study on the voluntourism market (synonymous with the volunteer abroad market) found that 1.6 million people per year volunteer abroad. Globally, the voluntourism market is rapidly growing and is a $2.6 billion market where the average cost of a volunteer abroad trip is $3000. The vast size and rapid growth of the voluntourism market represent a tremendous opportunity to provide useful services for volunteers. 

The volunteer abroad market is a global market with the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand sending the vast majority of volunteers abroad. Based on data from the US Census Bureau International Database, there are approximately 40 million 15-29 year olds in the five aforementioned countries.  70% of international volunteers are between the ages of 20 and 25. These individuals typically travel as part of missions with religious organizations, individually with international placement agencies, in groups as part of employer or university-sponsored relief missions (i.e. Duke relief mission to Haiti), directly with major non-governmental organizations (i.e. Doctors Without Borders, Habitat For Humanity), or directly with government-sponsored international volunteer programs (i.e. Peace Corps). 

Do you think your customers are looking for a solution?

As someone who volunteered on my own with a volunteer placement agency, I yearned for resources to learn more about the international volunteer experience and to connect with fellow volunteers who would be traveling with me. My conversations with other volunteers/missionaries and discussions on travel and college/graduate school discussion forums indicate the same needs. Furthermore, the Facebook pages of volunteer abroad placement companies host thousands of volunteers looking to connect with one another, to fundraise, and to learn more about volunteering abroad. The top 10 volunteer abroad placement organizations have a combined 150,000 likes on Facebook, indicating significant user interest in volunteering abroad. Here are just a small sample of some of the posts on the Facebook pages of international placement organizations:

"Does anyone know of good ways to fundraise?" 

"Does anyone have any advice on what travel insurance to go for?"

"Has anyone been on the India programs?"

"Hi guys thinking of going to India or Nepal in December. If anyone has done these projects how did you find it?" 

"I have been reading a few reviews online but were not very helpful. I'm really looking forward to my trip. Has anyone volunteering at the orphanage in Costa Rica?"

Tell us about your solution.  How does it work and what are the benefits?

The Volunteer Forever site will host many features critical to supporting volunteers before they depart home, while they are volunteering abroad, and after they return home.

First, the site will feature a reviews section where volunteers returning from their trips abroad will be able to rate their experiences. Volunteers often travel with international placement agencies that provide services such as matching the volunteer with a placement site (i.e. orphanage, clinic, etc), airport pick-up, housing, food, and in-country support. These services can charge anywhere from $200 for a one week volunteer abroad trip to $7000 or more for a six month trip and are considered major purchases. As such, the prospective volunteer is strongly inclined to seek out the opinions and recommendations of previous volunteers who have worked with a particular placement agency.

Furthermore, volunteers will be able to utilize the website’s discussion forum to ask detailed questions about volunteering abroad. Volunteers can also use this forum to connect with other volunteers who will be at the same placement at the same time. Since many volunteers travel abroad alone, there is a strong desire to connect with other volunteer prior to leaving their home countries. This forum will contain different subforums based on location of travel and international placement agency. 

One of the most important features will be the ability for volunteers to create profile pages with an integrated blog and fundraising mechanism. This profile page will be closely integrated with social networking sites such as Facebook. During the volunteer abroad process, volunteers can share these pages with friends and family to ask for donations to help fund any travel expenses related to the trip.  Even after arriving home, volunteers can continue to use the fundraising mechanism to raise donations for their overseas placement and for domestic fundraising purposes as well. 

Lastly, the site will also feature a registry of goods that the volunteer has selected for their trip abroad. Like a wedding registry, the volunteer can select goods such as suit cases, travel books, sleeping bags, cameras, and mosquito repellent to be on their registry. This option is especially important in the case where the volunteer has friends or family members who are not comfortable donating money, but still want to support the volunteer.  Although online registries exist for weddings, baby showers, and graduation events, no other website has geared online registries to the volunteer abroad market. 

Do you have any intellectual property (IP) that can be protected?  Is it protected?

Our company's new logo (soon to be professionally designed) will need to be copyrighted. Furthermore, we will trademark our slogan "Your Gateway to Volunteering Abroad." 

What's your plan for developing your product or service including some dates and milestones?  

Website development started March 2012
Website launch is planned for summer 2012

Tell us about yourselves (Who is on your team, what are you studying, what year are you)

Founder: Steve Weddle holds bachelor's and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Duke University and UCLA, respectively. For both degrees, he concentrated in signal processing and communications, which enabled him to take graduate level courses directly applicable to internet technologies. Steve is currently a Captain in the United States Air Force and has had significant leadership responsibility throughout his career. In his six years of experience as an engineer and program manager, Steve has managed the cost, schedule, and performance for multimillion dollar projects. Furthermore, he has direct experience in leading teams of software contractors to develop software systems critical to national security. This management experience will be especially useful to his new company as he will oversee the development of the Volunteer Forever website by a third-party web designer and developer. Lastly, Steve’s high level of performance in the Air Force is indicative of his capacity to deliver results. He has been rated the number 1 or 2 officer in his unit for the last four years. Furthermore, he has won numerous “officer of the year” awards and was recently part of a team that competed for best team in the United States Air Force. 

Use of Funds - if you won $50,000 how would you use it?

While Volunteer Forever is not eligible for the $50,000 prize, we would utilize the $50,000 for the development of a mobile version of the website, advertising, and marketing promotions. The mobile website is critical given that in the United States, 25% of mobile web users utilize only their mobile phones for web browsing. This reliance on mobile phones for browsing becomes more apparent for international volunteers when they are in countries with widespread cellular coverage, but they are at placement sites with little, slow, or no internet connection. With respect to advertising and marketing promotions, a very important need for Volunteer Forever is to rank in the top 3 of search engine results for key phrases related to volunteering abroad. The right internet advertising and marketing promotions (along with fresh, compelling content) will aid significantly in ranking well for search engines, driving traffic to our website, and ultimately capturing new users. 

Anything else you would like to share with us?

While our initial focus is on the international volunteer market, we will encourage volunteers to continue to use the site for domestic fundraising needs. Furthermore, after capturing a significant share of the volunteer abroad market, the company will expand its focus to allow fundraising for all social good needs (domestic and international). 

Also, while the company is initially targeting the 15-29 year old market, there are excellent opportunities to target middle-aged and retired volunteers who are seeking overseas opportunities. Volunteer Forever's market research indicates a growing desire for members of these age groups to volunteer abroad. 

Starting March 21st, vote for us on the Duke Start-Up Challenge Facebook Page!  And be sure to join us for the Grand Finale on April 20th at 7:30pm ET in Geneen Auditorium at the Fuqua School of Business, or live on Duke's Ustream Channel.  RSVP for the event on Facebook