Some new businesses are sparked by a ‘lightbulb’ moment. For volunteer manager Hannah Whitehead, it was more of a dimmer switch being turned up. “I was reading this article on dating, entitled Forget Tinder, Volunteer Instead and scoffing to myself, well of course volunteering is an amazing way to meet people—everyone knows that. Then it dawned on me that although those of us who work in the third sector know that volunteering holds the power to introduce likeminded people to each other, the rest of the world might not think that way.”
Hannah began to wonder if linking volunteering with dating might work as a business, but was convinced that someone else would have already come up with the idea. When her initial research showed that it remained an untapped opportunity in the UK, Hannah decided to develop the idea of Good Deed Dating—and make some changes to her lifestyle to accommodate her new venture. “As the idea became a reality I decided to take the plunge and go part time in October 2015, working as a Community Development Manager in Hackney while I developed the business and prepared to launch,” she explains.
Changing the conversation
Having worked with volunteers in the charitable sector for 7 years, Hannah knew that engaging would-be volunteers could be challenging, but she was hopeful that by linking good deeds with dating she could change attitudes. Her research found that volunteering was viewed by many as a selfless act where you give, but don’t get. “All I needed to do was re-brand volunteering as something appealing and relevant to single people,” she says. The first step was to tackle the language of volunteering and make it more about doing good in a social context. “We made it all about meeting people, doing something fun and getting out there,” says Hannah. “Then what you end up with is the good deed being seen as a by-product of the date.”
Hannah confesses that initially, confidence in herself and her idea was an issue. Having come up with a very differentiated dating proposition, she was uncertain about how it would be received. “I did a huge amount of research, focus groups and planning beforehand,” she says. “I looked at the worst-case scenario and gave myself goals to achieve.” Good Deed Dating finally became a reality in June 2016 when the website launched during National Volunteers Week. Partnering with a network of charities, it offers volunteering events for single Londoners. Members are called ‘deeders’ and for more than 70% of customers, Good Deed Dating events are their first experience of volunteering.
Hannah needn’t have worried. Right from the start, Good Deed Dating captured the attention of the media and received a huge boost with coverage from MTV, Time Out and the Evening Standard. “I was blown away by the response,” says Hannah. “People loved the idea.” Soon after, she left her part-time role to work exclusively on growing Good Deed Dating further, supported by an angel investor who had seen the potential of Hannah’s fledgling business.
Seed investment followed, which has enabled Hannah to grow her team and put plans in place to develop and diversify the offer, such as events for LGBT groups and in the future, events outside of London. Less than a year in, Hannah has been picked as a finalist for Female Start Up of the Year and Good Deed Dating was nominated for 2 UK Dating Awards.
An unlikely entrepreneur
Given the success of Hannah’s venture, perhaps one of the most surprising things about her story is that she’d never seen herself as being particularly entrepreneurial. “For me, it was always about doing something I loved and making a difference,” she admits. “Being an entrepreneur was never a big dream of mine.” However, Hannah now says that for her and women like her, the benefits of building a business outweigh the hard work and uncertainty. “Being a young professional woman isn’t always easy when you’re navigating the politics of the work place. So being my own boss, being able to choose the people I work with, and when and how I work, is incredible.”
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