Volunteer Forever is a platform to help people find and fund their volunteer abroad trips.
The website features reviews of existing programs to help volunteers discover and select the right overseas placement, as well as a unique crowd-funding platform that enables users to tap into the power of their extended networks and raise funds for their trip more effectively.
The startup is steered by a team of four including founder and chief executive Steven Weddle, co-founder and chief marketing officer Billy Beltz, chief product officer Brian An and director of grassroots outreach Tiffany Fourment.
Volunteer Forever's plan for making money is based on the crowd-funding model with a payment processing fee of 4.1% going to the startup. It has also secured a small business loan and is currently seeking investors for second round funding. However, the startup also says it operate on very low overheads because of the web-based platform.
Volunteer Force estimates the market to be worth between $1.7B to $2.6B and competition comes from the likes of Go Overseas, Go Abroad and FundMyTravel.
The second set of questions allow for as much detail and colour as possible, but please keep answers concise.
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
Volunteer Forever is a unique platform that solves two current pain points for volunteers: the information and financial barriers to volunteering overseas.
There is currently no other platform available right now that provides prospective volunteers the opportunity to find and fund their trip in one place. There are several review sites in existence for volunteer abroad programs, but there is a concern around the authenticity of reviews. Volunteer Forever will feature a patent-pending review system focused on authentic user reviews and based on the unique user cycle that volunteers will have on our site (integrating the fundraising component).
Additionally, we offer the only crowdfunding platform dedicated to volunteer abroad projects. Our fundraising solution simplifies fundraising and is designed to replace current solutions that are often expensive and inefficient.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
Volunteering abroad can be a life changing-experience that allows you to positively impact communities around the world that need it most. Unfortunately there are significant information and financial barriers that keep more people from participating in this meaningful activity. Volunteer Forever provides individuals with solutions to overcome these barriers and make their dream of volunteering overseas a reality.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We’re partnering with volunteer placement organizations to help them share the good news with their volunteers. To date we’ve partnered with more than 90 organizations that have created profiles on our site. These organizations have the same goal as us: make it easy for volunteers to learn about their opportunities, provide a platform for authentic user reviews, and help the volunteers to raise funds for their trip.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
We are looking at providing our solution to other areas of meaningful travel, including study abroad, work abroad and intern abroad programs.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
To make sure you build a business around what you’re most passionate about! We’ve also learned that it’s important to establish a business model where everyone involved can win and will be invested in the success of the business. With our model we’ve done just that - both the volunteer placements organizations and the volunteers themselves are invested in optimizing the platform for their own benefit and ensuring everyone wins.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
As mentioned above, there are currently information and financial barriers to volunteering abroad, and we're providing a solution to overcome the barriers. Our platform helps solve the issue of unverifiable reviews and provides a more effective fundraising solution.
While most competitors in the space seem to be a resource to help travellers find the right program, Volunteer Forever is aiming to set itself apart by combining information about volunteering opportunities, reviews from the people who've done them and a platform for fundraising.
Although the sector is pretty niche, the startup seems to have thought about spreading the word by partnering with the volunteer placement organisations across the globe. It also sees opportunity in extending the platform to other areas of meaningful travel including student and internships.
One concern might be making enough travellers interested in the sector aware of the service. A quick search on the term 'volunteer abroad' only returns one of the companies mentioned in this article.
A further issue might be that the current unique selling point of combining the information, reviews and fundraising elements is easy to copy.
Those issues aside, services that highlight volunteering in a professional and ethical way are praiseworthy and if Volunteer Forever can tap into even a small percentage of the $2.6b market then it will do alright.
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