Two young people work on an art project at the ACWL-Nuveen in Whitehall.

WHITEHALL – Catchafire – a unique name for a unique service.

Coined by its chief executive and founder Rachael Chong, the name comes from her favorite classic Bob Marley reggae album, Catch A Fire.

As Chong says, “We need our passion to catch a fire as volunteers and nonprofits spread the power of skills-based volunteering.”

The Catchafire website enables nonprofit organizations to post a project they’re interested in and get help from professional volunteers, skilled in specific areas of business operations. Recently, over 20 community foundations and chapters of United Way were given information and the funding to post projects throughout 2021 on the Catchafire site, so they can take advantage of the volunteer assistance available through Catchafire.

The Arts Council of White Lake – Nuveen Center (ACWL) was notified by the Community Foundation of Muskegon County and has so far posted two projects to obtain the available help.

Erin Peyer, director of ACWL recognizes the value of the services, saying, “We’re a pretty small organization. I’m the only full-time staff, and we have a part-time assistant director. We have a small budget, so we have big dreams and not a lot of money to do what we want to do. This is an amazing opportunity to work with skilled volunteers we couldn’t possibly afford to hire.”

One of the projects ACWL hoped to facilitate through Catchafire is development of a marketing strategy.

“We primarily use social media marketing, newsletters, flyers here and there,” Peyer explains. “But with a small staff, it’s left for me to do, and social media marketing has become more challenging lately.”

Catchafire has connected Peyer with Shetil Rastogi, a volunteer marketing specialist based in Toronto, and they have met virtually for about four hours so far. Peyer has had a chance to explain to him what they do and what products ACWL offers, and Rastogi will assist her in determining who ACWL should be marketing to and how to market to that audience.

“He’s helped us think about the demographic we serve, such as who makes the decision to enroll in classes or enroll a child in a class. We need to reach out mostly to mothers in the community, letting them know what we have to offer and that it’s a safe place to send their kids to be creative,” Peyer says. “He’s developing a plan for us, and we’re meeting again this week.”

Daron Rosenberg, a volunteer sales force (customer relations) consultant located out east, has also been assigned to ACWL to work with them to develop a program for relationship management.

“We started with an audit, looking at what we have,” Peyer notes. “Now he’s helping us learn how to use Salesforce, an on-line software program, which can help us track donors and see donor history, such as when donors have given in the past and for what program or event. It also keeps contact information for members and lets us know when people need to renew their membership.”

Peyer reports that this information is currently kept on multiple spreadsheets, and using the Salesforce program will keep all the information in one place. It will enable ACWL to see that a donor gave money for a particular event last year so ACWL can contact them to see if they might like to donate for that event again this year.

“I like to be organized, so I like this program,” Peyer comments. “I don’t understand the full capacity for this software yet, but Daron will help us use it to its full capacity for our organization.”

Since the chance to utilize Catchafire continues throughout 2021, Peyer has other things she’d like to do with assistance from Catchafire volunteers. She wants to take full advantage of what’s available, and hopes to update ACWL’s brochure working with a marketing design person, as well as get a flyer designed for a summer fundraiser.

She’d also like to work with someone on reorganization of ACWL’s website. As there is a good possibility that the foundation and Catchafire may continue to support nonprofit use of this service going forward, she is excited about the potential options.

ACWL currently offers a number of services and events. There is a gallery showing 45 artists who sell their work year-round, and also an exhibit space that holds 8-9 exhibits every year. ACWL also schedules concerts and other events, and Peyer suggests that many in the community may not know that ACWL puts on the summer concert series.

In addition, one of ACWL’s goals is to make art education affordable, with spring break and summer art camps. Because these programs are sponsored by local businesses and individuals, like Seavers Lawn Service, which sponsors the spring break camp, and an anonymous individual donor who sponsors the summer camp, the charge for participants is only $10 for a week.

Other operating funds come from grants through the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs and the community foundation, the Nuveen Benevolent Trust and through memberships and fees.

Peyer has served with ACWL for just over two years. After moving here with her husband in 2018, she wanted to get into nonprofit work, and took the assistant director job when it became available. She moved into the director position when the previous person left, and works with a board of 11 community members.

ACWL’s mission to establish an improved marketing strategy is now being implemented with Catchafire’s assistance and other objectives include increasing accessibility, bringing people into the Nuveen Center, bringing art into the community and increasing the impact of ACWL.

Peyer laughs as she says that when she heard of Catchafire and the services it could provide to help ACWL move forward with its dreams, her first thought was, “Is this real? It sounds too good to be true!”

Now that ACWL has begun utilizing the volunteer services, however, she realizes that she has only just begun to experience the positive impact this opportunity may have on ACWL’s operations going forward.