"They appealed to us because they were small, hungry and interested in nonprofits," Levin said.

They looked to and other online dating sites for inspiration. The alliance members saw the prototype design for the first time in January 2005, and spent the next few months writing the content and tweaking the language of the questionnaires.

The site design was completed in spring 2005, and a pilot project that summer attracted 20 nonprofits and 60 individuals, who gave feedback on the look and feel of the site as well as the follow-up training.

The Web portal went live in mid-October 2005, and there are now 51 nonprofits and 118 potential board members registered. Some groups are still working on their profiles, and the matching has just begun. The nonprofit organizations range from the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis to the Center for Survivors of Torture and War Trauma.

Levin and her colleagues are waiting to see if there will be technical glitches or compatibility issues. Individuals haven't reported any problems registering, but some staff at the nonprofits are not as tech-savvy and have needed some guidance, she said.

"We will be offering assistance after matches are made, too," Levin said. "We want to hear what happens."

Levin noted that with 2,000 active nonprofits in the St. Louis area, the surface of the innovative recruitment tool's potential has barely been scratched, and with 1.8 million nonprofits across the United States, it could easily be replicated in other cities.

David Raths  |  contributing writer