The Purpose App: Reinventing How People are Invited to Serve and Changing How They Apply Their Passion

Sep 8, 2016

This post by Tracy Hoover, Points of Light’s CEO.

Tracy Hoover, CEO, Points of Light

If you watch Shark Tank, you can picture the set up – an “X” prize competition for social good: bright lights, big stage, tough judges and even tougher questions. Enter our Points of Light team, pitching our idea for bringing more precision to the world of purpose-driven change. Right now, people interested in volunteering go to Points of Light’s – America’s biggest volunteer project database with over 100,000 opportunities – and they enter their interest and zip code to get results. During the competition’s demonstration and rapid-fire Q&A that followed, the Points of Light team effectively made the case for a sea-change in how people discover ways to make a difference – a transformation “from search to social.”

Imagine if you didn’t have to go searching for ways to volunteer your time — what if those opportunities to do good found you? Information finds us all the time in retail and nudges us to buy things based on our digital profile. Try Googling a product you want to buy and then see what ads pop up in your Facebook feed. Think of how clothing websites suggest outfits to customers or how Amazon’s “featured recommendations” are personalized to your tastes based on your purchase history.

Instead of volunteers searching for a way to give their time and talent, we want those opportunities to find the exact right volunteers based on their unique interests and skills. It’s time for all of that daily nudging to be directed at bringing opportunities to do good right to us.

This is our vision for reinventing how people are invited to serve and dramatically expanding who is asked and how they apply their passion to purpose. Our journey to bring this vision to life started in December when HPE launched the Living Progress Challenge. Their goal was to tap into the idea economy and crowd source pitches for mobile apps and web services that that could advance human rights, environmental causes, financial inclusion and health care in emerging economies. They issued the challenge to the social sector with this question: “What software applications and digital services would you create to improve people’s lives?” We answered along with nearly 400 others from the global community, including worthy competitors like Stanford, Red Cross, Harvard Medical School, and the UN World Food Programme.

When the Living Progress Challenge winners were announced in New York recently, the keynote speaker at the event was the founder and CEO of AngelHack, Sabeen Ali. I love his take on what this means: “Today we’ve learned what can happen when revolutionaries partner with innovation giants – we can make the impossible, possible.” 

At Points of Light, we engage four million volunteers every year. As one of the four winning ideas of the Living Progress Challenge, we look forward to partnering with HPE to realize the potential of cutting edge technology to reach even more people and better connect them with their purpose. 


Robert Montgomery