Useful Inc. are a small startup non-profit based in Perth, Western Australia. They make social enterprises designed to nudge millions of people into finding their own, unique way of being useful to others and the planet.
One of these is Big Help Mob, an initiative to get ordinary people together to perform extraordinary feats of generosity for people, ecosystems and animals who need help – whether it’s 5 people needed to paint a fence for an old lady, 105 people needed to plant 10,000 trees in a single morning, or 25 people needed to defend orphaned puppies from falling fridges. They do it through an online platform that lists ‘missions’ – short term, hands-on projects that can be completed within one day, that people can then register to be involved in.website twitter facebook
Support their crowdfunding campaign here!
We are seeing people who would have never considered volunteering before getting involved with local causes […] This means that on average 320 hours of important work is getting done for the Perth community every month. Work that would otherwise go undone.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
At Useful Inc. we believe that if everyone connected more with bigger than self issues the world would fundamentally be a better place. So we design projects that make doing good accessible and fun, making it easy for everyday people connect to the world around them.
The idea for our main project, Big Help Mob, came to our founder Tim after he returned from an overseas community development volunteering trip to Guatemala. He came to the stark realisation that community development was severely lacking in Perth – mostly because people were too inward focused. It was in complete contrast to the place he had visited where they supposedly needed community development. He found the small village that he volunteered in to be much richer in community than he had ever experienced before.
So the idea for Big Help Mob was born. In the early days of our pilot project we described it as: ‘like a flashmob but useful.’ Do you remember the days of flashmob popularity? Anyway, nowadays Big Help Mob is an online platform that makes volunteering unbelievably accessible.
Our platform enables our unique volunteering model to flourish, a model that takes away some of the common barriers to volunteering. Barriers like long term time commitments or not knowing where to start.
As a result we are seeing people who would have never considered volunteering before getting involved with local causes. Over 48% of our 2800+ users in Perth have never volunteered before. This means that on average 320 hours of important work is getting done for the Perth community every month. Work that would otherwise go undone.
The main reason we decided to take the plunge with Big Help Mob as our first product is we believe there was a growing disconnect between the free time of young people and their take up of volunteering opportunities.
Soon we’d like to be able to take the concept to other cities & regional areas.
Please explain your business model
Big Help Mob makes it money out of three sources:
- Paid Employee Volunteering Places:
We use Big Help Mob as a platform to embed volunteering into workplaces. Our employee-volunteering product helps employees that never or rarely volunteer start volunteering for the first time. By allowing employees to self-select volunteering opportunities and using targeted marketing we help employees start volunteering for the first time.
- Community Organisations:
The community organisations that we assist to find volunteers for their projects pay a small fee for the service. This means that we coordinate the Big Help Mob volunteers to make sure they get there on the day. We also communicate and market the opportunities to our followers.
- Sidekick Donations and Merchandise:
We accept donations, run fundraising events and on occasion we sell Merchandise. We ask our users to support us with a donation or after they report having three great experiences on our platform.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
We are currently running a crowdfunding campaign http://donate.growwhatsgood.org/ to keep Big Help Mob going while our Employee Volunteering memberships increase.
The exciting thing for the next three months is the focus on that transition to financial sustainability. The end of this financial year should give us the best indication as to whether we can get a successful social enterprise model up and running around volunteering.
How do you make ideas happen?
We believe that organisational culture is key when it comes to making ideas happen. We’re a team on mostly volunteer staff, with a few paid staff, who are passionate about creating positive change in our community. What really binds us together is the way in which we go about our work.
Our organisation doesn’t have a traditional hierarchical structure, from the CEO to the recent intern, we all come together to work, participate in board-games nights or at our weekly shared picnic lunch. We also value the opinion and insights of all our staff, volunteer or paid. On a fortnightly basis we hold what we call our Stratosphere meeting (the plan is to ‘breach the stratosphere’) where we submit an idea or problem that might be of interest to the entire team, then we work through ways to move forward. These meetings keep us informed, on track and continually inspires the work that we do.
What does your typical day look like?
Each day is a little different at Useful HQ. Our CEO Leon Delpech and Director of All Things Business, David Perich, are our only full-time staff members, they’re usually the first to arrive. Then we have our part time Chief Happiness Officer, Nick Maisey, who keeps the culture alive and the wheels turning. The rest of the team is a collection of volunteer staff, from university students to full-time professionals. Two days a week we also have what we call our Unterns and Agents in, who work in a team to bring the volunteer opportunities (what we call Missions) alive. The rest of the team tend to come in after hours.
One evening at the end of last year we were all working back late, when a car pulled up next to our office and peered in, it was about 10pm. A voice yelled from the car “are you guys still brainstorming?” and he then got out of his car to investigate what we had been doing. We welcomed him into our office to find out that he had in fact driven past our window several hours earlier and was astounded we were still working. So as you can see we’re a busy bunch but its an incredibly rewarding and fun place to be.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
Creating Innovation: Non-profit organisations in general are very risk adverse; being a new organisation in the volunteering space means convincing people to take the plunge.
Capital Access: While the support of the state government with the Social Innovation Grant was a much-needed capital injection, in general our experience is there is limited capital.
Red Tape for small organisations: Unfortunately the non-profit regulations mean a lot of work for small organisations because a lot of the regulation is one requirement for all organisation sizes.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
We have Openness by Default is one of our values at Useful. If somebody asks us for help we are happy to share most things.
You can even access, tinker and use our Big Help Mob app for free: https://github.com/Useful-Inc/big-help-mob-webapp
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
Tacsi – For Design Thinking
ygap – Great projects delivering real impact
Small Giants – Good thinking around social business
What about internationally?
Do Something.org – Generally awesome
Charity Water – For their amazing communication to supporters
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
We think that everyone has the capacity to work towards positive social change; it’s why we exist. So in that respect we also believe that business is central to that, after all businesses are only a collection of people.
As an example there is $4 trillion per day in capital markets and $40 billion for the Gates Foundation. Shows how we have to take in to business if we want really social change.
Speaking of affecting social change, is there a particular charity you’d like our readers to support?
Night Hoops: http://www.nighthoops.org
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
osocio: http://osocio.org/ – showcasing the best of non-profit advertising and marketing for social causes
Conscious Magazine: http://consciousmagazine.co/
Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.
Professor Ray Wills @ProfRayWills
Guardian Voluntary @GdnVoluntary
Rebecca Scott @Bec_Scott
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
Our Crowdfunding Campaign is running at the moment to grow the impact we have on the community. Help out at http://donate.growwhatsgood.org/
Businesses that want to embed doing good in their workplace. We would love to talk about how we can engage your people in employee volunteering with Big Help Mob.
And lastly, if you’re in Perth and either want to volunteer or are a community organisation that needs help getting volunteers, get in touch.
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?
How do you attract funders or investors in long-term social change? e.g. projects that are designed for subtle, longer-term cultural change to the wider population, not just targeted groups.
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
The place our staff most frequent these days is Sayers Sister in Northbridge. It is a 4 minute stroll from the Useful HQ. They also give you a nice little treat on a take away coffee. I’m not talking about a cookie or tiny teddy, but a legit caramel slice or bit of cheesecake. Exceeding expectations!