Award-Winning Volunteerism App Inspired by Alumnus’ Sage Hill Experience

Depending on what they do and how they do it, volunteer work can be a burden or an inspiration for high school students. Sage Hill alumnus Sam Fankuchen (‘04) is committed to ensuring it’s the latter.

Sam connects students and non-students alike with “golden opportunities” to have a meaningful impact through his app, Golden. Free of charge to users and organizations, Golden matches people’s passions with nearby volunteer opportunities. Love soccer? Golden shows you where can volunteer to coach. Enjoy gardening? Golden knows a local urban farm that needs your help.

Sam directly attributes this business idea and his commitment to service to being part of Sage Hill’s first full graduating class.

“A lot of people in my class by default had a very entrepreneurial spirit because we had to start the clubs and start the traditions and imagine what we wanted out of a high school experience,” he said. “One of the things Sage got right from the beginning is being very values-oriented and service being one of those values.”

Sam’s goals started to crystallize on a 12,000-mile road trip he took with friends after graduation.

“Volunteering historically has been way too complicated,” he said. “I just had this epiphany and I said, ‘How come there’s no place to go to find ways to do whatever you like to do for fun in order to become more involved in community issues or service?’"

He began to answer that question as an undergraduate at Stanford, where he designed his own major in social entrepreneurship.

“I pitched the idea for a website where you can go type in whatever you like to do for fun and see where you could go to volunteer to do those things and instantly sign up,” he said.

Within 36 hours, the website, called Pinwheel, had term sheets for funding from Facebook and Yahoo and soon became the most comprehensive website in San Francisco for volunteers of all ages. But Sam made a sacrifice to manage Pinwheel — he temporarily left Stanford, only to return a year later to pursue a master’s degree focusing on user-centered design.

“I wrote my master’s thesis (obtained prior to his bachelor’s, incidentally) on how to recruit, retain and optimize the lifetime value of volunteers,” he said.

Graduating amid a weak economy, Sam spent the next few years learning business skills, first as head of corporate innovation at Penske Motor Group and later as a managing director at Applico, in both cases using technology to advance problem-solving and customer satisfaction. But he was drawn back to the volunteer space, launching Golden in 2015.

“Anybody in the country can open this app and it will personalize volunteer opportunities to their interests,” Sam said, noting that Golden is the first app to offer background checks.

In addition, organizations can pay extra to tap into the volunteer and operational analytics Golden gathers. The Internet is taking notice: This year, the Webby Awards honored Golden in the Public Service & Activism category, and Facebook named it the Social Good App of the Year.

Based in Venice, Calif., Golden has five full-time and 20 part-time employees, and has accepted Sage Hill students as interns. Ultimately, however, Sam’s goal is to reach far more people at Sage Hill and beyond. Golden already connects volunteers with opportunities in major markets around the United States and is launching in the UK, Canada, and Australia, as well as select Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries by the end of the year.

“This is not something you do four Saturdays a year so your college resume looks better,” Sam said. “This is something you do because it’s who you are and it’s your legacy in the world. It’s connecting you to a place you get to discover a deeper version of yourself and your passions and the world around you.”

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