Besa connects volunteers with worthy causes while aiding corporate programs in tracking volunteer hours.

Besa connects volunteers with worthy causes while aiding corporate programs in tracking volunteer hours.

Besa is a nonprofit that acts a lot like a tech startup, and that culture has been a boon for its mission.

Besa combines proprietary software with personal outreach to connect volunteers and nonprofits on a large scale. Besa is constantly tweaking its methods to better achieve its mission, using analytics and market research to engage young professional volunteers. Its founder, Matthew Goldstein, took a big risk when he left a promising career to build the nonprofit.

"In the worst case scenario, I would lose everything. But I felt I could move forward and learn from it," says Goldstein. He resigned from his Abercrombie & Fitch market research job in 2010 to build Besa.

Launching took longer than Goldstein expected. "I had big eyes. I thought we would launch in one year. The business plan itself took a year."

For Besa's successful inception, Goldstein credits the people who shared his vision. His former boss at A&F, Suzanne Coates Brown, thought Besa was such a good idea that she helped Goldstein write the business plan. Now she is Besa's board president.

Ian Estep, Besa engagement manager and Goldstein's partner, was critical in Besa's development. The couple decided to step away from their popular dog-sitting business, Woof Downtown Petcare, to focus on Besa. They are in the process of selling Woof.

Launching Besa has been an "incredible learning experience," Goldstein says.

"This community is filled with people, advocates and leaders, who are working their tails off to improve the community," he says. "What I bring to Besa and, in turn the community, is this collaborative approach. Besa is another tool in the arsenal."

Goldstein applied what he learned at A&F about market research to one of the nonprofit sector's biggest challenges: finding a steady stream of reliable volunteers.

Besa drives volunteer engagement by tailoring the experience to working professionals, says Goldstein. "We are strategically focused on that segment that we know is our core."

Besa's volunteer leaders and staff create a stimulating social vibe around community service. Besa has organized 350 projects with more than 50 partner charities since 2012. The projects take place on nights and weekends to fit into a professional work schedule.

An Albanian word, "besa" loosely translates to "making a promise." It's easy for volunteers to commit their time through Besa's website. The user-friendly registration page presents service opportunities as if they were tickets to a social event. Icons tell registrants how many volunteers have signed up, whether the work will be fast-paced or physical and whether it will involve direct interaction with the people receiving aid.

Besa develops IT in-house. Its newest software, Besa Promise, provides a platform for companies to organize drives and measure employee volunteerism. The service launched in February; clients include Big Lots and Safelite AutoGlass.

For corporate philanthropy departments, Besa Promise eliminates the administrative hours needed to manage a large-scale volunteer program. The concept originated in 2012, when Kaufman Development began working with Besa to develop philanthropic programming as part of its community amenities.

"We were running our own philanthropic events, but weren't very good at it," says founder Brett Kaufman. He dreamt of a portal that would put volunteerism at residents' fingertips. He met with Goldstein and made an instant connection.

"(Besa) helps us fulfill our opus, our mission to bring philanthropy to our residents, our communities, ourKaufmanteam," says Kaufman. "They gain so much. The personal fulfillment of giving, the ease of access to an often clunky process, new relationships (and) purpose."

The top 20 percent of Besa volunteers serve eight times a year.

Goldstein expects Besa to continue evolving and expanding. The nonprofit will likely scale into new markets, either by licensing its software or franchising.

"What we've built is not static," says Goldstein. "It's constantly under development to keep getting better and better for our clients."

Kitty McConnell is a freelance writer.