Founder Ami Dar was a "news junkie" by the age of 10–– and ever since he was obsessed with a sense that with all the resources we have now, as human beings, we should be able to do much more about all of the social and environmental problems in the world. The question was how, and that was not an easy one for a 10-year-old to figure out.
In 1985, after his mandatory army service in the Israeli Defense Forces, while Dar was traveling in South America, trying to decide what to do with his life, he got the idea to use modern technology (phones, PCs, and fax machines) to build a network that would make it easier for people everywhere to connect and act on any issue that concerned them, large or small, local or global. That was the initial flash of the conception of Idealist.org. Dar was 24 at the time.
In 1988, Dar returned to Israel. He worked as a waiter, a translator, and a marketing manager for a software company, Aladdin Knowledge Systems (AKS), based in Tel Aviv. Dar continued to think about his vision for a network of people connecting to do good.
In 1992, Dar relocated to NYC to establish the North American branch of AKS. Finally, in 1993, Dar saw the Web for the first time. Idealist flowed directly from that.
In 1994, during his tenure with AKS, Dar began the organization as the Contact Center Network, a community point located on the Upper West Side. Dar’s intention was to create a network of meeting spaces in different communities, where people could connect with neighbors who might share interests and ideas for local action.
To promote the Contact Center Network, Dar established a website (www.contact.org), a simple HTML website with 2,500 links to the websites of nonprofit organizations in 100 countries and all 50 US states. Contact.org quickly attracted a strong interest from individuals and organizations. In response to the online enthusiasm and the clear need for a web-based directory of nonprofit resources and opportunities, Dar repurposed the website to do just that. Dar set out to find every nonprofit organization on the Web and arrange the sites by topic and geographic location, thereby creating a ‘virtual’ Contact Network Center, which launched in the fall of 1995.
In summer 1996, Contact Center Network was relaunched as Idealist.org (an "idea list" for idealists). Idealist.org developed into a searchable database where organizations could post. This new system allowed organizations to post and update detailed information about their services, volunteer opportunities, job openings, internships, upcoming events, and any material or publication they produced. Small seed grants from the AT&T, Markle, and Packard foundations helped sustain and expand the website.
In 1997, the Contact Center Network was renamed Action Without Borders (AWB). In this year, Idealist.org reached the milestone of having 10,000 nonprofit organizations registered on the site.
In 1998, Idealist began offering email alerts so that people could get notified about new opportunities posted to the site. The next year, Idealist.org began charging US-based organizations $40 to post jobs (up until then, all listings had been free). Service Employees International Union was the first organization to pay for a job listing.
With steady revenue and a growing user-base, Idealist began to develop rapidly. In 2000, the Stern Family Fund awarded Idealist a $100,000 Public Interest Pioneer grant, which doubled the annual operating budget overnight.
In 2001, Idealist launched the Spanish-language website Idealistas.org; the French-language site Idéaliste.org followed in 2003. In 2004, Idealist began its first iteration of the Idealist Graduate Degree Fairs. In 2005, the Portland, Oregon, office opened.
In 2006, the site was relaunched with a new set of features, including a blog, a simplified log-in process for organizations, enhanced personal profiles, a messaging system, and RSS feeds for searches. Salesforce, a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, was also integrated into the system this year.
In 2009, Idealist surpassed one million registered users and published the Idealist.org Handbook to Building a Better World.
Today, Idealist connects over 2 million people from all over the world with job, internship, volunteer and action opportunities from over 100,000 global organizations.
It's free to sign up with Idealist, search for opportunities, and connect with others. It's also free for qualifying organizations to make profiles and post events, volunteer opportunities, and action opportunities.
Idealist charges U.S.-based nonprofits $90 for each job posted (for U.S.-based businesses, it's $110), but offer Job Packs for reduced rates. Idealist also charges U.S.-based nonprofits $25 for each internship (for U.S.-based businesses, it is $35).
Below are the types of organizations welcome on Idealist:
Also known as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), nonprofits exist for public benefit and all their revenue is used to further their mission, rather than distributing it as profits or dividends. These organizations range from soup kitchens to aid organizations, museums, high schools, and unions.
To be included in Idealist's nonprofit database, nonprofits must be fully operational. They must be legally registered as nonprofits or have some other kind of documentation—such as a web site or brochure—that clearly states their mission and describes their nonprofit activities.
Companies that are federally mandated in the United States to have volunteer programs can also be listed in the nonprofit directory.
Government agencies are entities administered by a local, city, state, or federal government, such as departments of health, parks, or sanitation.
Consultants are companies that provide services to nonprofit organizations. These services include grant writing, communications, fundraising, and professional development. Vendors are companies that sell goods that are uniquely needed or used by nonprofit organizations.
Both consultants and vendors must clearly demonstrate, via their website or other documentation, their work with the nonprofit community.
Many nonprofits use recruitment firms to help them find staff. Recruitment firms may only use Idealist to post jobs on behalf of their nonprofit clients.
Social enterprises are mission-driven businesses that use market-based strategies to address intractable social problems.
Social enterprises are not required to be legally registered or certified as such in order to be listed on Idealist. To be eligible for Idealist, a social enterprise must meet the definition above and clearly demonstrate, via their website or other public documentation, that their for-profit business model is integral to their social mission and that they are currently fully operational.
There is no legal designation for social enterprises in the U.S., but these companies can become certified as B-Corps. The United Kingdom does have a legal status for social enterprises, and some other countries also choose to legally recognize these kinds of businesses.
Idealist does not include:Any organization that promotes hate or violence
Military or intelligence organizations
Personal projects or web pages
Early stage start-ups that are still in the planning stages
For-profit education, tutoring, mentoring, or college advising
For-profit health care or psychological treatment
For-profit child or adult care
For-profit athletic or social clubs
For-profit life coaching or self-improvement
For-profit career coaching
For-profit legal services
For-profit art projects
For-profit "voluntourism", which includes volunteer programs, tourism, tour operators, hostels and exchange programs