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An app that focuses on the volunteer experience

Mark Piening is the founder and CEO of Project Lighthouse, a volunteer-focused app that aims to reduce barriers for volunteers wanting to contribute their time. Here, Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, co-founder and CEO of MissionBox talks to Mark about developing his app.

Project Lighthouse allows volunteers to find potential volunteer opportunities on their own. What inspired you to focus on the volunteer experience?

We wanted to answer the question, “what opportunities best fit our skills and our passions or causes? I want to serve with my different groups or my communities, sometimes that’s my neighborhood, Boy Scout or Junior League, our church or a nonprofit we’re affiliated with.”

We want to make it simple to find, relevant to our backgrounds and fun to do with people we know or the people that we want to get to know.

For each of us, there are lots of dimensions to who we are. Nobody’s trying to prevent us from collaborating across our community; that’s not the intention. But the way organizations have developed these [volunteer management] systems over the years was for those hierarchically-managed, closed organizations that manage people and manage volunteers.

What would happen if we can unlock that friction in the marketplace that prevents us from being able to serve each other? And, by serving, what would happen if we could actually walk alongside each other and see what we have in common?

So you realized that the typical volunteer management was a barrier to people that wanted to serve nonprofits and wanted to put that opportunity directly into the volunteer's hands?

Exactly. If you’re not a long-term resident of the community, how do you know where the needs are? You can join a church or a nonprofit and get very involved. That’s available; we’re not saying that isn’t. We think it’s great that people do. It’s just that that’s not what everyone does. Some people seek ways to serve that aren’t conventional, with people that are organized informally.

We just think that kicking some of the friction out could add literally millions and billions of hours around the world where people can serve each other — and what kind of things would we learn about each other that will drive unity and relationships that we don’t have today. Instead, we have a lot of polarizing, a lot of alienation and isolation that’s happening. We want to remove that by just having people walk alongside each other and serving together and have the joy that comes from that.

You have a professional background in technology. How has your experience helped the app development?

I’ve been in enterprise software since 1999. I have a background in business development, sales, marketing and product management. I have run large teams, founded companies and been in some very large public companies. I’ve seen what it looks like when you scale as a part of a large international, multinational company.

In this case, we started it from zero because we saw a need but no solution that solved that problem. The Lighthouse app provides volunteers the ability to serve and personal growth opportunities in the process, plus people can quickly find those opportunities to serve in their neighborhood and do that with their friends.

Can volunteers use the app to share their experiences with the nonprofits or other users?

It’s what we all want, so we make it simple and fun to invite friends and other people to serve alongside us. Given my Bazaarvoice background, we’re planning to make it simple to rate or review that experience so that you can give feedback to the people that created that opportunity for you to serve.

There's fear in letting people give you feedback, but the truth in feedback is what will set you free — when you actually listen to what people tell you.

Over time, as organizations define work that they need volunteers for, instead of that being such a burden to “manage volunteers,” we can begin to make it more standardized and make it easier for people to know what their expectations are, [based on] their feedback.

That’s why it’s an important feature set that we provide to our clients — the nonprofits — so that they’ll post their volunteer opportunities and get that feedback. It's a very important part of the two-sided marketplace we’re creating.

What else would you like people to know about Project Lighthouse?

All the software has been developed by volunteers, so building the product to serve volunteers, for volunteers. That’s a powerful genesis. It’s been impactful and attracting people. We now have developers now across the world.

We just want to make it easier over time. Simpler to serve. It needs to be clear and very easy to understand expectations and what experience the volunteer will have.

And if it’s simpler to serve, then it can be simpler to contribute. And by contribute, I mean donate. If you’re responsible for donor development, you know that you need to have volunteer programs to help people connect to the mission, but it feels hard. Because volunteers donate twice as much as non-volunteers it’s so important to help people connect to your mission, we know that what we’re doing is “donor development." We just have to help people see that value.

We invite other folks to come to our website and at the bottom, you can see a web form to connect, to get more information and let us say hello, and invite you to join us. If you're a software developer and want to help contribute, you can look for us on GitHub.

Know another visionary leader or organization working for social good? Let us know!


Mark Piening is an experienced global marketing and technology executive that has led cross-functional teams in both entrepreneurial and Fortune 500 companies. Mark is also a frequent speaker and consultant on topics related to leadership, sales and marketing strategy, alliances and channels, social media and multi-channel commerce, open source software, network effects in technology and people, and marrying business and technology strategy. Find him @markpiening and



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.




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