Speed Dating Takes a New Twist

05/15/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Speed dating, I am told, is inefficient and not conducive to making friendships, let alone romantic partnerships. Of course, fast-paced games can be quite amusing and offer an evening of laughs, though not without some frustration and perhaps a feeling that nothing really was achieved.

There is, however, another use for speed dating that happens annually in Chicago when invites its member non-profits and volunteers for two hours of networking and, yes, speed dating.

Our event is always set around Valentine's Day and our members and guests have the chance to 'fall in love with a non-profit.' A little love on a cold, winter evening in Chicago goes a long way.

Here's how it works: we place each non-profit (about 70 participated this year) at a small, numbered table. We purposely place diverse non-profits next to each other; animal welfare next to soccer programs, food programs next to elderly care, theater for underserved youth next to mental health care, etc. Then the fun begins. Anywhere from 125-250 women participate annually, including members, as well as staff and clients from our event partners Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP and Navigant Consulting, all professional, experienced and ready to volunteer their expertise. We then send them arbitrarily (a la 'pick a number from the bowl') to a non-profit's table. The non-profit and volunteer have seven minutes to meet, discuss needs and skills, and see if there's a match. The volunteer may find what they are looking for, or be surprised by meeting a non-profit they never knew about, but where their skills are needed. Some volunteers even find that although they spend their days as a lawyer, they also have writing, research, editing and speaking skills highly coveted by non-profits. After seven minutes we ring a loud bell and the volunteer must move to the next table...and the dating continues. During the speed dating session, volunteers can meet a half-dozen non-profits and still have time to network while enjoying the wine and cheese.

Emily Milman of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP, one of our event partners, asked the question on everyone's mind: How can a busy woman ever find the time to volunteer for causes she cares about on top of a career, family life and other important obligations?

Our keynote speaker, Doris Christopher of The Pampered Chef, provided a suggestion. "I have found the best way to navigate this reality is to really work to be present in each area of your life. You can and should put your whole self into your career. But when the day is over, put it aside for tomorrow. My advice is to develop triggers that signal when to switch gears and give your full attention to other important things in your life."

Doris also emphasized the importance of sitting down to a meal with family and friends as often as possible, citing it as a way to slow down and take in what is important in your life. Perhaps this is also a moment to talk with your loved ones about what causes they care about and the skills your husband or friends, for example, might share with a non-profit.

At the end of the evening,'s speed dating rendezvous concludes in matches, relationships and, of course, much needed help for non-profits from supercharged professional women who want to give back, using their talents and skills for brief, high-impact volunteer opportunities. Some non-profits and volunteers even go on to become life-long partners who, when they tell the story of how they met, can say they fell in love at a truly productive speed dating event.